A pseudonymous quotation to the same effect can be found in 1891 (see Anonymous in 1891 below; the judge referred to may be Baron Bramwell, for whom also see below), and a very similar phrase is attributed to Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke (18431911) in the same year (see Dilke below). A couple of years later another use of the phrase may have occurred (listed below under Traveling Engineers). Further, my attention has been drawn to a use of the phrase (or something very like it) by Sir Robert Giffen (18371910) in January 1892. Later in the same year Arthur James Balfour (later 1st Earl of Balfour) (18481930) and Mrs Andrew Crosse (Cornelia Augusta Hewitt Crosse) (18271895) employed the phrase. Details of their use of the phrase can be found below. It should be noted that even Balfour referred to it as “old” and that Giffen regarded it is a recent adaptation of an old jest about scientific experts.
Slightly after that, a doctor called M Price read a paper to an 1894 gathering in which he referred to “the proverbial kinds of falsehoods, ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics.’”
A (probably false) attribution to Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (18041881) has been common at least since 1895. The phrase has also been attributed to Walter Bagehot (18261877), Henry Du Pré Labouchère (18311912), [William] Abraham Hewitt (18751966), Commander Holloway Halstead Frost (18891935) and Thomas Brackett Reed (18391902). Since the phrase was in use by 1891, Frost can be eliminated and Hewitt must be very unlikely indeed. Further, as Stephen Goranson (see http://www.duke.edu/~goranson) says, “If Giffen, journalist (who worked with Bagehot at The Economist), economist (known for the Giffen paradox), and statistician, was right that the coining was recent (and depending on what counts as recent), then both Bagehot and Disraeli may have died too early to qualify; or Giffen was mistaken.”
It is possible that in its original form the quotation referred to expert witnesses rather than statistics; see various quotations below, in particular the one from The Accountant for 1886. A search of the online archives of The Times, The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Manchester Guardian, The Observer and The Economist, of JSTOR and of British Parliamentary papers has revealed no early occurrences of the quotation other than those included in this article.
The Saturday Review of politics, literature, science and art for May 16, 1885, contains a paragraph which prefigures the sentiment without containing the exact words.It may be worth mentioning that the word ‘statistics’ apparently first occurred in English in 1787.
Many of the sources quoted below were discovered by Stephen Goranson (http://www.duke.edu/~goranson).
Whereupon counsel on the other side was heard to explain to his client that there were three sorts of liars, the common or garden liar ... the damnable liar who is fortunately rather a rara avis in decent society, and lastly the expert, ...
DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD. Who was it who said, “There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics”? ST. SWITHIN
According to Folklore 41 (3) (1930), 301 and 63 (1) (1952), 45, “St. Swithin” was a pseudonym used by Mrs Eliza Gutch (18401931), of Holgate Lodge, York.
In Notes and Queries (7th Ser. xii) (1891 Nov. 21), p. 413, the following replies appeared:
DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD (7th S. xii. 288). There used to be a somewhat better version of this saying current in Lincoln’s Inn years ago, of a judge who recognized three degrees in liars: the liar simple, the dd liar, and the expert witness. The point lies in the fact that expert witnesses are allowed to give evidence as to what is their opinion, and hence are out of the reach of an indictment for perjury, which always hangs over the head of the ordinary witness, who can testify to fact only. To whom the saying was attributed I am sorry to say I forgetprobably to any one whom it fitted. In those days it probably would have fitted Sir George Jessel. W.D. GAINSFORD.
There is another version of ST. SWITHIN’S query which, if he is not, as he probably is, acquainted with it, may be of interest to him, namely, the three degrees of liars, which are said to be the liar, the dd liar, and the mining engineer. F.W.G.
“Professor [Joseph Edwin Crawford] Munro [ 1896] reminded him of an old saying which he rather reluctantly proposed, in that company, to repeat. It was to the effect that there were three gradations of inveracitythere were lies, there were dd lies, and there were statistics.(Laughter.) He hoped he might be forgiven for the words of the quotation(laughter): the quotation did not, he could assure them, represent his own ordinary style.”
A pdf file of the complete article can be obtained by clicking here and the LaTeX source is here. Similar reports occur in The Leeds Mercury, The Birmingham Daily Post and The Belfast News-Letter, all also on Wednesday, June 29, 1892, and in The Pall Mall Gazette for Wednesday July 6, 1892, and Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commerical Advertiser (Dublin) for Wednesday, August 17, 1892 and Monday, October 22, 1894.
Baron Bramwell was another conspicuous personality on the Bench. He it was who invented the well-known classification of pervertors of the truth“liars, dd liars, and expert witnesses.”
