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Lie is a Four-Letter Word

Darrell Huff's How to Lie with Statistics (1954, revised version available through Amazon) should be required reading for every student (and teacher). The book's primary focus is the continual use and misuse of numbers in modern society, which we blindly accept or ignore.

Using humor plus tons of graphs and charts, Huff shows how the same set of "facts" can be tweaked to show multiple different outcomes. In each case, the tweaking is controlled by the user, with the use or misuse being dependant on what issues one wants to support or refute.

To educate the public, Huff provides five questions 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?
The book is a great read for students. When using it, students should be challenged to find examples of the misuse of statistics in their real-world....unfortunatly, this usually turns out to be an easy assignment yet is edifying.

Finally, for an interesting review of Huff's book and its impact on things over the past 50 years, see the work of J. Michael Steele. Will we not learn something over the next 50 years?