The Number Bias by Sanne Blauw review – how numbers can mislead us


From Covid-19 to the tobacco industry to the climate crisis … a punchy, amusing history of the deliberate misuse of statistics

The old saw that there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” is attributed to various figures, but was already considered proverbial in 1890 – perhaps as an adaptation of the old lawyers’ joke that there were three kinds of liars: “the liar simple, the damned liar and the expert witness”.

Even though we have been well warned for more than a century, people still use statistics dishonestly all the time – as when, for example, it emerged that the number of Covid-19 tests the British government claimed were being performed each day included tens of thousands of test kits that had merely been sent out in the post, as well as multiple tests performed on the same individuals.

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