This may be what is referred to in the following three quotations:
In “The Whole Duty of a Chemist,” an unsigned article in response to an address by Prof. Wm. Odling , Nature, Thursday, November 26, 1885, p.74 ‘A well-known lawyer, now a judge, once grouped witnesses into three classes: simple liars, damned liars, and experts.’
Newcastle Weekly Courant, Saturday 4 April 1891, p. 3, ‘A rather eminent lawyer has been kind enough to classify witnesses as three kinds: “liars, dd liars, and experts. Truly it would be interesting to know how he divided the lawyers.”’
Pall Mall Gazette, Friday 12 August 1889, p. 7, ‘An eminent judge is said to have expressed his opinion of paid witnesses as follows: “There are liars, and dd liars, and experts.”’
See also under Huxley, Thomas Henry.
In the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Labour, June 1893, [C.7063], during the examination of examination of Dr Elgin R[alston] L[ovell] Gould (18601915) on 2nd December 1892 (paragraphs 64286827, pages 434464) there is a subsection where the Rt Hon. Leonard H. [subsequently Lord] Courtney as one of the commissioners questioned Dr Gould (paragraphs 64896532, pages 442445), and in this we find on Gould quoted on p. 443 as saying to Courtney
6511 ...and perhaps to the extent to which it prevailed with us which led one of your English statesmen to say that there were three degree of untrutha fib, a lie, and statistics.
Courtney has become asssociated with the quotation because in 1895 he said
“...After all, facts are facts, and although we may quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, ‘Liesdamned liesand statistics,’ still there are some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest cannot wriggle out of.”
Leonard Henry Courtney, ‘To My Fellow-Disciples at Saratoga Springs,’ The National Review [London] 26 (1895) 2126 at page 25. Click here for a pdf file or here for the LaTeX source. Courtney lived from 1832 to 1918 and later in life was made a Baron.
This was quoted soon afterwards in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society in the following terms:
... Once again, but not I hope, too often, or for the last time, do
I dip into the well of Mr Courtney’s sagacity:
“We may quote to one another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, lies, damned lies and statistics, still there are some easy figures which the simplest must understand but the astutest cannot wriggle out of.”
These are the figures I have done my best to simplify and set intelligibly before you. I now leave the way clear for the wriggling.
J A Baines, Parliamentary representation in England illustrated by the elections of 1892 and 1895, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 59 (1896), 38118, at page 87.
The giver of this pleasant picnic was Mr. William Pattison, a bachelor friend of ours, who succeeded in making, as some people can do in London without rank or wealth, a very agreeable circle of acquaintances, more or less distinguished in politics and literature. His special metier was statistics, and I have heard those persons say, who were competent to judge, that Mr. Pattison stood alone in his capacity for certain branches of work. It has been said by some wits that that there are three degrees of unveracity: “Lies, dd lies, and statistics.” The science has a good many hard things said of the use that Buckle and other authors have made of it in the arbitrary classification of facts. In his “History of Civilization,” a book that made an immense impression in its day, Buckle appears to assume that human actions are governed by the law of averages; surely does he not mistake a record for an ordinance. I was told by Dr. Noad, a relative of Mr. Buckle, that this remarkable writer was entirely self-taught. His health as a boy was so delicate that he was never sent to school, and was left to learn little or much as he liked. His accumulated knowledge was prodigious and his memory about even trifling things most remarkable, A friend of mine when in his company had occasion to refer to the cultivation of rhubarb, whereupon Buckle immediately said: “The plant was introduced into Europe in 1610, I mean the common garden rhubarb which grows wild in the mountains of Syria and Persia.” He then went on to say that this must not be confounted with the official rhubarb of commerce, adding statistics about the latter as an article of import into Great Britain.
The Living Age 195 (Issue 2523) (1892 Nov 5), 372383 at page 379 and The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature 56 (4), 505515 at page 511.
Dr E[lgin] R[alston] L[ovell] Gould (18601915) (see also below under Courtney, Leonard Henry and under Marshall, Alfred) wrote in “The Temperance Problem: Past and Future’, The Forum, 1894 November, p. 339 et seq., towards the end of the article (last paragraph but three): ‘Sir Charles Dilke in one sense was right when he said, “There are three degrees of untruth,a fib, a lie, and statistics.” ’
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
I think Lord Beaconsfield said that there were three degrees of veracityviz., lies, dd lies, and statistics.
It may be so, but will Mr. Peake explain away the undoubted fact that the average attendance per hour at the Guildhall Gallery has been larger on Sundays than on weekdays, both this year and last year?
