Famous statistical quotations

  • What is your favorite statistical quote?

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

    Should this question really be "famous quotes about statistics"?

  • 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.

    Also: G.E.P. Box (1979), "Robustness in the Strategy of Scientific Model Building" in Robustness in Statistics (Launer & Wilkinson eds.), p. 202.

    I use this quote a lot to explain the difficulties in mathematicians transitioning to statistics

    This sentence itself is a model (an epistemological one)

    but see a nice discussion around this quote on Gelman's blog, http://j.mp/9SgIBO

    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.

    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.

    I prefer the extended version: "...all models are approximations. Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful" (Box & Draper, 2007, "Response Surfaces, Mixtures, and Ridge Analyses", p. 414)

    Taken out of context it is a meaningless and even misleading statement. A model helps us understand the world by simplification and by disregarding anomalies, so obviously any model is "wrong" in any literal sense of the word. Furthermore, usefulness should not generally be a criterion for model selection, e.g., a poor model ("climate change is not man made") can still be very useful for nefarious (and other) purposes.

  • "An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem." -- John Tukey

    I like this one, could be put as an advise when people write questions on this site ?

    Absolutely...asking the right question is one of the most important skills.

    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 I think the quote is more about the question .... something like science is not about finding good answer but about finding good questions !

    This reminds me of a quote made by Edwin Jaynes. It roughly goes "...a mathematician came to me and said 'I found a brilliant solution, all I need now is the problem'..."

    "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.

    @NickCox +1 the quote with the 'wrong question' is preferable being much clearer and less debateable than the one with 'an approximate problem'. It can be incredibly valuable solving an approximate problem exactly ( in science at least. )

  • "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 quotation can be read on page 17 of the article.

    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

    I read a slightly different version of this quote by Fisher: "Hiring a physician after the data have been collected is like hiring a physician when the patient is in the morgue. He may be able to tell you what went wrong, but he is unlikely to be able to fix it."

    @Peter Was it really "Hiring a physician after the data ..." or should "statistician" be in there somewhere?

    @dason You're right! Someone edited my post, I think

  • 87% of statistics are made up on the spot


    Dilbert.com Dilbert.com

    And 45.8% of people don't believe that statistic

    ROFL ROFL Scott Adams kills me

    Ha! Every time I see a forecast that contains too many significant digits I think of this quote. "The number of cell phone owners is forecast to be 4,372,138,975 by the year 2020." Really? As if anyone could forecast better than 4.3B or 4.4B.

  • In God we trust. All others must bring data.

    (W. Edwards Deming)

    God must bring data too.

    God can make up data.

    @Leo What data do you have to support that hypothesis? :)

    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?

    It's axiomatically true.

    A great quote and a great man; debatably a great quote *from* a great man.

    Ironically there does not seem to be any data suggesting the quote belongs to Deming!

    An attempted editor argues, "Should be B. Joiner. This is a misattribution that got multiplied because of the mistaken reference in Hastie, Tibsharni and Freedman. They never corrected it. The correct reference is Joiner, B.L. (1985). The key role of statisticians in the transformation of North American industry.American Statistician 39(3): 233–234."

    It looks like it goes back earlier than either Deming or Joiner. See https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/12/29/god-data/.

  • Statisticians, like artists, have the bad habit of falling in love with their models.

    -- George Box

  • Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

    -Aaron Levenstein

    And life's more fun without them? Guess you can only take a metaphor so far...

    This just became my favorite quote

    This maybe? https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Statistics slightly different phrasing though. If you google the entire quote I'm not the only one using it, but no source.

  • Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

    -- Niels Bohr

    Prediction about the past can also be surprisingly tricky!

    This one has been attributed to many different people http://www.larry.denenberg.com/predictions.html and it's disputed that it would be Niels Bohr http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr

  • All generalizations are false, including this one.

    Mark Twain

    It is, except are there any generalisations that are entirely true?

    @naught101 Definitions and the laws of nature (once we know them) are generalizations that I consider true. Though the former are not very interesting as in: all "true generalizations" are true.

  • 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.

    Yes, your explanation is highly needed. I can imagine that many would take away the complete opposite meaning from the quote. Note to myself, even torture of ideas is evil.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM