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August 31, 1889


JAMA. 1889;XIII(9):309-310. doi:10.1001/jama.1889.04440050021006

It is unfortunate that in an era when many conclusions are necessarily dependent upon statistical computations, a neglect of technical mathematical training often vitiates both a writer's deductions and his reader's apprehension of them. So common is this sort of ignorance, even in otherwise educated circles, that, outside of a comparatively small coterie of cautious, and especially cultivated algebraists, the civilized population is about equally divided between those who sneeringly remark that "figures can be made to prove anything," and those who overconfidently derive preposterous fallacies from insufficient data. In no pursuit is unintentionally false logic more mischievous in its results than in that of medicine, and we therefore offer no apology for presenting certain facts which, if they be tediously familiar to a choice few of our readers, may be useful to the majority.

Despite the popular proverb, figures will not lie if they be properly interrogated; but the