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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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Not pictured: Bunk, bupkis, malarky, cockamamie.
"Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 'Forfty' percent of all people know that!"
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons , "Homer the Vigilante"

This well-known saying is part of a phrase often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularized in the U.S. by Mark Twain:

"There are three kinds of falsehoods: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Numbers and formulas are supposed to represent "objective scientific data" you cannot deny which have been examined by intelligent and experienced experts. The Consummate Liar wants his forgeries to look undeniably "scientific", so why not use the magic of numbers that the not-so-math-literate masses could never deny? They say that statistics don't lie, and while that may be true, liars do use statistics.

This trope covers all instances of Artistic License – Statistics where someone manipulates statistics to present a misleading picture of the truth. The problem is, people do not pay attention to the context, just the numbers. For example, the statement "Brand X is 84% fat-free" sounds good until you realize that this means the food product is 16% fat by weight. Also, "fastest-growing" could mean that there used to be one customer and then there were five more, making a five-hundred percent increase. You should also notice Absolute Comparatives: it's fastest-growing, but specifically compared to when/what?

The whole business of throwing percentages at people in advertising, politics, and other forms of propaganda is almost destined for this kind of abuse. Relative measures are more likely to be understood accurately, and thus are less likely to be used in advertising.

The bogus uses of statistics are intended to imply a causal link between two elements when they are not linked, the link is questionable, or the link is opposite to what is implied. A beautiful example? "Coca-Cola causes drowning". By looking at statistics on drowning and Coca-Cola sales, you can see a link — more people go swimming on hot days, and more people buy Coke on hot days. Likewise, birth rates per head of population are higher in areas where there are more storks — because birth rates are always higher in rural areas, which is where one finds the Delivery Stork. Correlation does not equal causation; if it does, then we might also conclude that global warming is caused by a decline in pirate population and that 100% of Homo Sapiens who consume dihydrogen monoxide will cease vital functions and decompose.

Be aware of the Law of Very Large Numbers. Any fraction of a very large number is likely to be a large number, no matter how small the fraction is. It is estimated that 2,135,000 Americans have used cocaine (including crack) in the past month. But that's only 0.7% of the population! So, is this a lot of people, or not?

You should also be on the lookout for the related effect where things are made more remarkable than they really are. The odds that any given ticket will win a raffle may be very small, but it is certain that one will be a winner. You'd notice being dealt a royal flush in spades at poker, but the odds of it happening are exactly the same as those for being dealt any other hand of five specified cards.

Then you can get the kind of statistical abuse in which you are careful to define the question to get you the answer you want. What is the most popular book in the world? Depends if you mean most copies in existence (Quotations from Chairman Mao), most copies ever sold (The Bible) or fastest-selling ever (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

Statistics are like studies: who made them and who paid them matters a lot. Want to "prove" that video games cause violence? Get a group of scientists that are already savvy about this and don't mind the lack of ethics. Have them draw from a very small pool of test subjects that are known to display violent behavior. Mental hospitals, prisons, schools for children with behavior disorders, what have you. Do some generic tests that are guaranteed to show up positive, come up with numbers, and presto, instant headline. "Recent test shows 77% of subjects become more violent after playing Mortal Kombat." Most people won't bother with reading the article the whole way through and will just look at the headline. This works with anything from comic books and rock to watching Brokeback Mountain or voting for specific parties, basically anything. See Push Polling for a specific form of this.

Confirmation Bias, or the tendency for people to search out statistics that support their preconceived notions and ignore statistics that don't, is the reason for many of the entries on this list. The forgery mentioned above is also the reason most scientific and medical studies are done double-blind (meaning it's all anonymous, neither the researchers nor the participants know who's in the experimental group nor who's in the control group) and should allow for a chance at being falsified by Real Life (see also The Scientific Method). But you should beware of any advertisements touting a "double-blind" study, especially late-night ads because they tend to violate the truth-in-advertising laws.

In the end, statistics are not lies and statistics don't lie: people lie about the statistic itself or how it is interpreted. Some don't lie, they are simply ignorant, as are most members of the public in terms of statistical interpretation. See Logical Fallacies.

