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What is your favorite statistician quote? This is community wiki, so please one quote per answer.

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Should this question really be "famous quotes about statistics"? –  naught101 Nov 3 '12 at 4:29
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132 Answers

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.

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I use this quote a lot to explain the difficulties in mathematicians transitioning to statistics –  user549 Jul 29 '10 at 18:48
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This sentence itself is a model (an epistemological one) –  user603 Sep 10 '10 at 20:00
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but see a nice discussion around this quote on Gelman's blog, j.mp/9SgIBO –  chl Sep 11 '10 at 10:21
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And 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 Oct 14 '10 at 15:53
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Sadly, 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 Feb 2 '12 at 13:35
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"An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem." -- John Tukey

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I like this one, could be put as an advise when people write questions on this site ? –  robin girard Jul 27 '10 at 8:48
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Absolutely...asking the right question is one of the most important skills. –  Shane Jul 27 '10 at 14:17
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I 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 Jul 27 '10 at 17:59
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@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 Jul 27 '10 at 20:21
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"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 Apr 27 '13 at 23:02
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"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 published quote can be read on page 17 of the article and is:

To consult the statistician after an experiment is finished is often merely to ask him to conduct a post mortem examination. He can perhaps say what the experiment died of.

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

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@Peter Was it really "Hiring a physician after the data ..." or should "statistician" be in there somewhere? –  Dason Nov 4 '11 at 14:06
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Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

-Aaron Levenstein

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And life's more fun without them? Guess you can only take a metaphor so far... –  naught101 Aug 21 '13 at 2:27
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In God we trust. All others must bring data.

(W. Edwards Deming)

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God must bring data too. –  KalEl Aug 19 '10 at 9:33
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God can make up data. –  Leo May 28 '11 at 4:11
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@Leo What data do you have to support that hypothesis? :) –  probabilityislogic May 28 '11 at 13:23
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Ooh, 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 Nov 3 '12 at 4:33
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It's axiomatically true. –  abaumann Apr 16 '13 at 7:16
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Statisticians, like artists, have the bad habit of falling in love with their models.

-- George Box

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87% of statistics are made up on the spot

-Unknown

Dilbert.com Dilbert.com

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imgur.com/0dsVC.gif –  J. M. Oct 23 '10 at 11:59
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And 45.8% of people don't believe that statistic –  probabilityislogic Feb 5 '11 at 13:12
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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

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As a biological scientist, I find myself muttering this to myself during a lot of seminars... –  N Brouwer Oct 18 '12 at 18:05
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Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

-- Niels Bohr

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Prediction about the past can also be surprisingly tricky! –  walkytalky Aug 19 '10 at 7:58
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This one has been attributed to many different people larry.denenberg.com/predictions.html and it's disputed that it would be Niels Bohr en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr –  gerrit Jul 25 '12 at 16:16
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Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary a qualification for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.

--H.G. Wells

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I don't know, you've seen many efficient citizens lately? –  Raskolnikov Dec 3 '10 at 23:26
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Still waiting... –  naught101 Nov 3 '12 at 4:34
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An 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 Apr 25 '13 at 7:00
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Strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring.

-- Charlie Chan

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I don't mind the down vote, but I maintain that this is a deep statistical point, not to be taken lightly. ;-) –  ars Jul 27 '10 at 7:18
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I 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 Feb 5 '11 at 13:11
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All generalizations are false, including this one.

Mark Twain

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

-- Robert Gentleman

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Still it looks promising. –  mbq Jul 27 '10 at 11:20
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A nice one I came about:

I think it is much more interesting to live with uncertainty than to live with answers that might be wrong.

By Richard Feynman (link)

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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.

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

D.R. Cox

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Rolf Sundberg attributed this quote to J.M. Hammersley in a 1994 article: dx.doi.org/10.1016/0169-7439(93)E0041-2 –  onestop Jan 28 '11 at 20:41
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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

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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)

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Love this one -- a wonderful bonus of being a statistician. –  Kingsford Jones Sep 11 '10 at 17:13
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Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Carl Sagan

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Good 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 Aug 17 '10 at 18:15
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Besides, Tzippy is misquoting Sagan, since Sagan never believed that. He in fact listed it among the fallacies in his baloney detecion kit. –  Raskolnikov Dec 3 '10 at 23:31
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@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 Feb 6 '12 at 18:32
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@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 Jan 13 at 17:21
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He uses statistics like a drunken man uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.

-- Andrew Lang

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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.

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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)

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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.

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This 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 Apr 29 '13 at 22:30
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Statistics - A subject which most statisticians find difficult but in which nearly all physicians are expert.

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Credit: Stephen Senn, Statistical Issues in Drug Development, page4. media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/71/04700187/0470018771.pdf –  onestop Nov 8 '10 at 9:03
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I 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 Jan 30 '11 at 11:04
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Physicians \neq physicists –  David Roberts Aug 18 '11 at 1:14
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This may be my new favorite –  Fomite Jul 22 '12 at 21:51
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"... 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

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Figures don't lie, but liars do figure

--Mark Twain

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I don't get what is so deep in that one, is it only playing with words ? –  robin girard Aug 3 '10 at 19:29
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well... 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 Aug 5 '10 at 7:25
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"It's easy to lie with statistics; it is easier to lie without them." -- Frederick Mosteller

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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

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Do not trust any statistics you did not fake yourself.

-- Winston Churchill

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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. statistik.baden-wuerttemberg.de/Veroeffentl/Monatshefte/… –  psj Nov 7 '10 at 10:58
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The 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 Nov 23 '11 at 22:40
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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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