Famous statistical quotations

227

260

What is your favorite statistical quote?

This is community wiki, so please one quote per answer.

robin girard

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 5 247

8Should this question really be "famous quotes about statistics"? – naught101 – 2012-11-03T04:29:58.150

Answers

229

All models are wrong, but some are useful. (George E. P. Box)

Reference: Box & Draper (1987), Empirical model-building and response surfaces, Wiley, p. 424.

Also: G.E.P. Box (1979), "Robustness in the Strategy of Scientific Model Building" in Robustness in Statistics (Launer & Wilkinson eds.), p. 202.

Rob Hyndman

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 31 725

I prefer the extended version: "...all models are approximations. Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful" (Box & Draper, 2007, "Response Surfaces, Mixtures, and Ridge Analyses", p. 414) – Tim – 2014-12-31T15:46:12.567

23This sentence itself is a model (an epistemological one) – user603 – 2010-09-10T20:00:18.917

5

but see a nice discussion around this quote on Gelman's blog, http://j.mp/9SgIBO

– chl – 2010-09-11T10:21:25.927

15Sadly, too many people use it to excuse themselves from the flaws in their models. In my personal experience, it's usage is an alarm sign. – JohnRos – 2012-02-02T13:35:13.497

13And this is an actual quote, as opposed to something "attributed to" Box. It appears, e.g., in Box & Draper (1987), Empirical model-building and response surfaces, Wiley, on page 424. Yes, I did go and look it up before using it in a paper. – Stephan Kolassa – 2010-10-14T15:53:20.163

3I use this quote a lot to explain the difficulties in mathematicians transitioning to statistics – user549 – 2010-07-29T18:48:03.407

193

"An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem." -- John Tukey

John D. Cook

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 854

This reminds me of a quote made by Edwin Jaynes. It roughly goes "...a mathematician came to me and said 'I found a brilliant solution, all I need now is the problem'..." – probabilityislogic – 2011-02-05T13:09:13.720

11"Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise." John W. Tukey 1962 The future of data analysis. Annals of Mathematical Statistics 33: 1-67 (see pp.13-14) No doubt he said similar things at other times, but that's a precise source, and the version I usually see quoted. – Nick Cox – 2013-04-27T23:02:33.287

16I like this one, could be put as an advise when people write questions on this site ? – robin girard – 2010-07-27T08:48:41.993

7Absolutely...asking the right question is one of the most important skills. – Shane – 2010-07-27T14:17:30.600

5I remember once where a private industry company commissioned a mathematician to solve a garbage collection routing problem. Long story short, the mathematician complained that the company was only interested in finding a "close enough" solution rather than an optimal solution. I think, ultimately he was fired, and an operations researcher was brought in instead. – dassouki – 2010-07-27T17:59:21.297

2@dassouki I think the quote is more about the question .... something like science is not about finding good answer but about finding good questions ! – robin girard – 2010-07-27T20:21:49.737

131

"To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a post-mortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of."

-- Ronald Fisher (1938)

The quotation can be read on page 17 of the article.

R. A. Fisher. Presidential Address by Professor R. A. Fisher, Sc.D., F.R.S. Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (1933-1960), Vol. 4, No. 1 (1938), pp. 14-17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40383882

sjcockell

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

I read a slightly different version of this quote by Fisher: "Hiring a physician after the data have been collected is like hiring a physician when the patient is in the morgue. He may be able to tell you what went wrong, but he is unlikely to be able to fix it." – Peter Flom – 2011-05-27T18:10:45.057

2@Peter Was it really "Hiring a physician after the data ..." or should "statistician" be in there somewhere? – Dason – 2011-11-04T14:06:43.107

3@dason You're right! Someone edited my post, I think – Peter Flom – 2011-11-04T21:05:25.727

121

87% of statistics are made up on the spot

-Unknown

Dilbert.com Dilbert.com

Eric Petroelje

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 101

1And 45.8% of people don't believe that statistic – probabilityislogic – 2011-02-05T13:12:23.133

ROFL ROFL Scott Adams kills me – Hack-R – 2015-04-30T19:44:01.180

Ha! Every time I see a forecast that contains too many significant digits I think of this quote. "The number of cell phone owners is forecast to be 4,372,138,975 by the year 2020." Really? As if anyone could forecast better than 4.3B or 4.4B. – JoeTaxpayer – 2015-09-04T11:31:24.997

3http://imgur.com/0dsVC.gif – J. M. is not a statistician – 2010-10-23T11:59:06.837

115

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

-Aaron Levenstein

jilles de wit

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 251

6And life's more fun without them? Guess you can only take a metaphor so far... – naught101 – 2013-08-21T02:27:25.280

This just became my favorite quote – Ali Turab Lotia – 2016-08-30T11:25:53.077

111

Statisticians, like artists, have the bad habit of falling in love with their models.

-- George Box

Thylacoleo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 613

109

In God we trust. All others must bring data.

(W. Edwards Deming)

Rob Hyndman

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 31 725

5It's axiomatically true. – abaumann – 2013-04-16T07:16:23.497

2A great quote and a great man; debatably a great quote from a great man. – Jack Ryan – 2013-11-20T12:57:23.707

8God can make up data. – Leo – 2011-05-28T04:11:49.593

6@Leo What data do you have to support that hypothesis? :) – probabilityislogic – 2011-05-28T13:23:49.420

62God must bring data too. – KalEl – 2010-08-19T09:33:49.293

Ironically there does not seem to be any data suggesting the quote belongs to Deming! – Luca – 2016-10-19T15:17:39.653

1Ooh, is that a new version of the Omnipotence Paradox? If god made up new data, how could you prove that it wasn't there all along? – naught101 – 2012-11-03T04:33:51.207

99

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

-- Niels Bohr

Meh

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 547

16Prediction about the past can also be surprisingly tricky! – walkytalky – 2010-08-19T07:58:29.943

3

This one has been attributed to many different people http://www.larry.denenberg.com/predictions.html and it's disputed that it would be Niels Bohr http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr

– gerrit – 2012-07-25T16:16:32.253

92

All generalizations are false, including this one.

Mark Twain

aL3xa

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1 295

It is, except are there any generalisations that are entirely true? – naught101 – 2012-03-21T07:15:38.773

1@naught101 Definitions and the laws of nature (once we know them) are generalizations that I consider true. Though the former are not very interesting as in: all "true generalizations" are true. – ziggystar – 2013-02-03T15:20:47.450

This is brilliant! – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-19T03:51:22.827

90

If you torture the data enough, nature will always confess.

--Ronald Coase (quoted from Coase, R. H. 1982. How should economists chose? American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D. C.). I think most who hear this quote misunderstand its profound message against data dredging.

Eric Stolen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

89

A big computer, a complex algorithm and a long time does not equal science.

-- Robert Gentleman

Paolo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 111

3Just curious, where did he say/write that? – Hack-R – 2015-04-30T19:49:03.900

49Still it looks promising. – mbq – 2010-07-27T11:20:02.893

81

The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data

Tukey

robin girard

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 5 247

This should be taught in management school long before the chapter on KPI calculation – rumtscho – 2014-02-06T20:04:50.463

5As a biological scientist, I find myself muttering this to myself during a lot of seminars... – N Brouwer – 2012-10-18T18:05:20.590

79

Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary a qualification for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.