Put another way, by baseball announcer Vin Scully:

"People use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post — for support, not illumination."

Nine out of Ten Doctors Agree is a sub-trope. Compare Selective Stupidity, doing some Manipulative Editing to make people appear stupid. Contrast Absolute Comparative, where the use of statistics is avoided entirely by comparing the product to nothing. Subtrope of Lying by Omission, where the omission is the context of the statistics.

When adding examples, please remember that this trope is not about amusing statistical fallacies, but about using statistics to misrepresent the truth.


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  • Nine out of Ten Doctors Agree that the phrase "Nine out of Ten Doctors Agree" has been practically a stock phrase in advertising since the early 20th century.
    • "Nine out of ten dentists recommend Trident for their patients who chew gum." The tenth dentist was insistent that his patients never chew gum at all, but surprisingly, Trident didn't want you to know about that. One interesting case happened in Portugal, where two ads were being broadcasted on national TV during the same period (and sometimes even in the same commercial break) claiming, respectively, that '90% of dentists use toothpaste X' and '8 out of 10 dentists recommend toothpaste Y to their family'. Together, if you stop to think about it, they imply something is not quite right about those professionals' concern over their own family...
    • Or that an awful lot of dentists are unmarried orphans, hence can't recommend it to a family they haven't got.
    • In a similar vein, a commercial for Five Hour Energy states that 4 out of 5 doctors wish for their patients who use energy supplements to use low-calorie energy supplements. Think about that: They specify patients who already use energy supplements, meaning they didn't count any doctors who recommend that their patients not use energy supplements at all.
  • A Trojan Condoms commercial claims that the United States ranks between two African nations in HIV cases. This means nothing since the population of the USA is much higher than either of those countries!
  • An old advert for Guinness ran with the quote "88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot", attributed to Vic Reeves. Most (95.639055252364%) of these will have ridiculous precision. (Source unknown)
  • Fletcher Knebel was apparently responsible for "Smoking is the leading cause of statistics", the most famous of which is "100% of non-smokers die".
  • In Montreal, there was an ad campaign run by a gum company whose gum came in round shapes instead of the usual square shapes. The ad said, "100% of people who chew square gum die."
  • Ever wonder how all car insurance companies manage to advertise that "people who switch from <competing company> to <our company> save an average of <a large amount of money or substantial percentage>"? It's because the sample population "people who switch" is almost entirely composed of "people who are going to save a big chunk of money doing so", or else why would they bother to switch? Since no record is kept of the percentage of people who would not save any money and therefore don't switch, the cited statistic has almost no meaning.
  • As the Great Cable TV/Internet/Voice wars began ramping up, they tended to fish from similarly Small Reference Pools for their commercials, typically along the lines of "Of all customers who switched from <company> to <company>, over 53% that switched back did so because they realized they were paying less before." This is said in rapid-fire and/or low-key speech, while the 53% is emblazoned on the screen, making you think that half of the people that switched had come back, instead of that being a sub-statistic OF those that switched back: that figure is never stated.
  • A banner ad right here on TV Tropes promoted The Church of Scientology, rhetorically asking, "Why is it the world's fastest-growing religion?" Hmmm, maybe because this religion that cannot be named for legal reasons was founded less than 100 years ago, and most major religions are thousands of years old and likely have grown as much as they ever will? Or because they count ad clicks as memberships.
  • An ad for an internet phone service claimed that you could save $200 a month by switching, citing a chart showing all the associated fees and pricing. The product for sale listed a price of $25 a month with no installation or other fees, while the sample phone company was cited a price of $120, with $80 in associated fees. Disregarding the fact that you would only save $175 if taken at face value, the price of $120 was for six months of phone service, and the fees would have only been paid once. Looking at just price per month, the internet phone cost more than the sample company.
  • A cellular phone service in the US claims to have cheaper phone bills... if you bring your own phone. If you buy a phone from them, you have the option of buying the phone outright, or paying it off in two years, which brings the bill up to what the bigger carriers charge for a similar deal.
  • The term "unlimited bandwidth" that internet and cellular phone service providers love to advertise has gotten a lot of bad flak because people have found out yes, there is actually a limit to how much bandwidth you can consume from your provider before they start taking punitive action. Perhaps it was "unlimited" when speeds were so slow you couldn't manage to breach it even if you constantly were downloading something.
  • There's a billboard along a freeway in Michigan, advertising a dentist willing to do implants for only a couple hundred dollars. Next to it is a statement saying "Voted best dental office in Michigan". Just below that, in smaller text, is the disclaimer "by our dental staff".
  • The German ad for Fisherman's Friend Mint bonbons said nine of nine real men liked Fisherman's Friend bonbons. Shortly after throwing one of their test subjects overboard.
  • One ad for milk lays down the claim that 50% of children don't get enough of the nutrients common in milk. It then tries to scare the viewer into giving their kids more milk by playing this as if it were a 50/50 chance, which would only be the case if all children drank the same amount of milk but 50% of them didn't absorb the proper amount of nutrition from it.
  • Hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps always claim to kill "99% of germs" on packaging and in commercials. What they don't say — or will only say in in tiny print on the bottom of the screen — is that this was in a laboratory. There's a difference between killing germs in a petri dish and killing germs on your hands, and when tested under real-world conditions, the kill rate is closer to 40%.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Shizuo in Durarara!! maintains that the series's troll, Izaya, is behind "99% of all the weird crap" that goes on the setting. Sure, Shizuo can get irrational when mad, and will even use statistics and percents to maintain points. ...Did we mention Izaya's a troll? We can only assume that he means every single weird thing.

