Remember How to Lie With Statistics? It turns out that the author worked for the cigarette companies. John Mashey points to this, from Robert Proctor’s book, “Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition”:
Darrell Huff, author of the wildly popular (and aptly named) How to Lie With Statistics, was paid to testify before Congress in the 1950s and then again in the 1960s, with the assigned task of ridiculing any notion of a cigarette-disease link. On March 22, 1965, Huff testified at hearings on cigarette labeling and advertising, accusing the recent Surgeon General’s report of myriad failures and “fallacies.” Huff peppered his attack with with amusing asides and anecdotes, lampooning spurious correlations like that between the size of Dutch families and the number of storks nesting on rooftops–which proves not that storks bring babies but rather that people with large families tend to have larger houses (which therefore attract more storks).
This was all a surprise to me, and I suspect to other statisticians as well. For example, Huff’s activities with the cigarette companies are not mentioned on his Wikipedia page (as of 17 Apr 2012), nor are they mentioned in an article on Huff by probabilist J. Michael Steele from 2005.
“How to Lie with Smoking Statistics”
Darrell Huff is best known for How to Lie with Statistics but he wrote or cowrote several other books, including Pictures by Pete (1944), The Dog that Came True (1946), How to Take a Chance (1959), Score: The Strategy of Taking Tests (1961), Cycles in Your Life (1964), How to be the Parent of a Successful Creative Child (1968), Twenty Careers of Tomorrow (1945), and How to Lower Your Food Bills (1963).
In November 1965, a letter was sent to Huff as follows:
Here‘s a letter from 1967 where Huff asks the tobacco dudes for another $1500 to keep writing.
And here‘s a letter from mid-1968 from Huff’s publisher, Macmillan:
But publication “as soon as possible” never seems to have occurred.
What happened? In one of these documents, William Kloepfer, vice president for public relations for the Tobacco Institute, wrote of the manuscript, “Frankly, this mass of verbiage needs drastic editing before it will directly address itself to the needs of our industry.”
After glancing at a couple of sections from the draft, I gotta say that William Kloepfer had a point: “mass of verbiage” is a pretty good description! Huff’s book chapter reads like a bad sitcom where the writers were too lazy to put together enough material and they just milk the same couple of jokes over and over again.
In retrospect, I think Huff really dodged a bullet on this one. If “How to Lie with Smoking Statistics” had come out, I expect it would’ve destroyed his reputation—remember, we’re talking 1969 here, that’s five years after the Surgeon General’s report—and taken a big bite out of the later sales and reputation of his 1954 bestseller.
How sincere was Huff? Did he tank his book for strategic reasons?
I wanted to call this post, How to Lie With “How to Lie With Statistics,” but to be fair I have no reason to believe that Huff was lying or intentionally deceiving in his testimony. He may well have simply been misleading himself in analogizing research on the effects of smoking to silly things like studies of storks and babies. And if he was sincere in his views, I can hardly fault him for collecting some money for his efforts.
On the other hand, this document makes me think that Huff may have seen his role as producing talking points in support of a predetermined conclusion. I guess we’ll never know if he really wanted to publish How to Lie with Smoking Statistics. Maybe he intentionally sabotaged it because he sensed it would ruin his reputation, whereas it was possible for him to keep the consulting and testimony under the radar.