Todd's Reviews > How to Lie with Statistics

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff
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Feb 22, 08

Read in January, 2008

I first read this slender book in college statistics and had often thought of revisiting it. It's as superb a book as I had remembered. Given that stats are freely tossed about from product advertisements to political speeches, everyone should do themselves a favor and read it.

Despite its title, the author's goal isn't to teach the reader to lie but rather to educate on how statistics are often abused, sometimes subtly. It's not a textbook, so you aren't asked to calculate standard deviations or the like. You will, however, come away with a basic understanding of the concepts in statistics.

Written in the 1950's, the examples are amusingly outdated. However, while product names and the value of the dollar have changed, the methods have not. Just recently, I heard an NPR newscast challenge, correctly, a politician's misuse of an average to support his viewpoint, a favorite topic of the author. If you feel lost in a particular example, you can just move on to the next one. There's no shortage of them and some are bound to hit home. If math isn't your forte, don't worry too much. Just understanding the big picture will help.

If there is any drawback, it's that I'm unfortunately overly skeptical now when people spout out stats. Statistics, however, are a legitimate, highly instructive tool when properly used. The goal is to sniff out the bad and discard them like yesterday's political promise.
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