    Comic Books 
  • An old Archie story had one of the characters becoming a statistics-obsessed nut for the duration of the story, only for Jughead to start citing statistics that horrified them and lead them to run away in fright, at which point Forsythe noted that some ridiculously high percentage of people who quote statistics "make 'em up on the spot!"
  • Batman: The Penguin says this quote word-for-word in Detective Comics #684, at the same time pulling a You Have Failed Me on a newly-acquired henchman who, through statistics, "proved" that a broad daylight robbery had a 0% chance of being foiled by Batman.
  • Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges famously use the statistic that none of the people they execute will ever commit another felony again as proof that death is the cure for crime.
  • In Asterix and Cesaer's Gift, when Orthopedix is challenging Vitalstatistix for chiefship, he tries to court Fulliautomatix's vote by buying his anvil. Later, during the debate, Vitalstatistix says under that his leadership anvil sales went up 100%, and Orthopedix replies that you can make statistics prove anything you like.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert:
    • Dogbert once sold "value-priced lottery tickets;" half price, odds of winning only one in ten million less.
      Sucker: Hey! This is for yesterday's lottery!
      Dogbert: And your point is...?
    • The Pointy-Haired Boss tells the employees that he's found out that 40% of sick days are taken on Monday and Friday, and declares this to be "unacceptable". Asok laughs until he realizes that the boss is actually that stupid.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has Brian Fantana's... somewhat questionable grasp of percentages, regarding his "Sex Panther" cologne:
    Brian Fantana: They've done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.
    Ron Burgundy: That doesn't make sense.
  • Bowling for Columbine: Moore exaggerates the level of gun violence in the United States through spurious use of statistics, specifically comparing the amount of gun-related deaths in several western countries by citing gross figures for each country and not per capita stats. Even aside from that, the numbers he cites didn't match any known independent studies. Eventually, it was revealed that he took US Government crime statistics for gun homicides, and added uses of guns for self-defense and the use of guns by police.
  • Fat Head:
    • The obesity epidemic is actually because the parameters for who is considered overweight vs. obese was changed. Then there is the shift in age demographics; when the median age of the population changes from 26 years old to 35 years old, it's to be expected that the average person's weight would be an extra 10 pounds. Ethnic diversity also plays a role, with African Americans and Latinos more prone to heavier builds. Tom even noted that it took him several hours on a busy street corner to find even a handful of shots of extremely heavy people. He argues that these statistics are manipulated by NGOs with political agendas and government agencies that are more concerned with securing funding than actually solving problems.
    • Ancel Keys deliberately messed with his research to "prove" the lipid hypothesis. Keys threw out more than half the countries he examined because their data did not fit his theory that animal fats are bad for human health. For instance, Chile ate little fat but got a lot of heart disease, while Norway and Holland ate a lot of fat but got little heart disease. Keys was not the only one who deliberately messed with data, either.
  • 1994's Quiz Show, about the scandal that befell the TV show Twenty-One, takes the circumstance that started the scandal and simplified it. As it actually happened, Herb Stempel's question was to identify the 1954 Oscar winner for Best Picture, which was "On the Waterfront." Stempel answered "Marty" (the point of his ordered "dive"). However, play continued into a tie game with the money to be won $2500 per point difference. After two questions the scores are not revealed to either contestant but whoever thinks is ahead can end the game. Stempel's opponent Charles Van Doren opted to end the game and became champ. As the film entails it, the game ended when Stempel got the Oscar question wrong.

