Sunday 14 March 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Some while ago I was a Lecturer in Management and Computer Studies. For some of these courses I taught Statistics. My first lecture was 'How to lie with Statistics'. I was interested in showing my students that it is very easy to mislead people with statistics using a number of different techniques for all sorts of reasons.

Recently I have started to read The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg (this is the link to Wikipedia entry for the book and this is the link to the book at Amazon UK).

The early chapters are a scathing attack on world environmental bodies using misleading at best and sometimes deliberately dishonest statistics to bolster their cases that the world is in an environmentally 'sick' state. These statistics would have made a fascinating case study in my first lecture.

During my lecturing, I also used the book by Darrell Huff entitled How to Lie with Statistics (this is the link to Amazon UK). This is where I got the idea for the first lecture!

Where did the original quotation "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics" come from? Both Disraeli and Mark Twain are attributed but read this link for a full exposition.

That reminds me of when I was a little lad at school. I was asked to explain the comparative forms of ill. My problem was that illest did not sound right, so in my young mind I said "ill, iller, dead"! I know that this produced some hilarity in my teachers, who reminded me of it later in my schooling!

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