There Are Three Kinds of Lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain? Benjamin Disraeli? St. Swithin? Eliza Gutch? Charles Dilke? Charles Stewart Parnell? Robert Giffen? Arthur James Balfour? Francis Bacon? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Statistical analysis can provide deep insights into an issue. Yet, carelessness or duplicity can generate misleading results. A popular cynical adage communicates this mistrust:

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

These words have been attributed to prominent humorist Mark Twain, British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, and others. Do you know who should receive credit? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain did include this saying in an installment of his autobiography which he published in 1907; however, he did not claim to be the originator; instead, Twain credited Benjamin Disraeli. Yet, there is no substantive evidence that Disraeli crafted this remark. He died in 1881, and the remark was attributed to him posthumously by 1895.

Tracing this saying is a complex task because the expression evolved over time. Changes were incremental, and there was no single originator who deserved credit. Here is an overview showing key phrases, dates, and attributions.

1882 Apr 04: three classes—liars, great liars, and scientific witnesses (Attributed to “well-known Judge”)

1885 Jun 27: three sorts of liars, the common or garden liar … the damnable liar … and lastly the expert (Attributed to “counsel”)

1885 Nov 26: grouped witnesses into three classes: simple liars, damned liars, and experts (Attributed to “well-known lawyer”)

1886 Apr 10: three kinds of liars who testify in courts: “Lawyers, liars and experts” (Attributed to “distinguished judge”)

1889 Aug 12: There are liars, and d—-d liars and experts (Attributed to “eminent judge”)

1891 Jun 13: three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics (Anonymous)

1891 Oct 10: There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics (Anonymous)

1891 Oct 14: there were three degrees of untruth—a fib, a lie, and statistics (Charles Dilke)

1891 Oct 19: false statements might be arranged according to their degree under three heads, fibs, lies, and statistics. (Attributed to Charles Dilke)

1891 Oct 28: Mr. Parnell’s dictum respecting fibs, lies, and statistics (Attributed to Charles Stewart Parnell)

1891 Nov 07: classifies falsehood under three heads: 1, the fib; 2, the lie; 3, statistics (Attributed to Mark Twain)

1892: three degrees of unveracity—“Lies, d——d lies, and statistics.” (Attributed to “some wit”)

1892 Jan: There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics (Anonymous)

1892 Feb: three degrees in liars: the liar simple, the d — d liar, and the expert witness (Anonymous)

1892 Jun 28: three kinds of unveracity—namely, lies, damned lies, and statistics (Arthur James Balfour)

1895 July 27: three degrees of veracity—viz., lies d—d lies, and statistics (Attributed to Lord Beaconsfield, i.e., Benjamin Disraeli)

1907 Jul 5: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics (Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli by Mark Twain)

QI gives great thanks to previous researchers particularly Stephen Goranson and Peter M. Lee who located many of the citations mentioned above.

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

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