  • Darrell Huff's "How To Lie With Statistics" was printed in the '50s. It's usually available on eBay, still in print, and is a very easy read that shows you all the basics. To give you an idea, there's a long section devoted to the fact that there are least three different methods you could use to get something you could reasonably call an "average", and for some data sets at least one of them can be very different from the others. For example, if a company says their average wage is 3 times minimum wage might actually pay everybody around 3x minimum wage (the types of average called the "median" or "mode"), or they could pay everybody minimum wage (or even less, if they can somehow do that and get away with it) except the boss who gets thousands of times that, bringing the type of average formally known as the "mean" up.
  • Spoofed by America (The Book), which included a graph on "Growth of Misleading Charts". Two different bar heights represent the same number.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen, retired superheroine The Audit names her least favorite statistic as "seventy-four percent of super humans with a certain combination of hair style and color have powers with a 'possession' mechanic." As she points out, this is completely meaningless; "possession mechanic" is ill-defined, the sample size is stupidly small (nineteen people), and correlation is not causation.
    The Audit: That statistic exemplifies everything wrong with how people misuse numbers.
  • A book entirely revolving around poking fun at this is Spurious Correlations. A spurious correlation is when two variables appear to be related, but one variable is clearly not causing a change in the other. The author used statistical software to find correlations between variables that had nothing to do with each other, like finding out that the divorce rate in Maine is positively correlated with the amount of margarine consumed in the state.
  • A Sailor of Austria, by John Biggins. A government official produces a graph showing that Austria-Hungary will be the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean by The '60s, the historical irony being that the empire had disintegrated by 1918. The worth of this man's calculations are shown when he assigns Otto Prohaska's submarine for a long-range mission for which it's blatantly unsuited — not only is it a small coastal submarine, there's been no allowance made for where they are going to store the food, fuel and lubrication oil for such a trip. His response when this is pointed out is simply to order Otto to go ahead regardless and leave in a huff.
  • Zig-zagged in How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers by Tim Harford, which tells you how to read statistics so you can spot if someone's using them deceptively, but warns against assuming stats are always used to decieve. In the introduction he's rather sceptical about How To Lie With Statistics, pointing out that while it makes some valid points, Huff ended up convinced that the stats suggesting smoking was bad for you were spurious, and quotes the mathematician Frederick Mosteller saying "While it is easy to lie with statistics, it is even easier to lie without them."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Yes, Minister:
    • There's a very interesting section on this. In a discussion about conscription, Sir Humphrey demonstrates to Bernard how statistics can be obtained which prove both sides of the discussion correct, through the use of leading questions that are not included in the reporting of the survey concerned.
    • Another episode combines this with Hypocritical Humor; during one of their many arguments, Hacker brings up some facts to support his point only for Humphrey to superciliously note that Hacker's facts are based on statistics, which are thus unreliable as per this trope. When the argument gets a bit more heated, however, Humphrey begins to cite some statistics that prove his point, only to catch himself and quickly refer to them as 'facts'. Hacker is quick to point out the hypocrisy.
  • ABC loves to put out press releases trying to make the previous night's viewership of their shows look good. With their big hits, this isn't so bad; winning the timeslot in total viewers or Adults 18-49 (the demographic used to set ad rates, and thus the figure used to determine whether or not a show gets renewed) is definitely something to be pleased about (unless there's a huge skew between total and A18-49 viewership, but that's another matter). No matter how poorly-watched a show is, however, the ABC PR department can find some figure that sounds good but doesn't actually mean the show's doing well. They frequently put up demographics that aren't really indicative of a show's survival (e.g. women 18-34, or the adults 25-54 demo that only some cable channels use for ad rates), give the amount that the show built on its lead-in (usually when the lead-in was a repeat or another low-rated show, or a repeat of another low-rated show), or claim the show had the best performance in its timeslot among ABC shows since X weeks/months/years ago (when you look at the absolute ratings, all it says is that ABC's done even worse in the past; this is rarely used for hit new shows since there are usually better statistics for those).
  • Programs on Animal Planet are fond of citing how Americans spend more money annually on cat or dog food than on baby food. This is depicted as evidence that Americans pamper their pets like babies but overlooks several facts: that pets eat pet food for their entire lives, whereas babies only consume formula and jarred foods for about a year and a half, and many families have more than one pet at a time, but relatively few have more than one child of an age to eat baby food at the same time. Also, a baby might consume breast milk from the mother, which costs nothing, or homemade baby food, neither of which would show up in the statistics when calculating how much parents spend on baby food.
  • QI is well known for deliberately phrasing questions like this in order to confuse the participants. One question was "What is three times more dangerous than war?"note  The answer given was work because three times as many people are killed each year in work-related accidents than die in wars. Now, consider how much time you spent working last year compared to how long you were in a warzone. This prompted unhelpful responses from the panelists: "What if you're a soldier?" "What if you work in a shoe shop, near a war?"
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus parodied the use/abuse of meaningless statistics in the sketch "Spectrum":
    Man: This bar in this column represents seventeen percent of the population. This one represents twenty-eight percent of the population! And this one represents forty-three percent of the population!
