Tuesday, October 12, 2004

How to Lie With Statistics

...that’s the name of a classic little book written by Darrell Huff 50 years ago and still used by teachers (including me) in many disciplines outside of mathematics.

I still love the introduction that reads, in part:
The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify…the result can only be semantic nonsense...

Anticipating what John Kerry would say 50 years later, Huff said:
...the crooks already know these tricks; honest men must learn them in self-defense.

Both George Bush and John Kerry will use statistics on domestic issues in the 3rd debate, but George Bush will use them to justify his lack of on-the-job performance – therefore, they won't be the truth. People don’t need a lot of statistics to know that they, and a lot of their friends and family, are out of work, don’t have health care, and are losing law enforcement, fire response support, and basic education for their kids.

And, amazingly, this also from Darrell Huff in 1954:
Some of the strongest feelings against public opinion polls are found in liberal, or left-wing circles, where it is rather commonly believed that polls are generally rigged. Behind this view is the fact that poll results so often fail to square with the opinions and desires of those whose thinking is not in the conservative direction. Polls, they point out, seem to elect Republicans even when voters shortly thereafter do otherwise.

Sounds like 2004 to me.

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