# Famous statistical quotations

What is your favorite statistical quote?

• Should this question really be "famous quotes about statistics"? Nov 3, 2012 at 4:29

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)

• Who's Hermann Friedmann? I've tried searching for him, but couldn't find anything... Nov 29, 2016 at 22:48

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

It would be illogical to assume that all conditions remain stable

~ Spock, "The Enterprise Incident",stardata 5027.3

• I appreciate that the citation comes with the stardate. Jul 29, 2014 at 22:12

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.

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

--Tukey

• This quote is great because it highlights the importance of graphical summary compared to only using numerical summary. Aug 10, 2020 at 4:20

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

George Bernard Shaw

• is it ? then we are all intelligent persons here:) Jul 27, 2010 at 16:22
• – Phil
Jan 2, 2020 at 11:44

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

• This is practically identical to stats.stackexchange.com/questions/726/… but has been attributed to a different person! Who's right?
– whuber
Dec 21, 2010 at 18:49
• 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, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Coase .
– whuber
Dec 21, 2010 at 18:58

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

-- Von Neumann

• Talk to the hand, cause the quasi-random sequence ain't listening. Mar 28, 2012 at 9:35

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

E.T. Jaynes

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

• Surely that's highly context-dependent? Mar 28, 2012 at 9:39
• @naught it is sarcastic Mar 28, 2012 at 14:42
• Heh. Fair enough. That probably also needs more context :P Mar 28, 2012 at 23:04
• @naught101 done. Mar 28, 2012 at 23:07

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

By Andrew Gelman

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

Stephen J. Senn (Source)

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

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.

• +1 These are very good. Thanks for sharing the references too. Will definitely look them up. Very useful! Jul 4, 2013 at 0:34
• aligatou gozaimasu Jul 28, 2010 at 9:35
• I would say data is the bullet, Statistics is the gun. Aug 19, 2010 at 10:23

"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)

At their best, graphics are instruments for reasoning.

Edward Tufte, www.edwardtufte.com

• 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. Sep 11, 2010 at 15:13
• @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
Sep 11, 2010 at 21:11

"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".

In the long run, we're all dead.

-- John Maynard Keynes.

A reference to survival analysis?!

• Isn't this an "economist" joke? Saying that the economist Jargon of "the long run" we never actually get to "the long run" Jan 19, 2011 at 3:39

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

• Laplace never took measure theory from a statistics professor ;)
– JMS
May 27, 2011 at 20:34
• @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 ;). May 28, 2011 at 11:52
• calculus: if I recall correctly, the French original is "calcul", more accurately translated as "calculation" Nov 17, 2014 at 0:43

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.

• "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk" is a quote by von Neumann. Nov 3, 2012 at 7:43

Statistics is the grammar of science - Karl Pearson

• I would love a source for this quote. I know he wrote a book called "The Grammar of Science" and that he was a statistician, but that does not mean that "Statistics is the grammar of science" is a quote by him.
– Phil
Mar 5, 2020 at 11:06

"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

• shame they often only look better... :-( Aug 17, 2010 at 12:05
• Yeah, the first part of that quote is saying a different thing to the second part ("look" vs. "are"). Mar 28, 2012 at 9:38
• They also bring in new clients, which then has to be converted to the good old methods ... Mar 22, 2018 at 8:24

There is no free hunch.

-- Robert Abelson

• there is if you are below your "production frontier"... ;P Jul 17, 2019 at 11:02

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

-- James Clerk Maxwell

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.

"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)

• I don't get it: how can a result be both "observable" and "not occurred"? Jul 11, 2020 at 15:47

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

by R.A. Fisher

“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.

• at least with a sausage, I know that I like the finished product.... Jul 17, 2019 at 11:01
• @probabilityislogic haha Very good! Jul 17, 2019 at 11:43

"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

• This isn't a quote about statistics. It's a quote about linguistic pedantry. Feb 7, 2014 at 4:29
• Hmmmmmm, linguistic pedantry? Sure... But still about statistics.
– Glen
Feb 7, 2014 at 5:07