# Famous statistician quotes

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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

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…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)

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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

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+1 A breathtaking harbinger of the follies of the coming century; "GIGO before its time." – whuber Nov 9 '10 at 15:17
I've had occasion to use Babbage's wonderful second sentence in a wider range of situations than this. – Glen_b Feb 25 at 0:45

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

~Joseph Stalin, comment to Churchill at Potsdam, 1945

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According to Wikiquote it is misattributed to Joseph Stalin; the origin is Kurt Tucholsky: en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Misattributed – Peter Mortensen Aug 7 '10 at 0:36

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

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I 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 Jan 30 '11 at 10:56
I thought this was the tagline for Mythbusters... – JMS May 27 '11 at 20:31

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

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

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I 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 Jul 27 '10 at 16:15
That 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 Jul 29 '10 at 11:22
Whoever said this had no basic understanding of Statistics, or he was joking. – KalEl Aug 19 '10 at 10:21
I 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 Sep 7 '10 at 9:12
There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies and fake statistics. – Joris Meys Sep 13 '10 at 22:01
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The plural of anecdote is not data.

-- Roger Brinner

(in the context of Anecdotal_evidence)

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Surely it is, as long as the anecdotes aren't sampled with bias? – naught101 Nov 3 '12 at 6:38
@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 Nov 21 '12 at 10:23
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"The first time I was in a statistics course, I was there to teach it"

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Haha, true. Tukey gets a pass though! – Neil McGuigan May 18 '12 at 17:57
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"It is easy to lie with statistics. It is hard to tell the truth without statistics." - Andrejs Dunkels

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

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

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Tell that to the theoretical physics community... – naught101 Nov 3 '12 at 6:41

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

-– Sir Ronald A. Fisher

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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

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

-- John Tukey

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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

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"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.

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Those who ignore Statistics are condemned to reinvent it.

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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)

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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.

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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

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@naught it is sarcastic – David Mar 28 '12 at 14:42

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

George Bernard Shaw

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

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We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.

Rutherford D. Roger

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The Earth is round. p < .05

Jacob Cohen

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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)

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60% of the time, it works every time.

-Brian Fantana

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

• No idea who said it.
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'Figures fool when fools figure'.

Henry Oliver Lancaster

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

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