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How To Lie With Statistics [Paperback]

Darrell Huff , Irving Geis
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 1993
Darrell Huff runs the gamut of every popularly used type of statistic, probes such things as the sample study, the tabulation method, the interview technique, or the way the results are derived from the figures, and points up the countless number of dodges which are used to fool rather than inform.

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"There is terror in numbers," writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics. And nowhere does this terror translate to blind acceptance of authority more than in the slippery world of averages, correlations, graphs, and trends. Huff sought to break through "the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind" with this slim volume, first published in 1954. The book remains relevant as a wake-up call for people unaccustomed to examining the endless flow of numbers pouring from Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and everywhere else someone has an axe to grind, a point to prove, or a product to sell. "The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify," warns Huff.

Although many of the examples used in the book are charmingly dated, the cautions are timeless. Statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from "gee-whiz graphs" that add nonexistent drama to trends, to "results" detached from their method and meaning, to statistics' ultimate bugaboo--faulty cause-and-effect reasoning. Huff's tone is tolerant and amused, but no-nonsense. Like a lecturing father, he expects you to learn something useful from the book, and start applying it every day. Never be a sucker again, he cries!

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.

Read How to Lie with Statistics. Whether you encounter statistics at work, at school, or in advertising, you'll remember its simple lessons. Don't be terrorized by numbers, Huff implores. "The fact is that, despite its mathematical base, statistics is as much an art as it is a science." --Therese Littleton


A pleasantly subversive little book, guaranteed to undermine your faith in the almighty statistic. -- The Atlantic

This book needed to be written, and makes its points in an entertaining, highly readable manner. -- Management Review

