How to Lie With Statistics

November 18, 2008 at 7:03 pm 5 comments

howtolie

How to Lie With Statistics is a nifty little book written back in 1954. Anyone who is exposed to advertising, reads the news, votes in elections or is affected by corporate operations should read this book. If you have an interest in issues like breed-specific legislation, mandatory spay / neuter or pet limit laws – you MUST read the book.

Author Darrell Huff teaches you how to lie (or better yet, how to recognize a lie) with built-in sample bias, well-chosen averages, small data sets, truncated charts, creative scaling, manipulation of proportions and good-old fashioned sleight of hand post hoc and straw man fallacies. At only 142 pages and liberally peppered with cartoons, jokes and case histories - it’s a simple and amusing read – and Huff’s ideas are as relevant today as they were a half-century ago.

We have come to rely too much on a main-stream media that is blatantly biased and shamelessly sensationalistic — and misrepresentation the creative use of statistics is one of the main tools that the media uses to spread its propaganda message. Educate yourself on how to recognize these lies — and how to take them apart and expose their weaknesses to others. As Joseph Pulitzer said “A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself.”  Well… if we’re all doomed to be cynical mercenaries, we should at least take the time to be well-educated ones.

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Entry filed under: books, bsl, cynicism, dogs. Tags: .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jan  |  November 19, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.

  • 2. LabRat  |  November 19, 2008 at 1:53 am

    I’ve never read that book, but took enough statistics in college- and read enough scientific papers (published in reputable journals, mind you) that used statistics to magnify a trivial result or create one out of no real data- that I am the most suspicious bitch on earth whenever I see any number expressed as a percentage or ratio.

  • 3. Caveat  |  November 19, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Looks good. Will do.

  • 4. bluntobject  |  November 19, 2008 at 5:21 am

    How to Lie With Statistics is an excellent book. Some of the examples are rather dated, but if you read it for principles rather than specifics it’s perfectly relevant.

    I can also vouch for the notion that if you put enough figures and equations (nested summations seem to work well) in a paper, you’ll dazzle at least a third of your reviewers. Bonus points for using math that’s obscure in your field but pedestrian in another.

  • 5. SmartDogs  |  November 19, 2008 at 6:51 am

    Blunt – you nailed it! In previous life that (using math that’s obscure in my field) used to be one of my favorite tricks.

    “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance….”

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