Classic Book”How to lie about statistics“First published in 1954, it may be the best-selling book of all time on how to understand numbers. But it left a disturbing legacy-leading to distrust of various statistics, even those that help understand today’s Statistics on things like the global pandemic.
This is the argument put forward by economist and BBC reporter Tim Harford. His research shows that Darrell Huff, author of “How to Lie with Statistics,” took steps to use his arguments to actively cover up rather than provide information. “Huff ended up working for tobacco lobbying groups, attacking epidemiologists, statisticians and doctors who used statistical data to provide convincing evidence that smoking is very bad for health,” Harford said. “And I don’t think this is a coincidence, because in fact his modus operandi is interesting and creating doubts, giving people a reason not to take experts too seriously-this is absolutely perfect for the strategy of the tobacco lobby.”
Harford has his own views on how to deal with the big data world in which we all live, and he outlines this in his latest book,”Data Detective: Ten simple rules for understanding statistics. “EdSurge contacted Harford to get his advice on how to better understand the numbers in this week’s EdSurge Podcast.
Harford knows his numbers. He hosted the BBC radio show “More or Less”, where he explained and sometimes debunked figures in politics and daily life, and he was even an honorary member of the Royal Statistical Society.He has a knack for turning research into colorful stories, just like he did on podcasts Warning story.
He believes that sometimes expert-level people are most easily confused by misleading statistics. He has some strategies for processing data that can help avoid being intimidated or fooled by them.
He said that one key is curiosity.
“It has never been easier to deceive yourself,” he said. “Placing yourself in a bubble, in the echo chamber has never been easier. But at the same time, getting really high-quality help has never been easier-asking smart questions and getting insights.”
This means that the key lies in how motivated people are to ask sharp questions about the statistics and data they encounter. “How curious are we? How much do we want to know the truth, or do we just want to feel right and feel that we are a member of a tribe? I think this is a question that will prove to be decisive.”
Harford said the idea of trying to deceive people with statistics is an old idea, older than Huff’s bestseller.
“The strategy of’making doubts’ has a long history. We have seen it over and over again. It is very powerful because it uses some basic scientific principles. It just raises them to a notch and turns them into a weapon. “