--H.G. Wells

Michael Bishop

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

1An anonymous user asked for a source for this 'quote'; he/she also indicated that Gigerenzer noted that he searched Wells published output in vain for the original. – chl – 2013-04-25T07:00:31.610

By God, he was right! – KalEl – 2010-08-19T09:32:41.740

12I don't know, you've seen many efficient citizens lately? – Raskolnikov – 2010-12-03T23:26:37.490

2Still waiting... – naught101 – 2012-11-03T04:34:44.140

75

There are no routine statistical questions, only questionable statistical routines.

D.R. Cox

Tzippy

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

3

Rolf Sundberg attributed this quote to J.M. Hammersley in a 1994 article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0169-7439(93)E0041-2

– onestop – 2011-01-28T20:41:06.567

1The following was an attempted edit by an anonymous user: "Comment: It is told after the qoute that I have attributed this (excellent) quote to Hammersley. The reason for my attribution of it to Hammersley was that I asked David Cox before I used the quote, and he answered that it was not originally his, but Hammersley's phrasing. Rolf Sundberg". – gung – 2013-05-23T19:51:49.790

71

Strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring.

-- Charlie Chan

ars

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 10 399

2I would say that the key to cracking the meaning of this quote is to recognise that the word "strange" is relative to what your model of "normal" is. – probabilityislogic – 2011-02-05T13:11:45.797

1I this just a verbose way of saying "outliers happen", or is there something deeper I'm missing? – naught101 – 2014-02-07T02:14:37.173

A similar quote that I like is “With a large enough sample, any outrageous thing is likely to happen" (Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller). – MattBagg – 2015-02-13T01:34:41.037

14I don't mind the down vote, but I maintain that this is a deep statistical point, not to be taken lightly. ;-) – ars – 2010-07-27T07:18:30.913

Especially if you are in the financial services sector. – DWin – 2011-01-18T22:21:46.553

70

A nice one I came about:

I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.

By Richard Feynman (link)

Tal Galili

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 8 629

If I was a betting man I'd say Richard Feynman was an agnostic – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-30T10:48:28.700

Nice one but Thomas Gray puts it better "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." – Marco Stamazza – 2017-12-13T09:26:27.200

Does Feynman qualify as a statistician? – Glen_b – 2012-11-03T06:59:53.987

70

Statistics - A subject which most statisticians find difficult but which many physicians are experts on. "Stephen S. Senn"

Kieran

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

2I think its because physics has a similar level of pedantry required for statistics, and the physicist has the huge benefit of wanting to get rid of uncertainty, the statistician just wants to describe it. – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-30T11:04:59.273

1Although I could imagine this applying to physicists as well. – MHH – 2014-02-07T01:16:22.230

26Physicians \neq physicists – David Roberts – 2011-08-18T01:14:11.873

3

Credit: Stephen Senn, Statistical Issues in Drug Development, page4. http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/71/04700187/0470018771.pdf

– onestop – 2010-11-08T09:03:41.133

1This may be my new favorite – Fomite – 2012-07-22T21:51:11.537

64

The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard.

-- John Tukey

(This is MY favourite Tukey quote)

Thylacoleo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 613

4Love this one -- a wonderful bonus of being a statistician. – Kingsford Jones – 2010-09-11T17:13:07.987

I'm unsure what this one means. Is that because statistics applies to almost every field? – Ali Turab Lotia – 2016-08-30T11:42:33.300

@Ali, I believe that's the general intent. Statistics can be a very powerful epistemological framework which has found use in multiple fields with extremely complex systems (biology, economics, epidemiology, climate science, etc). – Ashe – 2016-09-16T18:17:57.533

This is precisely why I got into the field, i'm nosy! – adunaic – 2016-10-14T19:58:58.203

62

He uses statistics like a drunken man uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.

-- Andrew Lang

Neil McGuigan

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 921

60

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Carl Sagan

Tzippy

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

Wikipedia appears to credit Martin Rees... who's also not a statistician.

– Glen_b – 2013-05-24T02:12:17.243

1@Glen_b It appears that Sagan might have said that in some sense of irony, if it all, being a critic of Martin's quote. That's something to contemplate, for me, since cosmology is so full of examples where predictions have been made to account for inexplicable sources of error that have turned out to be correct (or not quite debunked), e.g. cosmic background radiation, dark matter, and the Big Bang Theory. – AdamO – 2014-01-13T17:21:31.897

64Good quote, but it's not true! Absence of evidence is not proof of absence, but it certainly is evidence. Why do we think magnetic monopoles (or unicorns, for that matter) don't exist? Because we've looked and haven't found any. – John D. Cook – 2010-08-17T18:15:29.727

@John D. Cook "Because we've looked and haven't found any" makes sense to me, and I strongly agree with this rationale, but where do we fit the black swan like phenomena? – Robson – 2015-12-11T13:13:11.347

7@JohnD.Cook, +1. However, your comment relies on the fact that we have looked, and that there was a reasonable chance of having found evidence if it really were there; consider, for example, the various 'missing links' that were ultimately found (and those that have not yet been). – gung – 2012-02-06T18:32:21.253

12

Besides, Tzippy is misquoting Sagan, since Sagan never believed that. He in fact listed it among the fallacies in his baloney detecion kit.

– Raskolnikov – 2010-12-03T23:31:58.870

Does Sagan qualify as a statistician? – Glen_b – 2012-11-03T07:00:16.560

54

Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable.

-Bobby Bragan, 1963

Albort

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 376

8Wrong: 200 C and 0 C average to about 100 C, which is the boiling point of water. Ovens only go down to about 150 C, and 75 C is still too hot. Now, if you have one foot in scalding water (about 55 C) and another in cold icy water... then you are probably a strange person. – alexfernandez – 2014-08-04T15:23:10.240

Double wrong. Ice can reasonably be at lower temperatures. – Firebug – 2016-04-27T23:02:05.367

1@alexfernandez My oven begins at 50°C. It is a standard oven, and all ovens in the flats that I lived in began at this temperature. – None – 2016-06-05T09:40:01.937

@what I suppose that low-temperature cooking has brought down minimum temperatures, but I doubt that in 1963 this was the case. – alexfernandez – 2016-06-05T21:35:30.913

49

Tout le monde y croit cependant, me disait un jour M. Lippmann, car les expérimentateurs s'imaginent que c'est un théorème de mathématiques, et les mathématiciens que c'est un fait expérimental.

Henri Poincaré, Calcul des probabilités (2nd ed., 1912), p. 171.

In English:

Everybody believes in the exponential law of errors [i.e., the Normal distribution]: the experimenters, because they think it can be proved by mathematics; and the mathematicians, because they believe it has been established by observation.

Whittaker, E. T. and Robinson, G. "Normal Frequency Distribution." Ch. 8 in The Calculus of Observations: A Treatise on Numerical Mathematics, 4th ed. New York: Dover, pp. 164-208, 1967. p. 179.

Quoted at Mathworld.com.

whuber

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 185 466

8This is a rather free translation of a saying attributed to Gabriel Lippmann by Henri Poincar\'e in his Calcul des probabilit\'es (1896/1912). Original was in French, naturellement. Lippmann won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1908. – Nick Cox – 2013-04-29T22:30:50.743

46

"It's easy to lie with statistics; it is easier to lie without them."

