Books to read at the cricket? How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff

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Our Books to read at the cricket? feature involves readers (let’s be honest, mostly Ged) trying to work out whether or not books are suitable for reading between balls and overs when attending a cricket match.

Regular correspondent Ged Ladd writes:

I was reminded of this wonderful little book, How To Lie With Statistics when I was invited by the London School of Economics (LSE) for a video interview around some of the subject matter in my own book, The Price of Fish, A New Approach to Wicked Economics and Better Decisions. The LSE people also wanted to talk to me about analytics and data visualisation. I thought the students might benefit from some warnings about pitfalls and deception in those tricky fields.

I had arranged to play real tennis at The Queen’s Club on the morning of day two of the last Lord’s match of the 2018 season; Middlesex v Derbyshire. I had also arranged to return to Queen’s late afternoon for a masochistic second hour. Lord’s real tennis players were, at that time, enjoying friendly refugee status at neighbouring clubs, while the Lord’s court was being refurbished.

Anyway, I worked out that I could manage about three hours of cricket and reading at Lord’s between my two Queen’s tennis gigs. This seemed, to me, in the planning, to be a quintessentially English gentleman’s day… apart from the bit about reading towards some civic purpose.

I felt a little queasy about being seen reading How To Lie With Statistics. My purpose, of course, was to warn the students about pitfalls and deliberately misleading methods, not to advocate the use of lies and deceit. But that might take some explaining.

So, as I had done the previous day when re-reading my own book, The Price of Fish, I plonked myself in the sun at the front of the Grandstand, where it meets the Compton Stand. A sparsely-populated spot.

While reading about all manner of statistical and graphical tricks, I wondered whether such methods could be used in cricket. Could Haseeb Hameed’s 2018 batting average be made to look respectable… or Steven Finn’s 2018 bowling average?  Come to that, might Lancashire’s and Middlesex’s season somehow be recast, numerically, to keep Lancashire in the first division and promote Middlesex to the top flight?

No.

Still, in summary, How To Lie With Statistics is…

  • still an enjoyable and informative little book – it has hardly dated
  • light enough (size and tone) for cricket match reading purposes
  • top notch on the use and misuse of statistical information in social/political contexts
  • arguably less useful for and about cricket statisticians, who mostly can be relied upon to play stats with a metaphorical straight bat

Have you tried to read summat while at a cricket match? Let us know how it went at king@kingcricket.co.uk