    Host: Telling figures indeed. But what do they mean to you? What do they mean to me? What do they mean to the average man on the street?
  • Parodied in Australian political satire The Dingo Principle:
    Listen to this: 40% of people support the Prime Minister and 50% support the Opposition.
    That's only 90%.
    Yeah, there was one guy who said the samples weren't big enough to be statistically significant.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! point it out by having a man who makes poll research for the Republicans show he can make someone give two different answers to the same question by first asking: "Do you think the government expends too much in health care for immigrants?" The bystander answers "Yes". When he asks: "Would you deny an immigrant the right to treat himself? To give birth in a hospital?" and other medical services that go well beyond what the governments expend with immigrant health care, the answer now is: "No". Also, they make fun of the guy with his own mathematical wizardry by pointing out: "In this scene, ten cars pass by behind him. One guy from one of the cars shouts saying he sucks. This means that AT LEAST 10% of the American population believes he sucks".
  • In an episode of Psych, young Shawn attempts to justify his fear of shark attacks with the statistic that most shark attacks happen in about three feet of water. His dad points out that most swimming in general happens in about three feet of water.
  • The Wire: A major theme in the series is how organizations will "juke the stats" to make it look like the organization is more successful than it is. The police department will downgrade crimes (changing them to similar but less serious crimes) when filing them to make it look as though the rate of violent and major crimes are going down, or start focusing on low-level, trivial arrests to make the conviction rates go up. When ex-cop Prez gets a job as a teacher, he immediately notices very similar tricks being used to manipulate the standardized testing results and make it look like students are performing better than they really are. The stats have almost no relationship with real conditions, and making the stats look good almost always gets in the way of institutions fulfilling their actual function.
  • In the BBC programme Shop Well For Less, Once an Episode they run a test where they compare different brands of the same product, however the conclusions they draw from these tests are often highly inaccurate. For example, in one episode they tested waterproof plasters by sticking three plasters on each person, with a different brand being used for each, and then having them swim for a set amount of time. The brand which had the most plasters remaining afterwards was deemed the winner, and they tried to use these results to claim that the cheapest brand was the best. However, there were a number of factors they didn't consider. The test group only consisted of five people, so it was unlikely that the results were statistically significant, and no statistical test was carried out to determine whether the results were significant. Even assuming that they were, the people in the test group were all of different ages and may have had different skin types, amounts of body hair, levels of activity when swimming, etc. These factors would have affected the ability of the plasters to stick to the skin. All the members of the group were also male so the results can't be applied to women. There's also the fact that adherence to the skin isn't the only factor which determines the quality of the plaster, you would also want plasters to be absorbent, not damage the skin when removed, promote healing of the wound, etc. Finally the plasters were tested on undamaged skin rather than a wound and may have performed differently when used as intended. So overall, the results of the test are pretty much useless and can't be used to conclude anything at all.
  • Firing Line: Buckley's 1981 interview with Dr. Thomas Sowell mainly focused on the misuse of statistics to allege institutional racism or sexism. As Sowell pointed out, the stats most often cited by those trying to push that particular political agenda are group-level comparisons of "wage gaps", but when one factors in variables such as age, experience, profession, and workload, those differences either diminish or disappear, or even show a disparity in the other direction. (Ironically, that argument was in itself an example, because the controlled factors were part of the issue: for instance, wage gap research demonstrated that professions dominated by women were paid less as a whole than those dominated by men, regardless of the required training or experience.)
  • NCIS: In one episode, Abby is targeted by a hitman and becomes paranoid about her safety. At one point, she sets up a desk in the elevator, citing the low number of elevator-related deaths per year to prove that it's the safest place to be. Later, she gets over it, pointing out that her own logic was flawed. Since most people only spend a few minutes at a time in an elevator, they're simply less likely to experience a fatal event while they're in there, but since she was in there so long, her chances of dying in an elevator were skyrocketing (which is also flawed, but she was under a lot of stress at the time).
  • A favorite tactic of the Fox News Channel is to refer to New York City, Los Angeles, and especially Chicago as Wretched Hives due to their high number of murders. What the hosts conveniently neglect to mention is that crime statistics are measured per 100,000 residents, and presenting large raw numbers outside that context is misleading. In truth, America's three largest cities are not the most violent in the country by a longshot.
  • In the BBC Edutainment dramedy series about using mathematics in the real world, Maths Counts, the episode "Drawing the Line", has Wendy get a job for a company that makes uniforms for local firms, doing a survey to find out what companies think of them. The sample size is small (ten companies), the questions are skewed (the ten companies got the uniforms for half off, so of course most of them are going to think it's good value for money), and when she tries to explain to her boss that one of them had said they always got an increase in sales this time of year, he smugly informs her that this wasn't part of the question. He then turns the results into a bar chart with misleading axes. When Dave later tells her about his involvement in a proper survey that actually tries to find a representative sample, she's relieved to hear they're not all a fiddle.
    Dave: What do you mean, a fiddle? Figures can't lie, can they?
    Wendy: I'm beginning to wonder about that.

