Lies, damned lies, and statistics
"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

 to bolster weak argument
In philosophy and logic, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something, or give evidence or reasons for accepting a particular conclusion.Argument may also refer to:-Mathematics and computer science:...

s. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent's point.

The term was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 (among others), who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." However, the phrase is not found in any of Disraeli's works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death. Other coiners have therefore been proposed.


Mark Twain popularized the saying in "Chapters from My Autobiography", published in the North American Review
North American Review
The North American Review was the first literary magazine in the United States. Founded in Boston in 1815 by journalist Nathan Hale and others, it was published continuously until 1940, when publication was suspended due to J. H. Smyth, who had purchased the magazine, being unmasked as a Japanese...

in 1906. "Figures often beguile me," he wrote, "particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

Alternative attributions include, among many others (such as Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot
Walter Bagehot was an English businessman, essayist, and journalist who wrote extensively about literature, government, and economic affairs.-Early years:...

 and Arthur James Balfour) the radical
Radicalism (historical)
The term Radical was used during the late 18th century for proponents of the Radical Movement. It later became a general pejorative term for those favoring or seeking political reforms which include dramatic changes to the social order...

 journalist and politician Henry Du Pré Labouchère
Henry Labouchere
Henry Du Pré Labouchère was an English politician, writer, publisher and theatre owner in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. He married the actress Henrietta Hodson....

 (1831–1912), and Leonard H. Courtney
Leonard Courtney, 1st Baron Courtney of Penwith
Leonard Henry Courtney, 1st Baron Courtney of Penwith PC was a British politician, academic and man of letters...

, who used the phrase in 1895 and two years later became president of the Royal Statistical Society
Royal Statistical Society
The Royal Statistical Society is a learned society for statistics and a professional body for statisticians in the UK.-History:It was founded in 1834 as the Statistical Society of London , though a perhaps unrelated London Statistical Society was in existence at least as early as 1824...

. Courtney referred to a future statesman, not a past one.

The earliest instance of the phrase found in print dates to a letter written June 8, 1891, published June 13, 1891, The National Observer p. 93(-94):
[To the Editor of The National Observer]
London, 8 June 1891
"Sir,--It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of
falsehood: the first is a 'fib,' the second is a downright lie, and the third and most
aggravated is statistics. It is on statistics and on the absence of statistics
that the advocate of national pensions relies....." Later, in October 1891, as a query in Notes and Queries
Notes and Queries
Notes and Queries is a long-running quarterly scholarly journal that publishes short articles related to "English language and literature, lexicography, history, and scholarly antiquarianism". Its emphasis is on "the factual rather than the speculative"...

, the pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

ous questioner, signing as "St Swithin", asked for the originator of the phrase, indicating common usage even at that date. The pseudonym has been attributed to Eliza Gutch
Eliza Gutch
Eliza Gutch was an author and contributor to Notes and Queries. It was from her suggestion that the Folklore Society was formed, with Gutch as a founder member...


The American Dialect Society
American Dialect Society
The American Dialect Society, founded in 1889, is a learned society "dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it." The Society publishes the academic journal, American Speech...

 list archives includes numerous posts by Stephen Goranson that cite research into uses soon after the above.
. They include:
  • Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke
    Sir Charles Dilke, 2nd Baronet
    Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 2nd Baronet PC was an English Liberal and reformist politician. Touted as a future prime minister, his aspirations to higher political office were effectively terminated in 1885, after a notorious and well-publicised divorce case.-Background and education:Dilke was the...

     (1843–1911) is reported twice in Oct. 1891 to have used the phrase, without attributing it to others:
"Sir Charles Dilke [1843-1911] was saying the other day that false statements might be arranged according to their degree under three heads, fibs, lies, and statistics." The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Monday, October 19, 1891

PUBLIC MEN ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), October 21, 1891; Issue 9223 "SIR CHARLES DILKE AND THE BISHOPS" "A mass meeting of the slate quarry-men of Festiniog [Ffestiniog, Wales] was held Wednesday night [Oct. 14] to protest against certain dismissals from one of the quarries...." He [Dilke] observed that the speeches of the Bishops on the disestablishment question reminded him that there were three degrees of untruth--a fib, a lie, and statistics (Laughter)"

  • The phrase, as noted by Robert Giffen in 1892, was a variation on a phrase about three types of unreliable witnesses, a liar, a damned liar, and an expert (Economic Journal 2 (6) (1892), 209-238, first paragraph; the paper was previously read at a meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science at Hobart in January 1892). 1892 Jan talk, June pub Robert Giffen (1837–1910, Walter Bagehot's assistant editor at The Economist 1868ff; 1882-4 President of the Statistical Society): "An old jest runs to the effect that there are three degrees of comparison among liars. There are liars, there are outrageous liars, and there are scientific experts. This has lately been adapted to throw dirt upon statistics. There are three degrees of comparison, it is said, in lying. There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics."

  • That phrase can be found in Nature in 1885, page 74 Nov 26, 1885: :"A well-known lawyer, now a judge, once grouped witnesses into three classes: simple liars, damned liars, and experts. He did not mean that the expert ..."

  • A minute of the X Club
    X Club
    The X Club was a dining club of nine men who supported the theories of natural selection and academic liberalism in late 19th-century England. Thomas Henry Huxley was the initiator: he called the first meeting for November 3, 1864...

     meeting held on 5 December 1885, recorded by Thomas Henry Huxley, noted "Talked politics, scandal, and the three classes of witnesses—liars, d—d liars, and experts." Quoted in 1900 in Leonard Huxley
    Leonard Huxley (writer)
    Leonard Huxley was an English schoolteacher, writer and editor.- Family :His father was the zoologist Thomas Henry Huxley, 'Darwin's bulldog'. Leonard was educated at University College School, London, St. Andrews University, and Balliol College, Oxford. He first married Julia Arnold, daughter of...

    's The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley.


The phrase has been used in a number of popular expositions, including:
  • Quotes, Damned Quotes ..... some of them to do with statistics (1985), by John Bibby - an attempt to untangle the history of this quotation.
  • Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists (2001), by University of Delaware
    University of Delaware
    The university is organized into seven colleges:* College of Agriculture and Natural Resources* College of Arts and Sciences* Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics* College of Earth, Ocean and Environment* College of Education and Human Development...

    Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

     Joel Best (ISBN 978-0520219786).
  • How to Lie with Statistics
    How to Lie with Statistics
    How to Lie with Statistics is a book written by Darrell Huff in 1954 presenting an introduction to statistics for the general reader. Huff was a journalist who wrote many "how to" articles as a freelancer, but was not a statistician....

    (1954) by Darrell Huff
    Darrell Huff
    Darrell Huff was an American writer, and is best known as the author of How to Lie with Statistics , the best-selling statistics book of the second half of the twentieth century....

  • The essay The Median Isn't the Message by Stephen Jay Gould
    Stephen Jay Gould
    Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation....

     begins by repeating this quote. Gould explains how the statistic that peritoneal mesothelioma
    Peritoneal mesothelioma
    Peritoneal mesothelioma is the name given to the cancer that attacks the lining of the abdomen. This type of cancer affects the lining that protects the contents of the abdomen and which also provides a lubricating fluid to enable the organs to move and work properly.The peritoneum is made of two...

    , the form of cancer with which he was diagnosed in 1982, has a "median survival time of eight months" is misleading.
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