-- Frederick Mosteller

John D. Cook

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 854

42

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Charles Babbage

Frank_Zafka

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 47

This makes me think of one of the most fundamental mathematical equations: $\text{crap}=\text{crap}$ – probabilityislogic – 2011-05-28T13:37:36.430

Agreed, but Babbage surely knew about iterative procedures that improve on an initial guess and converge to the right answer. – Nick Cox – 2018-01-16T18:01:02.540

3+1 A breathtaking harbinger of the follies of the coming century; "GIGO before its time." – whuber – 2010-11-09T15:17:32.290

3Are you kidding? Isn't this what economics is all about? – naught101 – 2012-11-03T06:39:12.640

if I type "stick axchange crss vlidated" into Google, it brings me here! – Neil McGuigan – 2013-01-23T09:13:03.987

2I've had occasion to use Babbage's wonderful second sentence in a wider range of situations than this. – Glen_b – 2013-02-25T00:45:14.940

42

All we know about the world teaches us that the effects of A and B are always different---in some decimal place---for any A and B. Thus asking "are the effects different?" is foolish.

Tukey (again but this one is my favorite)

robin girard

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 5 247

It has actually led to very interesting articles... :) – Tal Galili – 2010-07-31T01:07:04.477

@Tal: Fully agree! I think the whole area on optimal separation in minimax testing is starting from this idea ... and it is still so confused for a lot of statistician. For those interested see the paper of donoho http://projecteuclid.org/DPubS?service=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=euclid.aos/1085408492 (and the references in the paper ! since things are much older than donoho's paper)

– robin girard – 2010-07-31T06:19:15.793

42

... surely, God loves the .06 nearly as much as the .05. Can there be any doubt that God views the strength of evidence for or against the null as a fairly continuous function of the magnitude of p? (p.1277)

Rosnow, R. L., & Rosenthal, R. (1989). Statistical procedures and the justification of knowledge in psychological science. American Psychologist, 44(10), 1276-1284. pdf

Henrik

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 8 918

@rolando2: please expand. What's not correct about it? – naught101 – 2013-08-21T02:34:46.557

@naught101 - At this point I can't think of anything :-) – rolando2 – 2013-08-21T16:32:54.990

Rosnow & Rosenthal's is a very useful, eye-opening quote that is almost correct. – rolando2 – 2011-03-17T12:15:01.923

I'm not sure I got this one. Probably I didn't get it... – An old man in the sea. – 2014-08-26T18:13:52.010

Anyway, I can give a citation of Lehman about that: "There is some convenience in such standardization since it permits a reduction in certain tables needed for carrying out various tests". – robin girard – 2010-08-30T12:37:28.153

I would love to take this one as my accepted answer ! too good to be true ! – robin girard – 2010-07-27T17:10:56.593

41

My greatest concern was what to call it. I thought of calling it 'information,' but the word was overly used, so I decided to call it 'uncertainty.' When I discussed it with John von Neumann, he had a better idea. Von Neumann told me, 'You should call it entropy, for two reasons. In the first place your uncertainty function has been used in statistical mechanics under that name, so it already has a name. In the second place, and more important, no one really knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage.'

Claude Elwood Shannon

robin girard

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 5 247

40

I don't know about famous, but the following is one of my favourites:

Conducting data analysis is like drinking a fine wine. It is important to swirl and sniff the wine, to unpack the complex bouquet and to appreciate the experience. Gulping the wine doesn’t work.

-Daniel B. Wright (2003), see PDF of Article.

Reference: Wright, D. B. (2003). Making friends with your data: Improving how statistics are conducted and reported1. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 73(1), 123-136.

Jeromy Anglim

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 30 906

Like it, though it does remind me of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Toni

– onestop – 2010-09-07T07:18:02.573

38

Do not trust any statistics you did not fake yourself.

-- Winston Churchill

ymihere

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 176

This is almost too good to be false... Surely if it were intended sincerely, that'd be the most transparent propaganda ever? I guess war might make any kind of stupidity more believable, as long as it's the other side's stupidity. – naught101 – 2013-08-21T02:33:54.477

4The alternative form is "I only believe in statistics that I doctored myself" sometimes claimed to have been put into Churchill's mouth by Goebbels during a propaganda dispute over wartime losses. – Henry – 2011-11-23T22:40:46.970

I admit that I did not investigate about the quote's origin. However, the core of the statement remains true. Statistics, especially in mass media, are never presented with the necessary information to estimate their validity or correctness. – ymihere – 2012-01-17T09:45:39.993

6

This quote seems to be known only in Germany and there is doubt that it is authentic, see the link below where the State Office of Statistics in Baden-Württemberg show results of their research about this quote (sorry its only available in German). The Times, e.g., said that they never heard about it. http://www.statistik.baden-wuerttemberg.de/Veroeffentl/Monatshefte/essay.asp?xYear=2004&xMonth=11&eNr=11

– psj – 2010-11-07T10:58:27.260

2Does Churchill qualify as a statistician? – Glen_b – 2012-11-03T07:01:07.073

1@Glen_b If he ever faked some data, then sure! – Darren Cook – 2013-02-01T13:27:28.997

37

The subjectivist (i.e. Bayesian) states his judgements, whereas the objectivist sweeps them under the carpet by calling assumptions knowledge, and he basks in the glorious objectivity of science.

I.J. Good

ramhiser

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1 005

Why are Bayesian always equated with subjectivist? -- What about E.T.Jaynes and the other 'objective Bayesians'? What about all subjectivity within the 'objectivist' frequentism? – gwr – 2015-12-05T16:04:06.967

1@gwr Well 'objectivity' is a social construct that is subjectively evaluated as an experience, so calling Bayesians out on subjectivity is less meritless because untrue, and more meritless because more or less everyone is subjectivist. ;) – Alexis – 2018-02-11T16:52:28.433

oh the bayesian is soooo Good... – robin girard – 2010-07-27T15:39:02.963

I love this one. It is great ! – steffen – 2010-12-06T09:00:59.907

34

Figures don't lie, but liars do figure

--Mark Twain

jilles de wit

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 251

2I don't get what is so deep in that one, is it only playing with words ? – robin girard – 2010-08-03T19:29:45.997

I like to think of it as the statisticians equivalent of "guns don't kill people, people kill people" not very deep, but important to realise from time to time – jilles de wit – 2010-08-04T09:17:53.497

So it's an inane platitude used for quibbling over semantics? "Cigarettes don't cause cancer; people cause cancer." "Landmines don't maim people; people maim people." – Lèse majesté – 2010-08-05T00:36:02.957

4well... there is a fine line between inane platitude and profound wisdom. I like the quote for it's poetic quality. Any insight is of secondary importance to me. – jilles de wit – 2010-08-05T07:25:08.297

1Does Twain qualify as a statistician? – Glen_b – 2012-11-03T07:00:37.077

33

"Million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten."

-Terry Pratchett

Jeromy Anglim

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 30 906

33

This is unlikely to be a popular quote, but anyway,

If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.

Ernest Rutherford

Robby McKilliam

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1 228

5I think this quote means that the results of the experiment should be "obvious", and statistics just lets one put a precise figure as to "just how obvious". The word needs is the key. – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-30T10:56:58.613

I think it is really popular.... but not it statistic (we don't want to loose our job because physisics are improving their experiment :) ). Anyway I think Rutherford belongs to this class of spiritual scientist... +1 – robin girard – 2010-08-09T12:32:10.467

2I thought this was the tagline for Mythbusters... – JMS – 2011-05-27T20:31:14.303

All physical experiments I have ever seen have a standard deviation attached to it in some form (most commonly a +/- range). So he must have been joking. – KalEl – 2010-08-19T10:25:27.590

1I really like this quote, for me it is clear that it is not a joke (@KalEl). This recalls that most often it is not the data that talks but the experiment, standard deviations are here to confirm that your experiment is talking loud. – robin girard – 2011-09-20T07:07:57.570

Unfortunately it is popular among those that don't understand or trust statistics. Once had it quoted to me when I gave a scientist an estimate of the number of hours it would take me to design and analyze his experiment. He didn't seem to appreciate the fact that noise can look like effects, and effects of interest can be hidden from intuition by noise. – Kingsford Jones – 2010-09-11T17:05:56.130

@KalEl: you need statistics; you don't need statistics.

