In a recent survey, 78.7% percent of the respondents agree with the statement “Statistics can be trusted to give an accurate description of the facts”.
Statistics are a part of modern life. Numbers tell us who is expected to win, who is expected to lose, and how many men wear a tie. Statistics are often misleading, or an outright lie. And yet, people believe statistics. ( The middle three letters of believe are lie).
Talk about statistics is little better. Mark Twain gets the credit/blame for popularizing the phrase, “lies, damn lies, and statistics”. According to Wikipedia , Mr. Clemens may have been mistaken. “Twain popularized the saying in “Chapters from My Autobiography”, published in the North American Review in 1906. “Figures often beguile me,” he wrote, “particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”…”The term was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” However, the phrase is not found in any of Disraeli’s works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death.”
Mr. Twain was in the twilight of his career, and angry at aggressive militarism. Why would he would give credit/blame for a phrase to a conservative Prime Minister of England, dead twenty five years? Why would Cream title a popular LP “Disraeli Gears”?
When PG took English101, the teacher was an inspiring lady named Ann Peets. Between stories of Faulkner and comma splices, she contributed this gem. ” The best way to win an argument is to use statistics. The best way to use statistics is to make them up. ”
In 1954, a bestselling book came out, “How to Lie with Statistics”. The premise was that the pros knew the tricks, and the public has a right to self defense. There are numerous examples of the ways that you can lie with numbers just like you lie with words. Calculator lips don’t move.
One word to watch out for is average . The three most popular types are mean, median, and mode. Mean is the one most people think of as average…you add all the figures up, and divide by the number of entries. In median, you line up the entries in numeric value, and choose the entry in the middle. In mode, the number that the most entries identify with is the average. Any one of these three can be called average, and yet none might describe the typical entry.
HT to Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub for attributing the LDL&S quote to Mr. Disraeli. MFB was talking about global warming denial, a cesspool of lies and statistics. Pictures are from The Library of Congress. . Pictures of Mark Twain were recently posted.