lies--damned lies--and statistics

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Mon Jan 26 11:48:18 UTC 2004

Fred Shapiro and Barry Popik have given earlier attestations in the archives;
thanks. But another instance might be of interest, partly as another possible
source for Twain's evidently misremembered attribution to Disraeli. Also, the
following is the source for J. A. Baines' use in J. of the Royal Statistical
Society 59 (1896) 38-118 at p.87.
Leonard Courtney, in The National Review [London] 26 (1985) 21-26 at p. 25.
In a scenario of a future election gone wrong: "...The stupidest politician
will sit up, rubbing his eyes. After all, facts are facts, and although we may
quote to one another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, "Lies--
damned lies--and statistics," still there are some easy figures the simplest
must understand, and the astutest cannot wriggle out of." Courtney was arguing
for election law reform.
Another possible influence on Twain (and Courtney): Thomas Carlyle, Chartism
(1839) ch. 2, Statistics, which opens; "A witty statesman said, you might
prove anything by figures."

Stephen Goranson

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