– naught101 – 2012-11-03T06:07:18.973

33

The plural of anecdote is not data.

-- Roger Brinner

(in the context of Anecdotal_evidence)

steffen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 7 426

2I would think that anecdotes are fundamentally biased: They caught the attention of someone, and caused emotions that made him remember it. There is no way human attention can be statistically independent, I assume. – Volker Siegel – 2015-09-03T16:09:17.750

6Surely it is, as long as the anecdotes aren't sampled with bias? – naught101 – 2012-11-03T06:38:11.813

1@naught101 Please provide an example? – Jase – 2012-11-21T10:15:56.250

2@Jase: an anecdote is a chunk of information that is true, but may not be representative of the truth (i.e. it's biased toward the point that the story teller is trying to make). But that doesn't say anything about multiple anecdotes. If you could show that the biases in each anecdote in a set were independent, then they would probably cancel to some extent, allowing reliable analysis. Of course, this is a stupidly inefficient way of collecting data, and because it would be so difficult, there are no examples, because no-one has ever done it. And I was mostly just being a smart arse :D – naught101 – 2012-11-21T10:23:50.033

29

Those who ignore Statistics are condemned to reinvent it.

-- Brad Efron

Roland Kofler

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 366

5I would go one step further, within statistics. Those who ignore Bayesian statistics are condemned to reinvent it. – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-30T11:08:03.870

Do you think that by "those" he means "everyone" ? what was the context of this citation ? it seems a bit strong like this :) – robin girard – 2010-08-30T12:42:22.667

28

…the statistician knows…that in nature there never was a normal distribution, there never was a straight line, yet with normal and linear assumptions, known to be false, he can often derive results which match, to a useful approximation, those found in the real world.

George Box (JASA, 1976, Vol. 71, 791-799)

Kingsford Jones

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 666

28

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

-- Kurt Tucholsky, in: Französischer Witz, 1925

pramodc84

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 148

8

According to Wikiquote it is misattributed to Joseph Stalin; the origin is Kurt Tucholsky: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Misattributed

– Peter Mortensen – 2010-08-07T00:36:13.317

Here is the (so far much more likely) source: Französischer Witz by Kurt Tucholsky dating back to 1925: »Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!« (German original)

– gwr – 2015-12-05T15:56:40.453

27

"The first time I was in a statistics course, I was there to teach it"

John Tukey (link)

Neil McGuigan

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 921

3He's not the only one--and that's not necessarily a good thing. – whuber – 2012-05-18T17:00:50.207

7Haha, true. Tukey gets a pass though! – Neil McGuigan – 2012-05-18T17:57:02.687

26

"It is easy to lie with statistics. It is hard to tell the truth without statistics." - Andrejs Dunkels

Thylacoleo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 613

The best antidote to "...lies, damned lies, and statistics." – Thylacoleo – 2010-08-18T10:44:57.120

depending on what you call 'the thruth'... I don't think I give so much value to statistical truth :) – robin girard – 2010-08-30T12:39:31.627

I think it's a great one (I think it goes well with - "no models are true, some are useful") – Tal Galili – 2010-10-20T02:27:35.627

25

I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I'm not kidding.

Hal Varian

Graham Cookson

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 947

I guess Val Harian is not a statistician if he is not kidding... what is a sexy job ? for me it is like the sitation with the sword of the century... fun but a bit trivial :) – robin girard – 2010-08-12T07:58:10.670

4in what year did he write this? – Leo Schalkwyk – 2012-03-29T09:43:03.500

3@Leo: He didn't write it; he said it (at the link provided by vqv). It was only a couple of years ago, so, you still have time. ;-) – cardinal – 2012-03-29T11:57:48.173

2

This needs to be corrected. It was Hal Varian that said it. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/06/technology/06stats.html

– vqv – 2010-12-20T04:23:04.797

23

"To find out what happens when you change something, it is necessary to change it.”

Box, Hunter, and Hunter, Statistics for Experimenters (1978).

user603

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 16 250

6Tell that to the theoretical physics community... – naught101 – 2012-11-03T06:41:01.250

23

The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.

-- John Tukey

chl

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 42 463

21

We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.

Rutherford D. Roger

Andre Holzner

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 885

20

60% of the time, it works every time.

-Brian Fantana

Alex

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 101

2

for the uninitiated: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLq2-uZd5LY

– Neil McGuigan – 2013-01-23T09:18:13.223

20

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

-- probably: Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843–1911).

jilles de wit

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 251

4Whoever said this had no basic understanding of Statistics, or he was joking. – KalEl – 2010-08-19T10:21:44.893

9I think this quote is more of a cynical but realistic view of how statistical data is mostly used in debates (i.e. selected to support a preconceived notion rather than produced to test a hypothesis) – jilles de wit – 2010-09-07T09:12:43.227

6There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and fake statistics. – Joris Meys – 2010-09-13T22:01:51.430

18I hate this quote. It makes professions using statistics look like you could cheat. But, when someone profoundly uses statistics one knows that actually you cannot cheat. Because when provided with enough information about the statistical procedures used, one can draw a conclusion on the soundness of the procedures/results. If not enough information on the statistical (and other) procedures are provided, you should immediately question the results. – Henrik – 2010-07-27T16:15:40.670

1@JorisMeys: Or real, accurate, and precise statistics taken out of context... – naught101 – 2012-11-03T06:03:39.323

5That would be true if everyone were knowledgeable enough in statistics to drive the correct conclusions. Alas, that quote is very applicable to many of those amusing human beings called politicians... – nico – 2010-07-29T11:22:35.377

19

While the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will be up to, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Random

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 685

Clearly this person doesn't quite grasp the power of combinatorial calculations. Normal distributions appear because they are easy to realise. – probabilityislogic – 2015-05-22T00:31:10.150

19

The statistician cannot evade the responsibility for understanding the process he applies or recommends.

-– Sir Ronald A. Fisher

Dave Kellen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 258

18

This one is brand new, and Allen Wilcox is an epidemiologist, not a statistician, but whatever, I'm running with it.

Data do not speak for themselves - they need context, and they need skeptical evaluation

Fomite

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 15 705

4I am upvoting this because a minor variation is so apt for our site: "Your data/output/code/formula do not speak for themselves: they need context and they need sceptical evaluation." – whuber – 2015-08-04T14:48:30.700

18

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

Mark Twain (okay, so he's not a statistician)

Neil McGuigan

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 921

2

Heh, it was also used in the beginning of "The Big Short": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596363/ ( http://www.filmcomment.com/blog/deep-focus-the-big-short/ )

– pidosaurus – 2016-01-17T21:07:00.457

I am almost sure that this is from "Huckleberry Finn." Ain't it? – Ulisses Braga-Neto – 2016-10-02T01:25:36.843

1Google finds 12.3 million hits for this quotation. After running down the first eight pages of them, I haven't found a single site that actually gives a source--they all seem to be quoting each other rather than Mr. Twain. Does anyone know where he wrote this? Or maybe it's apocryphal. – whuber – 2010-11-08T14:05:51.817

18

"The Central Limit Theorem is about the journey and the Strong Law of Large Numbers is about the destination." stats.SE user cardinal in a comment on this question

Dilip Sarwate

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 26 208

17

The Earth is round. p < .05

Jacob Cohen

Peter Flom

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 67 912

6The earth is an oblate spheroid. So I guess that depends on what degree of accuracy you care about.. – naught101 – 2012-02-07T02:24:26.863

17

When I see articles with lots of significance tests, I say that the statisticians are p-ing on the research.

