‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’


Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 23, 2018, 10:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I fell asleep with the TV on last night, which is not unusual, and it awakened me this morning, when I wanted to sleep longer, because, in a semi-conscious state, I got irritated.

Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

He wasn’t the first to say it. Twain credited it to Benjamin Disraeli. He said it enough times and was suitably famous to receive credit for it, even though he didn’t actually try to take the credit.

Mark Twain (Pixabay)

What got me ruminating were references to football games. In the third quarter, according to the glib promoters of ESPN SportsCenter, Oregon had a 99.3 percent chance of winning the Ducks’ game against Stanford.

Stanford won, of course.


The recent hurricane that weakened its way through the Carolinas to the point where it was a breeze when its remnants tottered through here was described by prominent politicians repeatedly as “a thousand-year rain event.” By the way, I don’t mean to downplay the suffering experienced by more than a million fellow residents of the Carolinas. It was a devastating storm. The crawl across the bottom of the Fox News screen said that 500 million people were without power. How that storm cut the lights out on parts of India and Brazil is beyond me.

Three years ago, in the Midlands of this state, hardy citizens (no doubt subsisting on hearty soup) experienced “thousand-year flooding.”

The silver lining is that we must be good to go for the next 2,000 years, at least.


It’s a statistic. It must be true.

I really prefer descriptions of the poetic beauty of sports – whether it’s a ball (football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, etc.), a race car or a hard right cross – to descriptions of algorithms and sabermetrics.

Some people are obsessed with such numerical puffery. Many of them play “fantasy sports.” Somewhere there are fantasy weather leagues, I expect. (“I’m deactivating the Tropic of Capricorn this weekend because I’m playing a hunch on the Indian Ocean.”)


I love baseball, but I don’t have a clue what all the acronyms and initialisms mean. (Strictly speaking, an acronym must be pronounced as a word, but an initialism or an alphabetism is just a collection of letters derived from the first letters.) “Scuba” (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) is an acronym. AFL (American Football League, or, American Federation of Labor) is not.

Some are used because they are deemed acceptable by society and the actual words are not. People say “that’s B.S.” because “bullshit” is deemed as too harsh. Why? It’s not actually cursing, apparently. Some people apparently think it won’t bring with it a demerit from the Almighty.

“A sign from above … on the wings of a dove” (Pixabay)

God knows. He (or She, or an omniscient spirit that transcends gender, or It, which would not be popularly accepted) probably doesn’t care. Oh, He cares, I suppose. He gave us this wondrous occupation of the universe, and if it brings with it enough rope to hang, well, I expect He/She/It is justifiably preoccupied with Syria, suffering, sunlight and many words that do not begin with “S.”

In college, I was always an essay-question, not a multiple-choice or true-or-false, kind of guy. Hence, today, many years later, I write essays.


If the sons of bitches (SOBs would, of course, be acceptable to a God with a lot less sense) would just let us know what the letters mean by using the full name on first reference, then I might care. As it is, I am frequently assaulted by the confusion of all the new lies, damned lies and statistics.

“But, don’t forget, Elroy, Smithers ranks higher in PQX, TLZ, and BADASS than Bumstead.”

Right. Gotcha.

Sometimes, on assignment, I ask what an ASPIRE grant is. Or a QUIKSTART program. What, pray tell, do the letters mean? Invariably, the people who have been talking about it for five minutes haven’t a clue.

“Let me get back to you on that.”

I expect some people who spout statistics don’t actually know what they mean. Me? At least I admit it.


The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)


The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.


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