I was talking with someone today about sampling and vaguely remember a story about some very well-respected statistician recommending systematic sampling from the phone book in a particular legal case. I remember the story going something like a judge in court saying something to him like "I don't know much about statistics, but I do know that sampling every 100th name isn't correct" and then he had to explain to the judge that he had in fact recommended that.

Anyone know where that story comes from or if I'm remembering correctly? I'd like to refresh my memory of the context. It feels like something I read in Mosteller's memoirs, but checked and didn't find it there. Also, someone in our department said it sounded familiar and thought it might have been Cochran, and someone else remembered George Cobb telling a similar story, but that didn't help in my search either.

  • $\begingroup$ Did the judge explain his scepticism? $\endgroup$
    – ttnphns
    Nov 10, 2014 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ Alas, this is all I remember from the story. I hope someone else will be able to provide more. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2014 at 17:06

1 Answer 1


In his article Damned Liars and Expert Witnesses (JASA 81:394, pp 269-276, 1986) Paul Meier writes

(William G.) Cochran was fond of telling of the occasion when he was called on to carry out a sampling study of, I believe, a class of retail stores, and he instructed that the sample consist of every tenth establishment of that type listed in the Yellow Pages. The judge, he said, welcomed his expert testimony as a learning experience and remarked, after Cochran had been sworn, “I am glad to hear and to learn from Professor Cochran about this scientific sampling business, because I know virtually nothing about it. In fact, about the only thing I do know is that you should not just start at the beginning and take every 10th one after that.”

(at p. 270, top right).

Meier provides no reference and I cannot find anything like this in searches of court cases on Google Scholar.


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