You can make truer statements with statistics than without. Statements that apply to some fraction of people for some fraction of the time can be stated as such, instead of as absolutes.
No one ‘always’ does anything. If you said to someone “You always do this!” the statement can only be false.
‘All’ people of a certain demographic don’t do any one thing. “All women (or all men) behave a certain way”, is less true than a statement that specifies what fraction of men or women you mean, and how you estimated this fraction.
Degree of knowledge and applicability can only be expressed with completeness using statistical tools like sample size, probabilities, and likelihoods. Without them, you are stuck with either the wishy-washy ‘sometimes’ or the overconfident ‘always’.
The phrase ‘lies, damn lies, and statistics’ was created in response to bad practitioners of statistics — people waving their hands and deflecting from the truth with jargon they know their audience doesn’t understand, trying to give an impression they know is incorrect.
Horrible as this is, statistics is not inherently prone to promoting falsehoods. With greater literacy, statistics can be an instrument of truth with nuance and accuracy.
Originally appeared on Medium.