W. P. TREGOAR Ludgate-hill, London, E.C., July 26
Very soon after that, on Wednesday 20 August 1895, the same attribution can be found in an Editorial in the New York Times which begins as follows:
According to a saying credited to Lord Beaconsfield, there are three kinds of mendacitylies, blank lies, and statistics. This means, doubtless, that nobody with a cause to maintain it ever lacked figures with which to do it. Even the anti-vaccinationists, for instance, by searching the inspiring tables of mortality in various countries, and especially by calling upon their own fervid imaginations, find no difficulty in proving that Jenner was a fiend in not too human form, and that a man vaccinated is for all practical purposes a man dead.
The attribution to Disraeli became more widely known because of the passage in Mark Twain’s Autobiography quoted below under Twain, Mark.
An old jest runs to the effect that there are three kinds of comparison among liars. There are liars, there are outrageous liars, and there are scientific experts. This has lately been adapted to throw dirt upon statistics. There are three degrees of comparions, it is said, in lying. There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics. Statisticians can afford to laugh at and profit by jokes at their expense. There is so much knowledge which is unobtainable except by statistics, expecially the knowledge of the condition and growth of communities and growth of communities in the mass, that, even if the blunders in using statistics were greater and more frequent than they are, the study would still be indispensible. But just because we can afford to laugh at such jests we should be ready to turn them to account, and it is not difficult to discover one of the principal occasion for the jest I have quoted, and profit by the lesson.
“On international statistical comparisons”, Economic Journal 2 (6) (1892), 209238, first paragraph. In a footnote it is stated that the paper was read at a meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science at Hobart in January 1892.
They dined together on the first Thursday in each month, except July, August, and September, before the meeting of the Royal Society, of which all were members excepting Mr. Spencer, the usual hour being six, so that they should be in good time for the society’s meeting at eight; and a minute of December 5, 1885, when Huxley was treasurer and revived the custom of making some note of the conversation, throws lights on the habits of the club. “Got scolded,” he writes, “for dining at 6.30. Had to prove we have dined at 6.30 for a long time by evidence of waiter. (At the February meeting, however, “agreed to fix dinner hour six hereafter.”) Talked politics, scandal, and the three classes of witnessesliars, dd liars, and experts. Huxley gave account of civil list pension. Sat to the unexampled hour of 10 P.M., except Lubbock who had to go to Linnean.”
Huxley, Leonard, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (2 vols), London: Macmillan 1900, Vol. I, pp. 255, 257258. Quoted on p. 314 of Roy M MacLeod, “The X-club as a social network of science in late-Victorian England”, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 24 (2) (1970), 305322.
It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics.
A pdf file of the complete article can be obtained by clicking here and the LaTeX source is here.
6743. As to the three orders of untruth, a fib, a lie, and statistics, do you think that public opinion is getting to recognize that there are statistics which do not belong to that class? I am very positive of it. I am speaking of course now specially with regard to my own country, but I believe there is a general recognition of it elsewhere.
However, Gould had referred to “a fib, a lie, and statistics” earlier in para. 6511 (see above under Courtney, Leonard Henry), so it cannot plausibly originate with Marshall.
“We all know, again, the famous degrees of comparison recently quoted by an eminent statesman: lies, dd lies, and statistics.”
This quotation was supplied by Stephen Goranson (see http://www.duke.edu/~goranson). However, a search of the electronic version of The Illustrated London News revealed nothing relevant, so Deans was presumably in error.
REMARKS ON A PAPER CRITICISING THE PROFESSION.
“Look at the dozens of operations by me this year without a death,” says the operator. His less enthusiastic neighbor thinks of the proverbial kinds of falsehoods, “lies, damned lies and statistics.” Medical and Surgical Reporter (Philadelphia) 72 (3) (1895), pages 8789 at page 88.
Bag is bad, but fibs are worse; and a mixture of brags and fibs is worst of all; and this is what we find in the Liberationist statistics, as exhibited in the Society’s “Case for Disestablishment, 1884.”
The complete article can be read by clicking here.
The statements were to the effect that there are three classes of unreliable witnesses, and they were respectively classified as the liar, the blanked liar and the medical expert.
I was deducing from the above that I have been slowing down steadily in these
thirty-six years, but I perceive that my statistics have a defect: three
thousand words in the spring of 1868, when I was working seven or eight or
nine hours at a sitting, has little or no advantage over the sitting of
to-day, covering half the time and producing half the output. Figures often
beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which
case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
The article by Courtney quoted above is the published version of a speech on proportional representation (which was also Baines’ subject) that was given in August 1895 in New York State, which may help explain how Mark Twain came to know the phrase. On the other hand the passages in The Times and The New York Times referred to above may indicate other reasons why he knew the phrase.
Columns of figures are hurled about in the papers, and demonstrate the justice of the witty claim that there are three kinds of untruth : fibs, lies, and statistics.
Revised 19 July 2012