Herman Friedmann (by recollection, he said this in class)

Peter Flom

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 67 912

Who's Hermann Friedmann? I've tried searching for him, but couldn't find anything... – An old man in the sea. – 2016-11-29T22:48:38.780

17

My thesis is simply this: probability does not exist. - Bruno de Finetti

Roland Kofler

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 366

17

If I can't picture it, I can't understand it.

-Albert Einstein

I acknowledge that Einstein wasn't a statistician. However, Michael Friendly uses this quote in arguing for a greater role for visualizations in data analysis. I share that goal, and I think the quote works nicely.

gung

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 96 740

2+1 That's a nice one. The funny thing is this, sometimes people can picture it (make or see a plot of something) and still not understand it. :) – Graeme Walsh – 2013-07-04T00:44:56.937

17

Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.

xkcd

sk8asd123

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 221

16

"Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence."

Often attributed to Carl Sagan, but he was paraphrasing sceptic Marcello Truzzi. Doubtless the concept is even more ancient.

David Hume said, "A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence".

One could argue this is not a quote about statistics. However, applied statistics is ultimately in the business of evaluating the quality of evidence for or against some proposition.

Thylacoleo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 613

16

The primary product of a research inquiry is one or more measures of effect size, not p values.

Cohen, J. (1990). Things I have learned (so far). American Psychologist, 45, 1304-1312.

chl

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 42 463

15

May I add this one, because I like Jan's contributions to psychometrics and statistics...

Causal interpretation of the results of regression analysis of observational data is a risky business. The responsibility rests entirely on the shoulders of the researcher, because the shoulders of the statistical technique cannot carry such strong inferences.

Jan de Leeuw, homepage

chl

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 42 463

15

An ecologist is a statistician who likes to be outside.

-- apparently a good friend of Murray Cooper.

Roman Luštrik

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1 906

14

preamble: There is even a class of user now days who sees the significance stars rather like the gold stars my grandson sometimes gets on his homework:

Three solid gold (significance) stars on the main effects will do very nicely, thank you, and if there are a few little stars here and there on the interactions, so much the better!

W.N. Venables

Exegeses on Linear Models

David LeBauer

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 275

Surely that's highly context-dependent? – naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:39:41.850

2@naught it is sarcastic – David LeBauer – 2012-03-28T14:42:22.760

Heh. Fair enough. That probably also needs more context :P – naught101 – 2012-03-28T23:04:51.027

@naught101 done. – David LeBauer – 2012-03-28T23:07:21.430

14

Numerical quantities focus on expected values, graphical summaries on unexpected values.

--Tukey

user603

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 16 250

14

Found in Warning Signs in Experimental Design and Interpretation by Peter Norvig

Most of the time, when you get an amazing, counterintuitive result, it means you have screwed up the experiment

(Michael Wigler)

in the sense of

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

(Carl Sagan)

which is based on a similar quote by Pierre Laplace

steffen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 7 426

14

Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything. ~Gregg Easterbrook

matcheek

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 215

2

This is practically identical to http://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/726/famous-statistician-quotes/2044#2044 but has been attributed to a different person! Who's right?

– whuber – 2010-12-21T18:49:57.643

3

Google searches suggest, by 20 to 1, that Easterbrook originated this quotation, but he didn't really start writing until after Coase was quoted in print. The best evidence I can find concerning this (and it's still not very good) is Coase's Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Coase .

– whuber – 2010-12-21T18:58:58.760

14

Anyone who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.

-- Von Neumann

chl

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 42 463

3

Talk to the hand, cause the quasi-random sequence ain't listening.

– naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:35:28.903

14

I just can't help myself, this is a provocative quote from E. T. Jaynes:

Many of us have already explored the road you are following, and we know what you will find at the end of it. It doesn't matter how many new words you drag into the discussion to avoid having to utter the word 'probability' in a sense different from frequency: likelihood, confidence, significance, propensity, support, credibility, acceptability, indifference, consonance, tenability; and so on, until the resources of the good Dr Roget are exhausted. All of these are attempts to represent degrees of plausibility by real numbers, and they are covered automatically by Cox's theorems. It doesn't matter which approach you happen to like philosophically; by the time you have made your methods fully consistent, you will be forced, kicking and screaming, back to the ones given by Laplace. Until you have achieved mathematical equivalence with Laplace's methods, it will be possible, by looking in specific problems with Galileo's magnification, to exhibit the defects in your methods.

probabilityislogic

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 17 954

14

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

George Bernard Shaw

Michael Bishop

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

is it ? then we are all intelligent persons here:) – robin girard – 2010-07-27T16:22:37.590

12

"If you think that statistics has nothing to say about what you do or how you could do it better, then you are either wrong or in need of a more interesting job." - Stephen Senn (Dicing with Death: Chance, Risk and Health, Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Wesley Burr

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 656

12

In the long run, we're all dead.

-- John Maynard Keynes.

A reference to survival analysis?!

Thylacoleo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 613

Isn't this an "economist" joke? Saying that the economist Jargon of "the long run" we never actually get to "the long run" – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-19T03:39:56.287

12

At their best, graphics are instruments for reasoning.

Edward Tufte, www.edwardtufte.com

chl

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 42 463

Edward Tufte is a statistician. Started his career with BA and MS in statistics from Stanford, taught and wrote books about statistics for political scientists and is a fellow of the ASA. – Kingsford Jones – 2010-09-11T15:13:09.837

@Kingsford My fault! I was initially thinking of another citation, not from Tufte and didn't remove my first words... I UPDATED my response. Many thanks! – chl – 2010-09-11T21:11:41.153

12

It would be illogical to assume that all conditions remain stable

~ Spock, "The Enterprise Incident",stardata 5027.3

steffen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 7 426

1I appreciate that the citation comes with the stardate. – gung – 2014-07-29T22:12:52.673

12

"...a false premise built into a model which is never questioned cannot be removed by any amount of new data."

E.T. Jaynes

D L Dahly

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 428

12

"Taking a model too seriously is really just another way of not taking it seriously at all."

By Andrew Gelman

ArturoSaCo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1

11

"Statistics is exciting because you get to play with others' data while telling them their research is crap."

Stephen J. Senn (Source)

Momo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 6 829

11

The true logic of this world is in the calculus of probabilities.

-- James Clerk Maxwell

darrenjw

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 331

11

Without data you're just another person with an opinion. -- W. Edwards Deming

enter image description here

Vishal

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 769

11

With three constants, I can fit a dog. With four, I can make it bark.

Attributed to William Reifsnyder, in a personal communication to me. Unfortunately I can't find a reference on the 'web.

naught101

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 163

14"With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk" is a quote by von Neumann. – mark999 – 2012-11-03T07:43:04.967

11

Everybody is a Bayesian. It's just that some know it, and some don't. - Trivellore Raghunathan

Pavo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1

11

Don't think -- use the computer.

Attributed ("tongue in cheek," just to make sure we understand the intent) to "G. Dyke." Quoted in Phillip I. Good and James W. Hardin, Common Errors in Statistics: see the very first page of Part I.


