There Are Three Kinds of Lies….

The full quote is actually, “(t)here are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”; it is on odd quote to lead off with in a post where I am going to urge you to attend a session on getting, “Behind the Numbers: Statistics for Librarians”, but I believe it is appropriate. The line could be interpreted in several ways, one way to interpret the quote, the positive way, is that understanding statistics allows you to understand a given set of data or information in a multitude of ways, not just: “52% percent of people say blank” that you often see. And that is the point behind the above titled session which will be occurring in just over two weeks at the 2012 CALL/ACBD Annual Conference that is, to understand what the statistics truly say, or do not say, in their entirety.

  • What makes Prince George Canada’s “most dangerous” city? Do you ever wonder about the crime statistics you read in the media? Or do you just accept them as indicators that the world is getting more perilous?
  • Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled.” Why is this the worst statistic ever?

A line I have often heard when discussing statistics with colleagues is (to paraphrase) “statistics are great and all, but you academics are really the only ones who have use for that, we don’t need that in my organization.” Nothing could be further from the truth, especially with the recent development of CANSIM being made available for free. As my colleague here at Slaw stated

CANSIM is Statistics Canada’s key socioeconomic database, receives periodic updates daily to its various tables, and “provides fast and easy access to a large range of the latest statistics available in Canada”

Anyone who does not have the ability to utilize that vast wealth of data, is placing themselves, and their organization, at a competitive disadvantage. The session which will be hosted by the Committee to Promote Research and conducted by Prof. Nicole Doyle, of the School of Justice and Emergency Services at Durham College, is intended to be an introduction to the use of statistics and illustrate how they can be used to your advantage. Or as the summary says,

Does looking at a statistical table make you dizzy? Does the thought of opening Microsoft Excel make you want to turn off your computer? Whether you realize it or not, statistics and research studies are a huge part of our everyday lives and the lives of our libraries….Once we see how easy it is to understand statistics, we’ll discuss how they can be used to make you and your library shine!

The line quoted at the beginning of this post, is one of my favourites but it is also one of the most falsely attributed quotes of all time. Many attribute the quote to Mark Twain in his autobiography; however, in his autobiography Twain attributes the quote to Benjamin Disraeli. Twain himself actually wrote,

Figures often beguile me, 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.”

However, further research has shown that Disraeli is not likely the originator of the line. There are several possible origins of the line all coming in the from the early 1890s, take your pick for the true origin of the line making the quote, a bit of a lie itself.

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