How to Lie with Statistics

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How to Lie with Statistics (1954) by Darrell Huff (July 15,1913June 27, 2001) is an introduction to statistics for the general reader. It uses a breezy, non-mathematical approach to making sense of statistics, and to recognizing nonsense when you see it. This is the best-selling statistics book of all time.


Quotations taken from the 31st printing of the 1954 W. W. Norton edition; ISBN 0-393-05264-8 (cloth), ISBN 0-393-09426-X (paperback)
Currently available in the 1993 W. W. Norton edition; ISBN 0-393-31072-8 (paperback)
  • The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify. Statistical methods and statistical terms are necessary in reporting the mass data of social and economic trends, business conditions, "opinion" polls, the census. But without writers who use the words with honesty and understanding and readers who know what they mean, the result can only be semantic nonsense.
    • Introduction
  • A well-wrapped statistic is better than Hitler's "big lie"; it misleads, yet it cannot be pinned on you.
    • Introduction
  • Who are those who chucked the questionnaire into the nearest wastebasket?
    • Chapter 1: The Sample With the Built-in Bias
  • Even if you can't find a source of demonstrable bias, allow yourself some degree of skepticism about the results as long as there is a possibility of bias somewhere. There always is.
    • Chapter 1: The Sample With the Built-in Bias
  • This is the little figure that is not there—on the assumption that you, the lay reader, wouldn't understand it. Or that, where there is an axe to grind, you would.
    • Chapter 3: The Little Figures That Are Not There
    • Referring to degree of significance
  • It is all too reminiscent of an old definition of the lecture method of classroom instruction: a process by which the contents of the textbook of the instructor are transferred to the notebook of the student without passing through the heads of either party.
    • Chapter 3: The Little Figures That Are Not There
  • There is terror in numbers. [...] Perhaps we suffer from a trauma induced by grade-school arithmetic.
    • Chapter 5: The Gee-Whiz Graph
  • Nothing has been falsified—except the impression that it gives.
    • Chapter 5: The Gee-Whiz Graph
  • If you can't prove what you want to prove, demonstrate something else and pretend they are the same thing. In the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind, hardly anyone will notice the difference.
    • Chapter 7: The Semiattached Figure
  • The president of the American Statistical Association once called me down for that. Not chicanery much of the time, said he, but incompetence. There may be something in what he says, but I am not certain that one assumption will be less offensive to statisticians than the other.
    • Chapter 9: How to Statisticulate
  • What comes full of virtue from the statistician's desk may find itself twisted, exaggerated, oversimplified, and distorted-through-selection by salesman, public-relations expert, journalist, or advertising copywriter. [...] As long as the errors remain one-sided, it is not easy to attribute them to bungling and accident.
    • Chapter 9: How to Statisticulate
  • It's all a little like the tale of a roadside merchant who was asked to explain how he could sell rabbit sandwiches so cheap. "Well," he said, "I have to put in some horse meat too. But I mix 'em fifty-fifty: one horse, one rabbit."
    • Chapter 9: How to Statisticulate
  • "Does it make sense?" will often cut a statistic down to size when the whole rignarole is based on an unproven assumption.
    • Chapter 10: How to Talk Back to a Statistic

Quotes about How to Lie with Statistics[edit]

  • There is some irony to the world’s most famous statistics book having been written by a person with no formal training in statistics, but there is also some logic to how this came to be. Huff had a thorough training for excellence in communication, and he had an exceptional commitment to doing things for himself. [...] In the publishing field, this is what one means by pioneering, original work.
    • J.M. Steele, "Darrell Huff and Fifty Years of How to Lie with Statistics", Statistical Science, 20 (3), 2005, 205–209.

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