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We have all heard the maxim, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Darrell Huff wrote “How to Lie with Statistics” in 1954. Since then, his book has sold more copies than any other text on statistics. I recently flipped through this book and remembered why it is so good. First, it’s funny. Huff was a writer and editor for Better Homes and Gardens, among other publications. He used this vantage point to pick example after example of lies told in the media through the misuse of statistics. Huff uses these lies — some of which were intentional, while others were unintentional — to teach complex statistical concepts in a way that is both entertaining and practical. Second, it’s still relevant!
In my recent skim of this work, I was confronted with several examples of things I run across regularly in email marketing. Here are three modern-day examples of the principles Huff articulated over 50 years ago:
1. The Well Chosen Average (Chapter 2) “This is the essential beauty in doing your lying with statistics. [Multiple] figures are legitimate averages…”
Email marketers love averages. What’s the average open rate? Average click-through rate? Conversion rate? Few topics are more frequently, or emotionally, addressed in our field. The reality is, email marketers consistently lie — intentionally and unintentionally — about these figures.
Originally from “Statistics, Lies, And Mathematical Literacy “| Published August 20, 2008