Saturday, January 31, 2015

"Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

"Figures don't lie, but liars figure."

Carroll D. Wright was a prominent statistician employed by the U.S. government, and he did use the expression in 1889 while addressing the Convention of Commissioners of Bureaus of Statistics of Labor. But Wright did not claim that he coined the expression [CDW1]:
The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.

Still later in 1889 another instance of the quote appears in an article arguing about sewer routes in California. Soon the maxim will be attached to Carroll Wright, but there are still examples, like this one in 1889 and others in the 1890s, where the saying is unattributed [LSL]:
Statements are easily made; their value, however, depends upon the reliability of the parties who make them. Figures don’t lie, but liars will figure. I challenge an investigation of the situation
See link.

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