  • The Arrogant Worms' song "Don't Go Into Politics" recommends that audiences avoid the fields of politics, science, and music. To support their argument, it points out that people like George Washington, Albert Einstein, and Leonard Bernstein did so, and they're all dead.

    Print Media 
  • Newspapers love doing this with drug-related stories. It's almost impossible to see Ecstasy mentioned in a British newspaper without the qualifier "That killer drug", the supporting statistic is that a dozen people die per year from consuming it. Yet over the course of a year they will rack up an impressive body count in stories about fatal car accidents without ever devolving into calling cars "Those murderous rampaging kill bots" How many Britons drive? How many take E? And how many deaths are caused by legal drugs? - cigarettes, alcohol, over the counter medications, misused prescriptions... And that's not even counting the fact that comparing legal and illegal things is a comparison of apples and oranges. Alcohol was much more dangerous during prohibition as it often wasn't pure and alcohol concentrations were often higher than usual as this was more interesting to smuggle. If Ecstasy were legal people would be educated about its use and avoid harmful interactionsnote , impurities would not be an issue, an accidental overdose from misjudging the dose impossible and it would probably be sold in 25-50mg pills instead of 200mg. Taking those factors into account in the statistics wouldn't help to support the viewpoint of the author, so they are generally left out.
  • An Ars Technica article discussed the statistics usually used by software developers to complain about piracy. Specifically, the article pointed out that the statistics most commonly cited are most likely not only bullshit but old bullshit. Amusingly enough, the image used for the related post on Gamepolitics was a pie chart divided into three sections, marked "Lies/Damned Lies/Statistics".
  • The Column 8 column in the Sydney Morning Herald once referenced a statistical correlation between the difficulty of the sudoku on a given day and the price of petrol.
  • There is a semi-famous magazine article from 1958 called "The Dread Tomato Addiction" that correlates the consumption of tomatoes with everything from death to communism. It can be found here. There is a similar article about bread that can be seen here.