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"THE AVERAGE Yaleman, Class of '24," Time magazine noted once, commenting on something in the New York Sun, "makes $25,111 a year." Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Defend yourself from the number-tossers July 4 2004
By Dan
How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrel Huff, should be required reading for everyone. The cachet of numbers are used all the time in modern society. Usually to end arguments--after all, who can argue with "facts"? Huff shows how the same set of numbers can be tweaked to show three different outcomes, depending on where you start and what you use. The fundamental lesson I learned from this book is that mathematical calculation involves a whole set of conditions, and any number derived from such a calculation is meaningless without understanding those conditions.
He also mentions that colleagues have told him that the flurry of meaningless statistics is due to incompetence--he dispatches this argument with a simple query: "Why, then, do the numbers almost always favor the person quoting them?" Huff also provides five questions (not unlike the five d's of dodgeball) for readers to ask, when confronted with a statistic:
1. Who says so?
2. How does he know?
3. What's missing?
4. Did somebody change the subject?
5. Does it make sense?
All this is wrapped up in a book with simple examples (no math beyond arithmetic, really) and quaint 1950s prose. In addition humor runs from the beginning (the dedication is "To my wife with good reason") to the end (on page 135, Huff says "Almost anybody can claim to be first in something if he is not too particular what it is"). This book is well worth a couple hours of your time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Some things never change Oct. 1 2002
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff gives an explanation of common statistical errors. The book is clearly written and is understandable to a reader without a mathematics or statistics background. At only one hundred and forty two pages the book is a quick and easy read.
The book was originally published in 1954. The many copious examples were current at the time of writing, but are extremely dated now. Depending on the readers attitude this may be distracting, or faintly amusing. The advanced age of the examples does not make the text any harder to understand.
While the examples are dated, the concepts appear to be timeless. The same statistical manipulations still seem to be going on nearly fifty years later. The Author covers a wide range of statistical errors, or abuse. All of the types of errors will be familiar to anyone who pays attention to the news, or has seen an advertisement that uses numbers.
How to Lie with Statistics gives the reader the knowledge to detect common statistical skulduggery. If this knowledge were more widely spread, perhaps advertisers, political spinmiesters and sloppy journalists would not be able to get away with that sort of abuse.
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5.0 out of 5 stars More Important Than Fifty Years Ago July 6 2002
In today's high tech world where everything is explained with "Corel Presents" or "Power Point" graphic presentations, this text has become much more important than ever before.
How often have you went into a presentation, saw the colourful graphics and accepted the information being portrayed to you as realistic? You might have had suspicions about several things but did not have enough back bone to speak up or contest those figures because you simply did not know what questions to ask.
This book guides one through the maze of statistics, their misuse through wrong calculations and unconcious optial illusions of graphs to influence our perception of the way we view a situation.
When management, a salesperson or a politician starts talking about averages on a graph; Ask them which average are they actually talking about. Are they talking about the average mean, average mode or average median? I actually started inquiring with authors of previous presentations that I have received in the past. Some of the experts presenting these facts and figures did not know the calaculations used to atttain their results because they had acquired them from 3rd or 4th sources. It shows how many clueless presentors we have in this world.
Sampeling is another one of those statistics some of us forget to ask about. When we see figures indicating 30 percent "YES" verses 70 percent "NO" from any given survey. Seventy percent of how many people said "NO"? Did they ask 100, 200, 600 or 1,000 people? Did they interview men, women, children, dogs or snails? Were the questions biased toward one group or the other? All of these questions are very important and the majority of the people fail to ask these questions when being presented with statisics.
Some of the language is old and outdated but it is exactly this which makes it a charm to read. Excellent, Excellent.....
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5.0 out of 5 stars A primer on healthy caution March 15 2002
Since our schools regularly let us through without a single course in statistics, this book is for the general reader who is in peril of learning facts that aren't facts. It won't teach you statistics, but it will teach you what to look out for when you read the paper and see numbers and graphs. Since most institutions who report these data care little whether they are accurate or significant, you must rely on yourself to determine whether they are good numbers.
The problems with statistical data are still relevant today, and it is shocking to realize how contemporary many of his examples seem. The problems of bias, averaging, and confusing correlation with causation all dupe even the most well-educated people, and the advantage lies with the person who can spot fallacies and not be fooled. While learning statistics would be ideal, this book shows the first step towards understanding and critiquing statistical data. It is not longer or more complicated than it should be, and is simple to understand. Still, if you don't know how to evaluate some of the simple data that you come by every day in the news, this book will provide you with infinite wisdom.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars ‘How to lie with Statistics’ should be required reading
Although the language and examples used are quite dated (the book is over 60 years old) ‘How to lie with Statistics’ provides very easy to understand examples of the various... Read more
Published 12 days ago by John Schaub
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading for someone not used to mathematics and statistics.
Good write-up of the power of numbers wielded inappropriately (by chance or by design). If you are not deep into mathematics in general and statistics in particular, this is a must... Read more
Published 4 months ago by JohnV
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent old book
This is a gift for my randson who is struggling a bit with statistics. The book makes it fun and demystifies the topic.
Published 4 months ago by Kathryn Belzer
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!!!
A must read for anyone who's ever wondered how there are so many statistics and metrics flying around that all seem to contradict each other. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Umar Ahmed
5.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining Primer on the Validity of Statistics
Although "How to Lie with Statistics" is a bit dated (having been written in the 1950's), the principles it puts forth are still valid today--if not moreso than ever--and... Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2004 by John Nolley II
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, Concise, and Fun
How to Lie with Statistics is a fun and informative look at the was in which statisticians try to decieve the public with misleading statistics. Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2003 by Brian
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun to read, a lot to learn for many
If you are a visual person -who prefers graphics and charts to text- and have taken no statistics course in your entire life, this book is a perfect fit for you. Read more
Published on Aug. 21 2003 by Mert Cubukcu
4.0 out of 5 stars A world of liars
I had to read this book for my high school AP statistics class. I truly enjoyed reading this book. My dad had to read the same while he was in college 30 years ago. Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2003 by Kelly Clements
5.0 out of 5 stars Be skeptical!
How To Lie With Statistics is a simple explaination of the ways numbers can fool you. Darrell Huff's humor makes the topic of statistics more interesting and personal than you... Read more
Published on July 31 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read and educational too!
I currently teach statistics in Cincinnati, Ohio. The book How to lie with statistics held my attention from beginning to end. Read more
Published on July 25 2003 by Trudi L. Boyd
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