248
$\begingroup$

What is your favorite statistical quote?

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

$\endgroup$
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Should this question really be "famous quotes about statistics"? $\endgroup$ – naught101 Nov 3 '12 at 4:29

149 Answers 149

15
$\begingroup$

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

$\endgroup$
14
$\begingroup$

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

George Bernard Shaw

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ is it ? then we are all intelligent persons here:) $\endgroup$ – robin girard Jul 27 '10 at 16:22
14
$\begingroup$

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

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is practically identical to stats.stackexchange.com/questions/726/… but has been attributed to a different person! Who's right? $\endgroup$ – whuber Dec 21 '10 at 18:49
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 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 . $\endgroup$ – whuber Dec 21 '10 at 18:58
14
$\begingroup$

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

-- Von Neumann

$\endgroup$
14
$\begingroup$

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

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Surely that's highly context-dependent? $\endgroup$ – naught101 Mar 28 '12 at 9:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @naught it is sarcastic $\endgroup$ – David LeBauer Mar 28 '12 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ Heh. Fair enough. That probably also needs more context :P $\endgroup$ – naught101 Mar 28 '12 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @naught101 done. $\endgroup$ – David LeBauer Mar 28 '12 at 23:07
14
$\begingroup$

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

--Tukey

$\endgroup$
13
$\begingroup$

It would be illogical to assume that all conditions remain stable

~ Spock, "The Enterprise Incident",stardata 5027.3

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I appreciate that the citation comes with the stardate. $\endgroup$ – gung Jul 29 '14 at 22:12
13
$\begingroup$

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

$\endgroup$
13
$\begingroup$

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

E.T. Jaynes

$\endgroup$
13
$\begingroup$

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

By Andrew Gelman

$\endgroup$
13
$\begingroup$

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

enter image description here

$\endgroup$
12
$\begingroup$

"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)

$\endgroup$
12
$\begingroup$

At their best, graphics are instruments for reasoning.

Edward Tufte, www.edwardtufte.com

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ – Kingsford Jones Sep 11 '10 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @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! $\endgroup$ – chl Sep 11 '10 at 21:11
12
$\begingroup$

In the long run, we're all dead.

-- John Maynard Keynes.

A reference to survival analysis?!

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this an "economist" joke? Saying that the economist Jargon of "the long run" we never actually get to "the long run" $\endgroup$ – probabilityislogic Jan 19 '11 at 3:39
12
$\begingroup$

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

Stephen J. Senn (Source)

$\endgroup$
11
$\begingroup$

Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it well, the Samurai.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ aligatou gozaimasu $\endgroup$ – robin girard Jul 28 '10 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ I would say data is the bullet, Statistics is the gun. $\endgroup$ – KalEl Aug 19 '10 at 10:23
11
$\begingroup$

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

-- James Clerk Maxwell

$\endgroup$
11
$\begingroup$

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

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Laplace never took measure theory from a statistics professor ;) $\endgroup$ – JMS May 27 '11 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @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 ;). $\endgroup$ – probabilityislogic May 28 '11 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ calculus: if I recall correctly, the French original is "calcul", more accurately translated as "calculation" $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Nov 17 '14 at 0:43
11
$\begingroup$

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.

$\endgroup$
  • 16
    $\begingroup$ "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk" is a quote by von Neumann. $\endgroup$ – mark999 Nov 3 '12 at 7:43
11
$\begingroup$

"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)

$\endgroup$
11
$\begingroup$

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.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ +1 These are very good. Thanks for sharing the references too. Will definitely look them up. Very useful! $\endgroup$ – Graeme Walsh Jul 4 '13 at 0:34
11
$\begingroup$

Statistics is the grammar of science - Karl Pearson

$\endgroup$
11
$\begingroup$

“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.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ at least with a sausage, I know that I like the finished product.... $\endgroup$ – probabilityislogic Jul 17 at 11:01
  • $\begingroup$ @probabilityislogic haha Very good! $\endgroup$ – Graeme Walsh Jul 17 at 11:43
11
$\begingroup$

This is my favourite:

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

by Ashleigh Brilliant

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

There is no free hunch.

-- Robert Abelson

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ there is if you are below your "production frontier"... ;P $\endgroup$ – probabilityislogic Jul 17 at 11:02
10
$\begingroup$

"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".

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

efficiency = statistical efficiency x usage.

-- John Tukey

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

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.

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

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

$\endgroup$
10
$\begingroup$

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

by R.A. Fisher

$\endgroup$

protected by Community Nov 19 '15 at 6:14

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.