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Darrell Huff (4) vs. Monty Python; Frank Sinatra advances

In yesterday’s battle of the Jerseys, Jonathan offered this comment:

Sinatra is an anagram of both artisan and tsarina. Apgar has no English anagram. Virginia is from New Jersey. Sounds confusing.

And then we got this from Dzhaughn:

I got as far as “Nancy’s ancestor,” and then a Youtube clip of Joey Bishop told me, pal, stop he’s a legend, he don’t need no backronym from you or anybody. He don’t need no google doodle, although it would have been a respectful gesture on his 100th birthday, but nevermind. He’s a legend, and he’s against someone who puts people to sleep. Professionally.

Good point. As much as I’d love to see Apgar, we can’t have a seminar speaker who specializes in putting people to sleep. So it will be Frank facing Julia in the second round.

Today, we have the #4 seed in the “People whose name ends in f” category, vs. an unseeded entry in the Wits category. (Yes, Monty Python is an amazing group, but the Wits category is a tough one; seedings are hard to come by when you’re competing with the likes of Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker.)

Darrell Huff is a bit of a legend in statistics, or used to be, based on his incredibly successful book from 1954, How to Lie with Statistics. But the guy didn’t really understand statistics; he was a journalist who wrote that one book and then went on to other things, most notoriously working on a book, How to Lie with Smoking Statistics, which was paid for by the cigarette industry but was never completed, or at least never published. Huff could talk about how to lie with statistics firsthand—but I suspect his knowledge of statistics was simplistic enough that he might not have even known what he was doing.

As for Monty Python: You know who they are. I have nothing to add on that account.

Again, the full bracket is here, and here are the rules:

We’re trying to pick the ultimate seminar speaker. I’m not asking for the most popular speaker, or the most relevant, or the best speaker, or the deepest, or even the coolest, but rather some combination of the above.

I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides. So give it your best!


  1. Ethan Bolker says:

    I want to hear Monty Python riff on pystan.

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m inclined to extend to Huff the benefit of every doubt regarding his relationship with the tobacco industry. He wasn’t a statistician, and he may well have believed in what he said.

    On the other hand,

  3. Jeff says:

    Also, even if statistics don’t *prove* a potential harm it’s worth erring on the side of caution when it comes to the labeling of products.

  4. Dzhaughn says:

    How many at Hormel owe their terrible disgusting jobs to this comedy troupe? Canned meat was dead in the water. Literally. But now “Spam” is on everyone’s lips. Ewww. Wait, I’m trying to recommend them…

  5. zbicyclist says:

    Time to get off our D.Huffs (duffs) and get some exercise! Let’s have a nice participatory seminar, a hike with the Department of Silly Walks.

    However, you have to have a bit of admiration for a guy who somehow never found time to finish How to Lie with Smoking Statistics. Far better than if he had finished it. Alex Reinhart’s article on this (also in Significance) can be found here:

    Andrew has also written about this: Andrew Gelman. “Ethics and Statistics: Statistics for Cigarette Sellers”.
    In: Chance 25.3 (2012), pp. 43–46. doi: 10 . 1080 / 09332480 . 2012 .
    726563. PDF here:

    From Reinhart: “Andrew Gelman… reviewed the ethics of Huff’s involvement with the industry and suggested Huff could have intentionally killed the project to save his own reputation, which would have been destroyed by his association with tobacco.”

    I’d like to think Huff is a guy who saw himself walking into the abyss, and then took a step back. I don’t think that’s the most parsimonious view of Huff’s work on tobacco, but I’d like to believe it.

  6. Martha (Smith) says:

    For Brian’s sake! How sacrilegious it would be to prefer a writer of a popular press statistics book to a group that told the story of Brian!

  7. Robert says:

    I do not know much about Huff but would I rather hear him than Python? Ni! Ni Ni Ni.

    But on a serious note. We would be safer not to listen to Python. They know the funniest joke in the world, which, as video evidence shows, is rather deadly to listen to. So maybe Huff is the safer choice? And he could answer why he never finished this smoking book.

    Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing!

    If one wants a great time, Python has us dancing on the tables (if they are round…)

    • Whatever Huff’s reasons for not finishing How to Lie with Smoking Statistics, we are left without the fruits–whereas Monty Python will go to the ends of the earth, or at least to France, in pursuit of truth, and not only that, but they will show us both the endeavor and the outcome. Their sketch “Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre” shows Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion doing precisely that. At a seminar led by Monty Python, the exploration would be fearless and tenacious (and funny too). That’s the sort of seminar I want.

  8. Tom says:

    There is the opportunity here for a seminar ending with a hall full of people singing ‘Always look on the bright side…’. It is that or listen to someone whose name ends in F.

  9. Bob says:

    It is a little known fact that the group’s full name is Monty Carlo programmed in Python.

    They often stayed at the hotel run by Mark Hamill’s brother Tony—the Hamill (Tony) Inn. They found that staying there helped them stay on the right path.

    PS Am I now going to be banned?

    • Jonathan (another one) says:

      I would like to point out that while your comment beat mine by three minutes, I came up with mine ten minutes earlier and had to come downstairs to fire up the computer.

      • Anonymous says:



        (side note: your comment is another reason why i love that this site mentions the date AND time of individual comments. Together with the possibility to also link to individual comments, this is all just awesome i think).

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