Today, in online chat with an American friend that touched on website statistics I posted the line:
“Never trust any statistics that you didn’t forge yourself.”
He replied that he liked the quote, which suggested to me that he hadn’t heard it before. This particular one liner frequently pops up in discussions of published numbers in Germany, especially if one disagrees with what they appear to show. You might call it the German equivalent of “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Its two common variants are “Ich traue keiner Statistik die ich nicht selbst gefaelscht habe” (I don’t trust any statistics that I didn’t forge myself) or as advice: “Traue keiner Statistik die du nicht selbst gefaelscht hast” (Don’t trust any statistics that you didn’t forge yourself).
I vaguely remembered that this line was usually attributed to Winston Churchill and found my friend’s reaction odd, because if this was a Churchill quote, it would be more likely to be known amongst English speakers than in Germany. A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions because hits centered on Germany, making it unlikely the quote was indeed from Churchill. The German-centric hits were no coincidence, because as it turns out the “quote” was a product of Nazi propaganda that has managed to survive the fall of the Reich by more than six decades.
According to research conducted by a member of the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Office of Statistics a couple of years ago, there is no verifiable source for the supposed “quote”. The Times of London had never heard of it. What’s more, it dovetails nicely with WWII Nazi propaganda that accused Churchill of exaggerating Allied successes and minimizing British losses (i.e. forging numbers). It does not really fit Churchill, because he was not known as a general skeptic on statistics, though he was suspicious of German claims (and for good reasons). The fake “quote” combines these two themes, skepticism of his opponents’ statistics and accusations of being a liar that the Nazis liked to smear him with.
Maybe better advice would be: “Don’t trust any quote that you didn’t forge yourself.” 😉
- Stimmts? Zahlenschwindel (zeit.de, 2002/18)
- Churchill: »Ich glaube nur der Statistik, die ich selbst gefälscht habe…« (statistik.baden-wuerttemberg.de)