  • There is a book produced for people in radio every year that compiles countless statistics about all stations taken from polls. These are used to attract advertisers. The less successful stations that have very few listeners are often forced to hire people who read through the book to get as many favorable statistics as possible, no matter how convoluted they may be. With the huge amount of data in the book, it's possible to say, for instance, that 85% of married men aged some arbitrary amount with income in some arbitrary range and who own a ferret will love your show, even though they represent a tiny proportion of the population. Of course, if you're selling ferret food, that's exactly whom you want to reach.

  • The Australian Football League managed to turn an increase in positive drug tests into a decrease in positive drug tests. [1]
  • A joke about a U.S.-U.S.S.R. athletic event. When the American wins, the Soviet media reads that the Soviet athlete finished second, but the American finished next-to-last.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • A stand-up comedian once said, "There is a direct correlation between being a serial killer, and being born. Show me one murderer who was never born."

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (BADD)'s favorite weapons was a list of over 500 Americans they claimed were gamers who had committed suicide in the same year. Thus role-playing games somehow cause suicide. Except that even if you take this bogus statistic at face value, 500 suicides a year is still a lower percentage of suicides than clergy and a tiny fraction of the average.
    • Patricia Pulling, the leader of this organization, once said in an interview that "8% of the Richmond VA-area population is involved with Satanic worship at some level." When asked where that figure came from, she said that she estimated (read: pulled from her butt) that 4% of the teenagers and 4% of the adults engaged in Satanic worship. She then added them together and got the 8%.
    • Another time, BADD cited an increase in suicides corresponding with a major Dungeons and Dragons release. Again, however, there's no evidence that's not simply a coincidence, as similar statistics can be used to prove that the release of a Britney Spears CD caused suicide numbers to jump.

    Web Animation 
  • FreedomToons: Often, the videos will point out how some statistics that could be seen as a good thing give off a false impression.
    • Both "Government Good, Guns Bad!" and "Support Gun Control You Child Hating Bigot!!" point out that while gun violence in Australia has gone down since its gun ban, gun violence was already going down at an identical rate before its gun ban was put into law.
    • In "Only 2% Of Rape Accusations Are False???", Seamus calmly breaks down the actual statistics behind this claim and the uncomfortable truth that in the vast majority of cases, there's no conclusive proof either way.
    • This is the bread and butter of "The Debunkers" series, which stars two men living in a bomb shelter who spend their free time debunking YouTube videos. If a video they're analyzing gives a statistic, they'll cite the full context of the statistic which usually gives off a different impression than the out-of-context statistic implies:
      • "Debunkers vs. Medicare for All" goes into detail about the Canadian Healthcare System, and the myth that universal healthcare would fix everything. While it does have a universal healthcare system, there's so much red tape and bureaucracy that people can end up waiting months for emergency surgery, and citizens end up leaving Canada to find better healthcare in other countries. It also notes that despite the problems with America's healthcare system, the nation ranks first in the world in terms of quality, whereas Canada is ranked seventh.
      • "Debunkers vs. Abolishing the Electoral College" makes a statement that a pure popular vote is a bad idea. Claiming that it would lead to a case where states with large cities (Chicago for Illinois, Los Angeles for California, etc.) would eclipse the voices of less populated states.

