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January 30, 2012

How To Lie With Statistics ****

**** How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff, 1954

I read this book back in the 70s and loved it. Since it's been a while I thought I'd give it another read. Still good.

It's a lightweight course on how statistics can be used to misrepresent information. Even if math is not your strong suit, you can follow this book and learn how to find the weak spots in a statistic.

One downside is that all the examples are from the 1920s through the 1950s. For example, here's the beginning of Chapter 1:

"The average Yaleman Class of '24," Time magazine noted once, commenting on something in the New York Sun, "makes $25,111."

Well, good for him!

But, wait a minute. What does this impressive figure mean?

Even knowing we're talking about 1924, it's hard to see this as impressive. But eventually you adjust your head for a century back.

The other downside is that it doesn't take long for you to realize that you're never going to have enough information about any stat you see in a newspaper, magazine, TV show or the internet to know if it's legit.

But I can live with that.

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