The history of "How to Lie with Smoking Statistics"
Darrell Huff is best known as the author of How to Lie with Statistics, which was published in 1954 and has been the most popular statistics book ever since. It was a short, snappy book illustrated by cartoonist Irving Geis and containing numerous humorous examples and anecdotes, priming its readers to resist the misleading plots and figures used by marketers and politicians.
Less well-known is Huff’s other statistical book, How to Lie with Smoking Statistics. It was commissioned by the tobacco industry in the 1960s after the Surgeon General’s famous report that smoking causes lung cancer, but never reached print.
The full story of Huff’s book is now available in my article “Huff and puff” in Significance magazine (preprint PDF here). Here I’ll collate some links to source documents available in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.
The manuscript of Huff’s book is available only in fragments, but I believe I have located every chapter. Some chapters appear in multiple undated copies in the Library, so it is not clear which represents the final revision; I usually picked the copy with the highest-quality scan, rather than fussing over establishing the right precedence.
- Chapter 1: How a Sample May Be Biased
- Chapter 2: Sample Size and Significance, along with chapters 4 and 12
- Chapter 3: Epidemiological Studies vs. Controlled Experiments (numbered as 4 in the PDF, but renumbered according to this letter)
- Chapter 4: Averages and Ranges, along with chapters 2 and 11
- Chapter 5: Reporting and Classifying Data
- Chapter 6: The Omitted Figure, along with chapter 7
- Chapter 7: Overprecise and Unknowable Figures, along with chapter 6
- Chapter 8: Semi-Attached Figures, along with chapter 7
- Chapter 9: Graphic Techniques, along with chapters 6 and 11
- Chapter 10: From Figures into Words, also renumbered
- Chapter 11: Correlation and Causation, along with chapters 6 and 9, also renumbered
- Chapter 12: Genotypes, along with chapters 2 and 4
I believe this is the entire manuscript, apart from perhaps a preface and conclusion.
- Letter from Huff to Edwin Jacob, December 1964, discussing Huff’s plans to produce a “sort of pamphlet of background material”. Gives an outline of potential subjects to cover.
- Article by Huff in Printers’ Ink, May 1965, outlining “eight major warning signals” in the case against smoking.
- Memorandum from F.P. Haas, November 1965, reporting that the “Ad Hoc Committee” will pay Darrell Huff to “prepare a mimeographed bulletin reducing the current statistical studies to lay language for use by local counsel in understanding the subject matter.” (This goal seems different from Huff’s plans, and indeed the eventual manuscript, which does not really explain the smoking studies.) Contemplates later publication, but “it will be understood with Huff that the Ad Hoc Committee will control whether or not such publication is to be permitted.” (Also discusses recruiting K.A. Brownlee to provide “more detailed criticism of the existing prospective statistical studies”, as part of an effort to develop statistical criticism of the studies on smoking.)
- Outline of proposed manuscript, December
- Memorandum from Edwin Jacob, January 1967, proposing paying Huff $1,500 more, for a total of $9,000.
- Report of expenses, January 1968, reporting that Huff had been paid $9,000 and was owed an additional $1,000 at the time.
- Letter from W. Allen Wallis to William Mishkin (Macmillan), March 1968, declining to review Huff’s manuscript and recommending K.A. Brownlee, Leonard Savage, and Frederick Mosteller instead.
- Letter from H.T. Austern to William Kloepfer, April 1968, discussing the legal issues in promoting Huff’s work (and other marketing efforts).
- Letter from William Kloepfer (Tobacco Institute) to Earle Clements, April 1968, suggesting caution in their advertising strategies after the True fiasco.
- Letter from H.T. Austern to the Tobacco Institute, April 1968, suggesting disclaimers to be attached to Institute marketing materials (including Huff’s book) and reviews to prevent further embarrassments.
- Review by K.A. Brownlee, in May 1968, of Huff’s manuscript. Doesn’t notice several glaring errors.
- Memorandum from John Lyden (Tiderock), May 1968, announcing that Macmillan has decided, “without any Institute participation,” to publish Huff’s book. Notes they had “rave reviews” from Brownlee and “ex-president, American Statistical Society” and plan a hardcover edition for “heavy institutional sale”.
- Memorandum from John Lyden (Tiderock), July 1968, suggesting Tiderock and the Tobacco Institute are considering “participating in Macmillan’s promotion of the book”.
- Letter from John Lyden (Tiderock) to Macmillan, July 1968, noting that Huff has connections to the industry which should be acknowledged in any book.
- Letter from Seymour Henck (Tiderock) to William Kloepfer (Tobacco Institute), July 1968, complaining that Huff’s book is a “mass of verbiage” which “needs drastic editing before it will directly address itself to the needs of our industry.” (Misidentified by Andrew Gelman as being from Kloepfer.)
- Memorandum from John Lyden (Tiderock), July 1968, reporting that Macmillan has agreed to have Huff revise his manuscript (rather than editing it themselves) and is negotiating a contract.
- Letter from William Mishkin (Macmillan) to John Lyden (Tiderock), July 1968, expressing surprise about Huff’s connections to the tobacco industry and asking for further information.
- Letter from John Lyden (Tiderock) to William Mishkin (Macmillan), July 1968, explaining Huff’s “not really extensive” ties to the tobacco industry.
- Letter from John Lyden (Tiderock) to William Kloepfer (Tobacco Institute), July 1968, explaining the exchange between Tiderock and Macmillan.
- Letter from Darrell Huff to William Mishkin (Macmillan), July 1968, trying to negotiate better royalty terms and a hardcover edition.
- Memorandum from John Lyden (Tiderock), August 1968, noting that Tiderock would help Huff in his contract negotiation.
- Memorandum from John Lyden (Tiderock), September 1968, indicating that Huff has reached an agreement with Macmillan and Macmillan “would hope to go to press with a hard-cover version of the book in eight to 10 weeks,” with 100,000 paperback copies to follow.
- Letter from Seymour Henck (Tiderock) to Huff, November 1968, saying that Macmillan would soon mail a revised contract but that Tiderock was no longer working with the Tobacco Institute.
- Special Account #4 statement, October 1969, listing $4,863.30 in additional payments to Huff for the six months ending in August, as well as payments to other scientists and public figures.