A "G. Dyke" is cited in the bibliography as the author of How to avoid bad statistics. Field Crops Res. 1997; 51: 165-197. This apparently is George Dyke, who later in the book is quoted more at length:

The availability of 'user-friendly' statistical software has caused authors to become increasingly careless about the logic of interpreting their results, and to rely uncritically on computer output, often using the 'default option' when something a little different (usually, but not always, a little more complicated) is correct, or at least more appropriate.

[Cited on pp 71-72 in the first edition, 2003.]

A related quotation graces the beginning of Chapter 7:

Cut out the appropriate part of the computer output and paste it onto the draft of the paper.

whuber

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 185 466

+1 These are very good. Thanks for sharing the references too. Will definitely look them up. Very useful! – Graeme Walsh – 2013-07-04T00:34:20.423

11

One sees, from this Essay, that the theory of probabilities is basically just common sense reduced to calculus; it makes one appreciate with exactness that which accurate minds feel with a sort of instinct, often without being able to account for it.

Another one from Laplace

probabilityislogic

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 17 954

1Laplace never took measure theory from a statistics professor ;) – JMS – 2011-05-27T20:34:49.887

@JMS - measure theory not as good as complex analysis perhaps? Laplace was quite good at this I think. Perhaps statistics from analysis perspective has more "common sense" about it than measure theory ;). – probabilityislogic – 2011-05-28T11:52:31.017

calculus: if I recall correctly, the French original is "calcul", more accurately translated as "calculation" – Nick Cox – 2014-11-17T00:43:51.650

11

Baltimark

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 919

I would say data is the bullet, Statistics is the gun. – KalEl – 2010-08-19T10:23:50.663

aligatou gozaimasu – robin girard – 2010-07-28T09:35:29.553

10

A bit obscure this one, but a great quote about subjective probability:

... There is no way, however, in which the individual can avoid the burden of responsibility for his own evaluations. The key cannot be found that will unlock the enchanted garden wherein, among the fairy-rings and the shrubs of magic wands, beneath the trees laden with monads and noumena, blossom forth the flowers of probabilitas realis. With these fabulous blooms safely in our button-holes we would be spared the necessity of forming opinions, and the heavy loads we bear upon our necks would be rendered superflous once and for all.

Bruno de Finetti, Theory of Probability, Vol 2

darrenjw

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 331

10

This is my favourite:

"To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.”

by Ashleigh Brilliant

user55609

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1

10

All information looks like noise until you break the code.

Hiro in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992)

Seth

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 260

(+1) It's an interesting quotation, not least for being so obviously incorrect. – whuber – 2015-08-19T15:58:56.050

10

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 193–206

Not quite from a statistician, but I nonetheless like to quote this one in lectures. It nicely sums up what we as data analysts do.

Johannes

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 938

10

A man who ‘rejects’ a hypothesis provisionally, as a matter of habitual practice, when the significance is at the 1% level or higher, will certainly be mistaken in not more than 1% of such decisions. For when the hypothesis is correct he will be mistaken in just 1% of these cases, and when it is incorrect he will never be mistaken in rejection. [...] However, the calculation is absurdly academic, for in fact no scientific worker has a fixed level of significance at which from year to year, and in all circumstances, he rejects hypotheses; he rather gives his mind to each particular case in the light of his evidence and his ideas.

-- Sir Ronald A. Fisher, from Statistical Methods and Scientific Inference (1956)

Another quote as a commentary: "This passage clearly is intended as a criticism of Neyman and Pearson, although again their names are not mentioned. However, these authors never recommended a fixed level of significance that would be used in all cases. [...] Thus Fisher rather incongruously appears to be attacking his own past position rather than that of Neyman and Pearson" (from Fisher, Neyman, and the Creation of Classical Statistics by Erich Lehmann, section 4.5).

pmgjones

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 917

10

"What the use of a p-value implies, therefore, is that a hypothesis that may be true may be rejected because it has not predicted observable results that have not occurred."

Harold Jeffreys (Theory of Probability)

Zen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 15 651

10

There is no free hunch.

-- Robert Abelson

Carlos Accioly

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 633

10

The best time to plan an experiment is after you've done it.

by R.A. Fisher

Damian

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 180

10

"After 17 years of interacting with physicians, I have come to realize that many of them are adherents of a religion they call Statistics... Like any good religion, it involves vague mysteries capable of contradictory and irrational interpretation. It has a priesthood and a class of mendicant friars. And it provides Salvation: Proper invocation of the religious dogmas of Statistics will result in publication in prestigious journals."

David S. Salsburg (author of The Lady Tasting Tea), quoted at "Pithypedia".

whuber

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 185 466

10

Statistics is the grammar of science - Karl Pearson

StatisticsDoc Consulting

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 468

10

"When physicists do mathematics, they don’t say they’re doing “number science”. They’re doing math. If you’re analyzing data, you’re doing statistics. You can call it data science or informatics or analytics or whatever, but it’s still statistics." - Karl Broman

Glen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 953

This isn't a quote about statistics. It's a quote about linguistic pedantry. – naught101 – 2014-02-07T04:29:59.370

3Hmmmmmm, linguistic pedantry? Sure... But still about statistics. – Glen – 2014-02-07T05:07:53.693

9

9 out of ten dentists think the 10th dentist is an idiot.

  • No idea who said it.

Brandon Bertelsen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 987

Similar to 80% of car drivers think they're "above average". – probabilityislogic – 2011-05-28T13:42:50.423

9

The roll of the dice will never abolish chance

Written in 1897 by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) , a famous French poet - In French :

Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard

Xavier Labouze

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 163

9

'Figures fool when fools figure'.

Henry Oliver Lancaster

Elgin Perry

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

9

Context: An F-test is often a poor way to justify pooling, because F-test is not robust against non-normality.

"To make a preliminary test on variances is rather like putting to sea in a rowing boat to find out whether conditions are sufficiently calm for an ocean liner to leave port." (G.E.P. Box, "Non-normality and tests on variances",

Source: Biometrika, 40 (1953), pp 318-335, quote on page 333; via from Moore & McCabe.

(props to Tim Hesterberg: https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/r-help/2008-February/154856.html)

Tal Galili

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 8 629

9

“There are two things you are better off not watching in the making: sausages and econometric estimates.” - Edward Leamer

The quote comes from:

Leamer, Edward E, 1983. "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(1), pages 31-43, March.

And he also says it, in spoken word, on this EconTalk podcast hosted by Russ Roberts.

Graeme Walsh

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 928

9

[Statistics are] the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the science of man.

-- Sir Francis Galton

Did

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1 399

9

efficiency = statistical efficiency x usage.

-- John Tukey

John D. Cook

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 854

9

A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.

-- M.J. Moroney

Alan Scrivner

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 61

Nice quote, though I can't help imagine how it would sound being spoken by Chris Eubank... – onestop – 2010-11-08T08:57:11.437

Thanks. Had the opportunity to work with a great statistician for a while and was always amazed by how much information he could get out of the least amount of data by asking very pointed questions. This quotation so reminds me of hm – Alan Scrivner – 2010-07-29T03:30:12.343

8

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may be cast." - Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519

Found here.

Tal Galili

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 8 629

-1 not really stats specific... – naught101 – 2012-11-03T10:39:02.433

8

To understand God's Thoughts we must study statistics for these are the measure of His purpose.

--Florence Nightingale

Charles Berry

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

Only problem is that god itself either eludes statistical reasoning or is statistically very unlikely to exist. – Momo – 2013-05-26T08:53:30.043

8

"A frequentist is a person whose long-run ambition is to be wrong 5% of the time."

Unknown.

tho_mi

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 121

8

A quote from Karl Pearson:

The unity of all science consists alone in its method, not in its material

I think of statistics as, essentially, the methodology of science, so that's how I interpret this quote.