  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
    • This strip argues that any theory has a small percentage chance of success, and since all those percentage chances amount to 100%, he can create billions of theories as to why he won't die, and one theory as to why he will, making the likelihood that he will die statistically insignificant. He still dies.
  • xkcd:
    • This strip concludes that the news media got the supposed relationship between cell phones and cancer backward, i.e., cancer causes cell phones.
    • Also this one, which combines it with a dash of Hypocritical Humor:
      Newscaster: ... and in science news, according to a new study, 85% of news organizations repeat "new study" press releases without checking whether they're real.
    • And one about the significance of 95% confidence when you run 20 tests and only publish the interesting one.
    • Another comic points out that the observed mortality rate among humans is only 93%, overthrowing most "100% of people who do X die" statistics.
    • And again, noting that you could send customers a live bobcat instead of their ordered item 1/30 times and still have a 97% positive rating on Ebay.
  • Sleepless Domain: An early interstitial features a Magical Girl recruitment poster, which lists the benefits for active magical girls to register with the BMG. Among these, it cheerfully notes that registered magical girls have a 70% lower chance of experiencing serious injuries or fatalities than those who haven't registered. Note the lack of any absolute numbers in that statement — just how many registered girls are killed or injured on the job, and how many more are unregistered?

    Web Original 
  • Cracked:
  • Often used in the News Parody Chigüire Bipolar for example in Maduro has 65% of Maduro's popular support, according to polls.
  • The Onion does parody this from time to time.
    • An article was about a movement to shut down hospitals because "despite rapid advancement in medical technology, the world death rate remains at 100%."
    • Another article said that children are universally opposed to children's health care, with responses to the question "Do you want to go to the doctor?" ranging from "NO!!!!" to "inconsolable crying," but no children in favor.
  • From 'Fat, French and Fabulous', "Statistically, the average person has slightly less than two legs." Statistics are fun when you don't use them properly.
  • Tumblr has a meme that relies on a subversion of this for comedy, serving as an explanation of what a Statistical Outlier is. According to this meme, people in general do not eat 3 spiders every year. Rather, it is one guy named Spiders Georg, who eats over 10 000 spiders every night, who's messing with the results, which should be accounted for.
  • Jon Bois invokes this in his video "The Search for the Saddest Punt in the World," where he creates a mathematical formula called "The Surrender Index" as a way of quantifying the cowardice of any given punt in the NFL. By his own admission, the purpose of the formula is mostly just to demonstrate how much he hates it when teams punt the ball in situations where attempting a field goal or going for it would be a better option.
    Jon: Where is any of this derived from? It's derived from my dissatisfaction. It's a reflection of how I feel. I'm misusing algebra to throw a fit.

    Western Animation 
  • The Boondocks episode "The Color Ruckus" showed Uncle Ruckus as a child, being homeschooled by his mother, who at one point made this claim about George Washington Carver:
    Bunny Ruckus: "George Washington Carver was the man responsible for more peanut allergy deaths than any man in history!"
  • An episode of The Simpsons featured Homer forming a vigilante group to fight crime. At one point he recruits Jimbo (who calls the group "the drunken posse") on the basis that he can swing a sack full of doorknobs. Homer later gives an interview to the local news:
    Kent Brockman: Mr. Simpson, how do you respond to the charges that petty vandalism such as graffiti is down eighty percent, while heavy sack beatings are up a shocking nine hundred percent?
    Homer: Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.
  • The Justice League was asked: "Maybe you'd care to explain why on your watch, 50% of marriages now end in divorce and the other 50% end in death!" Sounds terrible until you wonder how else are marriages supposed to end.
    • A somewhat more reasonable one is Godfrey's claim that since the League formed, "white-collar crime is up 3%!" While a more damning statistic, it's also the one kind of crime that the League doesn't get involved in much (not to mention it's a pretty small increase that could easily be unrelated — or, given Godfrey's other 'stats', taken as a percentage of overall crime, i.e. white collar crime now makes up 3% more of crime as a whole, because other crimes are going down thanks to the Justice League).
  • The Cyberchase episode "Raising the Bar" featured Hacker using this. First, when trying to get hired as an exterminator at the Cybrary, he used two bar graphs that appeared to show that Hacker caught more bugs than his competitor but when the scales were added, Hacker's graph used smaller numbers than the other, causing the results to be inflated. Later, when the kids are trying to prove that the Cybrary is infested with bugs that are attacking the history section, he uses a graph with an inflated scale to make the bars look smaller and thus make there appear to be no problem.
  • From the Looney Tunes cartoon "Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur": "With cavemen it's Duckies 2 to 1!"

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Alternative Title(s): Lying With Statistics, Lies Damn Lies And Statistics