How to Lie with Statistics Illustrated Edition
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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
― New York Times
"A pleasantly subversive little book guaranteed to undermine your faith in the almighty statistic."
- Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company; Illustrated edition (October 17, 1993)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393310728
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393310726
- Item Weight : 4.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This book was recommended to me in passing by one of my professors when I was completing the capstone course for my BS in mathematics. Largely because of who suggested it, I expected a book about mathematical statistics. Instead, this is a book about understanding how statistical analysis can be abused (by journalists, politicians, advertisers, etc., etc.). It does not denigrate the practice of statistical analysis itself (though you will not learn even a single technique from statistical theory in its 144 pages), but rather serves as a lighthearted cautionary tale about how easy it is to become convinced that statistics carry all the weight of science even though statistical analysis is both science and art.
The reader already well-versed in statistics will not find any new information but will still be pleased by the book's artful presentation of known ideas. Readers who are not so well-versed in statistics should consider this book required reading because it succinctly explains how the information we all consume every day may have been manipulated--intentionally or otherwise--to give us false impressions.
In fact, I would argue the value of this book has only increased in the decades since its initial publication. While the reader picking up this book upon its publication in 1954 would surely encounter plenty of statistics and graphs throughout the week, our modern 24-hour news cycle and constant immersion in a multimedia world has magnified the opportunity for statistical deception. Of course, you'll find that the book's examples are outdated (references to an exorbitant $25,000 salary for Yale graduates might seem at first more quaint than informative). However, despite the dated examples, the statistical phenomena described are as relevant as ever. Indeed, an argument could be made that the examples from yesteryear might even aid the book's pedagogical value by avoiding the contemporary issues that might cause the reader to don partisan intellectual blinders.
If I were to criticize, I would say that the book fails as an introduction to statistical thinking. For example, it rightly cautions the reader to beware of the difference between median and mean when interpreting reported "averages," but fails to provide much insight regarding when each of these measures of central tendency might be superior to the other. As such, the reader looking for insight regarding the practice of statistics, even from a non-technical perspective, may be disappointed. However, the reader interested in the consumption of statistical information will find a wealth of information packed into a charming little book.
With statistics, we see them everywhere and spewing from people's mouths constantly. But where do they come from and why are they unreliable and in what cases are they unreliable?
Darrell Huff kind of hits all aspects of statistics, and is sure that he hasn't crossed his own lines of creating bias; throughout the book he addresses each side the story. What sides am I referring to? The statistician's point of view, whoever's hands it was transferred to thereafter, the media that project this news to viewers, and the viewers point of view. He does this all with such a sense of reliability, because he never fails to leave out an aspect that would undermine his conclusions.
I found a lot of great information in this book, some that has reinforced my beliefs about statistics and others that have provided me with new views on information. With increasing amounts of information available, and that instant communication that allows us to share information faster, we need people to be reading more books like this so they avoid learning a bunch of value-less information from people who haven't "done their homework."
Sometimes statistical deceit is unintentional, while other times it's deliberate. Huff examines each cases, and attempts to provide understanding to all of his readers as to how we can avoid this and the 5 questions we can ask ourselves when we approach information.
If you've either:
- Wondered about news information and how it's history has influenced citizens (and how it really still applies)
- Needed refreshers on the importance of statistics as well as how to approach them
- Struggled with reading statistics or producing statistics
- Enjoyed being offered alternate perspectives on widely accepted practices like presenting information through statistics
- Curious about where people get their information, and why they're quick to spew statistics like it's true knowledge
THEN READ THIS BOOK! :)
Top reviews from other countries
The odd-sounding title is easily explained by the author himself. He says he wrote the book much in the same spirit as a burglar might write an instruction manual on how to break into people’s houses — not so much to make it easier for burglars to do so, but so that home-owners can see where their vulnerabilities lie.
These days, the book seems to be even more relevant. Not only are research findings reported in the papers virtually every day, but in education in particular there are quite a few articles of faith that are based on shaky, and sometimes non-existent, foundations.
With chapters like “The well-chosen average”, “The little figures that are not there” and “The semi-attached figure”, the book makes you look at statistics in a different way.
For example, if you were to read a report that tells us that research has shown that 98% of students derive no benefit whatsoever from using technology, you may have a vague feeling of unease about such a finding. However, having read this book you should be able to re-read the report and spot where the statistical sleight of hand occurred (assuming it did occur, of course).
Then again, there are the endless announcements telling us that eating X wards off cancer, causes cancer, is dangerous for people over 40, is only dangerous if you eat more than one a day etc etc ad nauseous. Again, an insight into how some of the figures cited were derived would be immensely helpful in your decision-making.
Illustrated with cartoons by Mel Calman, this light-hearted and slim volume punches way above its weight. Although it was first published over 60 years ago, in 1954, it is still relevant. It should be on every teacher’s shelf and in every school library.
Overall, I found it to be a pleasant and easy-to-read little book about the misuse, either by accident or design, of statistics in everyday life. It's very basic and doesn't go into any detail about more advanced concepts, but it does what it sets out to do very well - and comes across as extremely accessible to readers from any level. Personally, this is a friendly accompaniment to more advanced statistics reading which i'm engaged with, but could also be picked up by someone who desires an awareness of how to avoid being misled by bad statistics.
It is an old book, but it does hold up well in my opinion. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
First, it's about numbers but manages to be both extremely easy to read and very entertaining.
Secondly, although it is so accessible that a ten-year old of average intelligence should be able to understand everything in this book, the points it makes are so universal in application that even someone with much greater mathematical knowledge - and I write this as a graduate with two degrees in a discipline which requires statistical understanding - can find it full of useful reminders and even the odd valuable idea you might not have thought of or heard of.
The book is about how numbers can be manipulated, by accident or design, to trick people into making false conclusions, and how to spot when you are being fed misleading numbers. In this day and age the ability to spot bad statistics is extremely important to everyone and can literally be a life-saver.
I was very surprised indeed to see that a previous reviewer had described this book as "not for everyone." I could not disagree more strongly.
If every voter read this book, fewer bad politicians would be elected on the basis of dishonest campaign statistics, if every consumer read it, fewer bad products would be sold on the basis of dishonest advertising statistics, and if every journalist read it there might be less harm done by scare stories based on bad statistics.
Despite the fact that this book was written many years ago, every single word in it is still very relevant today.
However, anyone with a serious interest in the subject who wants an update on some of the more recent examples of how statistics are misused should still start by reading "How to Lie with Statistics" and then follow up with the equally good "Damn Lies and Statistics" by Joel Best, which is more current and nearly as accessible. The two books complement each other very well.