Macro

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 29 041

8

People think that if you collect enormous amounts of data you are bound to get the right answer. You are not bound to get the right answer unless you are enormously smart. Bradley Efron

rolando2

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 7 899

8

These days the statistician is often asked such questions as "Are you a Bayesian?" "Are you a frequentist?" "Are you a data analyst?" "Are you a designer of experiments?". I will argue that the appropriate answer to ALL of these questions can be (and preferably should be) "yes", and that we can see why this is so if we consider the scientific context for what statisticians do.

--G.E.P. Box

Michael Bishop

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

7

The probability is like the stick used by the blind man to feel his way. If he could see, he would not need the cane, just as if we knew which horse runs faster, then we would not need probability theory.

Stanislaw Lem

hsigrist

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 101

7

1

Uncertainty is a personal matter; it is not the uncertainty but your uncertainty. (Dennis Lindley)

Reference: Dennis Victor Lindley (2006), Understanding Uncertainty, Wiley-Interscience, p. 1.

Ho1

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 75

The picture is of John Nelder, not Dennis Lindley. – Nick Cox – 2016-01-28T19:46:18.387

To play on the usual joke about cosmologists, theologians, economists, etc., Lindley appears not to have acted on his own maxim. He was certain that almost other statisticians were wrong. – Nick Cox – 2016-01-29T14:33:44.633

@NickCox So, is certainty also personal? :-) – Ho1 – 2016-01-29T16:23:47.493

I'm certain of it. – Nick Cox – 2016-01-29T16:29:48.503

7

"I cannot conceal the fact here that in the [application of probability theory], I foresee many things happening which can cause one to be badly mistaken if he does not proceed cautiously.",

Bernoulli (1713) (via ET Jaynes)

"A statistician is someone who knows what to assume to be Gaussian"

Dikran Marsupial (2009) (not famous yet ;o).

Dikran Marsupial

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 32 924

Do we vote for the first one or the second one :) ? – robin girard – 2010-08-13T16:35:07.670

first one, I'm not famous... yet ;o)

BTW, the second one is intended as a complement, just in case there was any doubt. – Dikran Marsupial – 2010-08-17T11:50:40.957

(+1) for the 2nd – user603 – 2011-08-07T14:33:40.373

7

The business of the statistician is to catalyze the scientific learning process.

George Box

Kingsford Jones

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 666

7

Everybody knows that probability and statistics are the same thing, and statistics is nothing but correlation. Now the correlation is just the cosine of an angle, thus all is trivial.

-- Emil Artin, according to Kai Lai Chung in Elementary probability theory (right, Artin might not been known primarily as a statistician)

Did

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1 399

7

The researcher armed with a confidence interval, but deprived of the false respectability of statistical significance, must work harder to convince himself and others of the importance of his findings. This can only be good.

Michael Oakes, Statistical inference: A commentary for the social and behavioural sciences (NY: Wiley, 1986)

rolando2

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 7 899

7

You may be too vague to be wrong and that's really bad cause that's just obscuring the issue.

Bruce Sterling

Christian

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 541

1Also a favorite topic of Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine. "That's not even wrong." – rolando2 – 2011-05-28T13:21:27.583

"Not even wrong" is often mentioned as a standard put-down of the acerbic (but very smart) physicist Wolfgang Pauli. – Nick Cox – 2018-01-16T18:07:32.707

6

"If you put a buttock on a hot plate and another one on an ice cube, the average is good, but in reality your bottom is in trouble."

Grigore Moisil

rapaio

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 014

6

Statistics' real contribution to society is primarily moral, not technical.

Steve Vardeman and Max Morris

rolando2

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 7 899

I wonder what he meant by that... – Tal Galili – 2011-09-19T08:47:44.090

Some possible interpretations...1. Thru statistics we teach the importance of empirical testing 2. Thru statistics we teach the importance of assessing the degree of uncertainty inherent in a topic 3. Through statistics we teach the importance of looking for confounding variables, or more generally of expanding our scope as we try to identify causal relationships. Do you have more ideas? – rolando2 – 2011-09-19T19:55:43.530

My take on meaning: The search for the truth, and that anyone/everyone could be wrong about it. – probabilityislogic – 2015-05-22T02:00:35.970

I would assume the meaning is that statistics and science are fundamentally about removing your own biases from your assessment of the world, and that such a noble goal could just as well be applied to moral debates. – naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:49:12.837

6

We statisticians, as a police of science (a label some dislike but I am proud of...), have the fundamental duty of helping others to engage in statistical thinking as a necessary step of scientific inquiry and evidence-based policy formulation. In order to truly fulfill this task, we must constantly firm up and deepen our own foundation, and resist the temptation of competing for “methods and results” without pondering deeply whether we are helping others or actually harming them by effectively encouraging more false discoveries or misguided policies. Otherwise, we indeed can lose our identity, no matter how much we are desired or feared now.

Xiao-Li Meng

Kingsford Jones

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 666

nice quote - and you can see the inherent "pessimism" in stats folk, for she speaks of "false discoveries" and not of "missed discoveries" (which are just as important). – probabilityislogic – 2011-04-03T01:24:27.943

6

"One death is a tragedy, 100,000 deaths are statistics."

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Zen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 15 651

6

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." albert einstein

arash

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1

6

“Statistics is much like a streetlight. Not very enlightening, but nice for supporting you”

Storm P

Allan Engelhardt

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 441

2Wasn't this based on an older variation? – Tal Galili – 2011-05-27T15:26:52.677

6

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.

Pierre-Simon de Laplace. Also known as Laplace's demon

probabilityislogic

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 17 954

In French : http://philia.online.fr/txt/lapl_001.php

– Jean Marie Becker – 2018-01-17T21:30:48.880

5

No statistican, but useful for the profession:

The perfect is the enemy of the good - Voltaire

Roland Kofler

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 366

5

"New methods always look better than old ones. Neural nets are better than logistic regression, support vector machines are better than neural nets, etc." - Brad Efron

Thylacoleo

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 3 613

3shame they often only look better... :-( – Dikran Marsupial – 2010-08-17T12:05:19.850

Yeah, the first part of that quote is saying a different thing to the second part ("look" vs. "are"). – naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:38:03.090

5

CauseWeb has a collection of statistics quotations. Many have already been repeated here, but it has plenty that haven't yet been quoted, such as

"The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself."

(Falsely attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.) For the rest, follow the CauseWeb links to Resources->Fun->Quote.

whuber

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 185 466

5

Good statistics involves principled argument that conveys an interesting and credible point.

-- Robert P. Abelson, (1995) "Statistics as Principled Argument"

We left in our mathematical model a gap for the exercise of a more intuitive process of personal judgement

-- Egon Pearson, quoted in Abelson (1995).

naught101

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 163

5

"Winwood Reade is good upon the subject. He remarks that, while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician".

(Sherlock Holmes speaking to Dr. Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Sign of the Four")

Zen

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 15 651

5

A table without stars is like champagne without bubbles! - David Giles

Dimitriy V. Masterov

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 18 746

5

The Median Isn't the Message

--Stephen Jay Gould

jilles de wit

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 251

+1 For those who have not read it, I highly recommend Gould's 1985 The Median Isn't the Message essay in Discover.

– jthetzel – 2012-06-20T16:58:38.893

5

The mathematician, carried along on his flood of symbols, dealing apparently with purely formal thruths, may still reach results of endless importance for our description of physical universe

-- Karl Pearson

robin girard

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 5 247

I guess I should remove it... poor Karl Pearson, one of the inventor of hypothesis testing not understood by the 21st century ... I would vote up if I could, but it's me that put it here :) – robin girard – 2010-07-27T18:31:32.247

5

Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death.

