How to Lie With Statistics (and Poetry)

“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”
-Emily Dickinson

It’s pretty easy, really. Take a four-thousand-year-old universal human tradition–say, poetry–and use statistical data within a relatively tiny segment–say, the last ten years in America–to extrapolate into sweeping conclusions.

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, I call out this tactic employed by a Washington Post article to once again predict poetry’s imminent extinction (this time with helpful graphs).

This of course prompted a friendly debate on Twitter with some mathematical philosophers about poetry’s inherent lack of truth due to its freedom from alethic modality (as you would expect).

Still, I contend that it is easier to lie with statistics than poetry, since one engages statistics expecting objective truth, and often discovers subjective misinterpretation; whereas one enters poetry expecting subjectivity, but often discovers something universal. So much of deception, after all, depends on confidence.

You can read the article, and leave a comment, on the Huffington Post.