~ Hillaire Belloc in The Silence of the Sea

pramodc84

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 148

Hillaire Belloc? Nice work on digging that up. – Shane – 2010-07-27T16:43:12.517

5

Data analysis is simply a dialogue with the data

--Stephen F. Gull, 1994

omidi

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 741

4

Do not make things easy for yourself by speaking or thinking of data as if they were different from what they are; and do not go off from facing data as they are, to amuse your imagination by wishing they were different from what they are. Such wishing is pure waste of nerve force, weakens your intellectual power, and gets you into habits of mental confusion.

--Mary Everest Boole

Steve Kass

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

4

It's not really about statistics, but I think it applies to statistics:

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Arthur Conan Doyle

nikie

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 249

4@user956 - I would disagree with this. Neither theory nor experiment are "in charge" of the other - they work together. Sometimes the theory leads to an experiment, we have an untested hypothesis we want to confirm or deny with some data. – probabilityislogic – 2011-04-03T01:20:16.917

Some times data leads to an over fitted model, too. – naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:38:53.870

4

Bayesians address the question everyone is interested in by using assumptions no-one believes, while frequentists use impeccable logic to deal with an issue of no interest to anyone

Louis Lyons

Ruggero Turra

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 390

4

Check out "Statistician's Blues" by Todd Snider who is an alternative-country singer-songwriter. Warning, if you are sensitive to "bad" words, don't listen to the song. If you have a good or perhaps twisted sense of humor you will enjoy.

RioRaider

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 636

3

Perhaps not overly famous among statisticians but reduced-form econometricians will know it well:

If you can't see the causal relation of interest in the reduced form, it's probably not there.

Angrist and Krueger (2001)

Andy

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 14 009

3

Not really about statistics, but works perfectly:

"Science is built up of facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house." (Henri Poincaré)

Nevio Dubbini

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 1

3

Many folks know only enough statistics to be dangerous. From Statistics for Dummies II - Deborah Rumsey

Johan_A_M

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 20

3

"The statistician cannot evade the responsibility for understanding the processes he applies or recommends." -- Sir Ronald A. Fisher in The Design of Experiments (1935)

StatsStudent

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 4 057

True, but the data scientist can. Understanding? We don't need no stinking understanding. – Mark L. Stone – 2016-01-28T21:28:24.223

Without understanding, no real progress can be made. – StatsStudent – 2016-01-29T05:49:10.293

Duplicate of an answer above. – Kenny LJ – 2016-07-07T04:33:12.860

3

Not yet famous, but could become so.

"If a problem can not be tackled nonparametrically, it is dangerous to tackle it parametrically. But on the other hand, if it can be tackled nonparametrically, it would be better to tackle it parametrically." -- Sir David Cox

Statistics - past, present and future, Royal Statistical Society 180th Anniversary Lecture near 16:27.

Yves

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 2 304

3

An argument over the meaning of words is a matter of law, an argument grounded in empirical data and quantitative estimates is an argument about science.

~ Razib Khan (though he is not a statistician or famous)

Michael Bishop

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation:

2

A variation on the Fisher quotation given here is

Hiring a statistician after the data have been collected is like hiring a physician when your patient is in the morgue. He may be able to tell you what went wrong, but he is unlikely to be able to fix it.

But I heard this attributed to Box, not Fisher.

Peter Flom

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 67 912

Edited to disambiguate 'above.' – Larry Wang – 2010-08-03T20:10:46.107

2

Statistics without science is incomplete, science without statistics is imperfect.

K.V. Mardia

epsilone

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 531

2

A witty statesman said, you might prove anything by figures.

~ Thomas Carlyle, Chartism (1839) ch. 2

pramodc84

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 148

1an enlightened customer said "try proving anything without them..." :) – probabilityislogic – 2011-05-28T13:50:06.450

@probabilityislogic "cogito ergo sum"? :P – naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:43:22.437

1

...Statistics used as a catalyst to engineering creation will, I believe, always result in the fastest and most economical progress.

--George Box 1992

PaulHurleyuk

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 896

1

The Government are very keen on amassing statistics—they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of those figures comes in the first instance from the chowkidar (village watchman), who just puts down what he damn pleases [link].

-- Josiah Stamp, recounting a story from Harold Cox, Some Economic Factors in Modern Life (1929), p. 258.

Sinan Ünür

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 139

1

[T]he p-value is the probability of obtaining data at least as extreme as the ones observed, if the null hypothesis is true. This is a world apart from saying that it is the probability of the null hypothesis being true, given that you observed that extreme data! Beware! If your ability on the long jump puts you in the 99.99% percentile, that does not mean that you are a kangaroo, and neither can one infer that the probability that you belong to the human race is 0.01%. - Tomasso Dorigo

eipi10

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 387

-2

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

Michael Crichton

Harvey Motulsky

Posted 2010-07-27T06:20:38.880

Reputation: 9 229

2(-1) also (concur with @walkytalky), and @lese - note that "...consult the consensus of experts in that field of research than to misinterpret the data first-hand" can be cheekily rebutted by "I consult the experts so that I can mis-interpret the data second-hand". – probabilityislogic – 2011-01-30T10:38:08.183

5That's because consensus is a practical means of establishing the validity of a scientific position. Sound science cannot be conducted by a single person. It requires peer review. Having achieved a popular consensus implies that the science in question has passed peer review. Whereas a theory or position held by a lone individual and opposed by the rest of the scientific community is likely to have failed the process of peer review.

If you're not an expert in field X, then statistically you're better off following popular consensus within field X. – Lèse majesté – 2010-08-05T00:50:10.697

4To elaborate: if you're a politician who has no background in field X, then it is far better that you simply consult the consensus of experts in that field of research than to misinterpret the data first-hand.

What is problematic is when lay persons disregard overwhelming scientific consensus for data misrepresented to them by a fringe minority--especially when these lay persons are in charge of policy decisions. It's much easier to mislead a handful of politicians than thousands of expert researchers... – Lèse majesté – 2010-08-05T01:02:53.433

29-1 This is an intellectually dishonest quote from a bad novelist, playing up a popular romantic myth of scientists as Rand-esque revolutionary loners in order to pander to anti-science crankery. Moreover, it has nothing whatsoever to do with statistics. What is it even doing in this list? – walkytalky – 2010-08-07T14:34:40.253

+1 for the 1st use of "cheekily" on this site. – rolando2 – 2011-05-28T13:09:34.320

2What's the scientific consensus on the scientific validity of this quote? – Mark L. Stone – 2015-08-04T15:49:40.563

Quite apart from lacking statistical content, the quotation seems almost complete nonsense. Even scientific revolutionaries end up changing the consensus, and most mavericks and cranks in science are precisely that, mavericks and cranks. As for consensus in politics, that's hard to discern. – Nick Cox – 2016-01-29T14:37:54.543

1"Consensus: General agreement among the members of a given group or community, each of which exercises some discretion in decision-making and follow-up action" - fairly fitting, and not, as various climate deniers would have you believe, equivalent to "100% agreement, no questions asked". – naught101 – 2012-03-28T09:58:12.957

-1, see what @walkytalky and @Lèse majesté said. – fabians – 2010-12-03T12:00:52.483

It's unfortunate that consensus has so much control over what kind of science gets funded. – Sharpie – 2010-07-31T18:26:15.927