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Statistics Quotes (170 quotes)
Statistic Quotes, Statistically Quotes, Statistical Quotes

[Co-author with Norman R. Draper] (source)
…all models are approximations. Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful. However, the approximate nature of the model must always be borne in mind… [Co-author with Norman R. Draper]
In George E.P. Box, Norman R. Draper, Response Surfaces, Mixtures, and Ridge Analyses (2nd ed. 2007), 414.
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“Every moment dies a man,/ Every moment one is born”:
I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world's population in a state of perpetual equipoise whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:
'Every moment dies a man / And one and a sixteenth is born.” I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre.
Unpublished letter to Tennyson in response to his Vision of Sin (1842). Quoted in Philip and Emily Morrison, Charles Babbage and his Calculating Engines: Selected Writings by Charles Babbage and Others (1961), xxiii.
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[Florence Nightingale] was a great administrator, and to reach excellence here is impossible without being an ardent student of statistics. Florence Nightingale has been rightly termed the “Passionate Statistician.” Her statistics were more than a study, they were indeed her religion. For her, Quetelet was the hero as scientist, and the presentation copy of his Physique Sociale is annotated by her on every page. Florence Nightingale believed—and in all the actions of her life acted upon that belief—that the administrator could only be successful if he were guided by statistical knowledge. The legislator—to say nothing of the politician—too often failed for want of this knowledge. Nay, she went further: she held that the universe—including human communities—was evolving in accordance with a divine plan; that it was man's business to endeavour to understand this plan and guide his actions in sympathy with it. But to understand God's thoughts, she held we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose. Thus the study of statistics was for her a religious duty.
In Karl Pearson, The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton (1924), Vol. 2, 414-5.
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[Freud's] great strength, though sometimes also his weakness, was the quite extraordinary respect he had for the singular fact... When he got hold of a simple but significant fact he would feel, and know, that it was an example of something general or universal, and the idea of collecting statistics on the matter was quite alien to him.
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol 1, 96-7.
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[Haunted by the statistic that the best predictor of SAT scores is family income:] Where you were born, into what family you are born, what their resources are, are to a large extent are going to determine the quality of education you receive, beginning in preschool and moving all the way up through college.
And what this is going to create in America is a different kind of aristocracy that's going to be self-perpetuating, unless we find ways to break that juggernaut.
... I think what that really reflects is the fact that resources, and not wealth necessarily, but just good middle-class resources, can buy quality of experience for children.
In a segment from PBS TV program, Newshour (9 Sep 2013).
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[It has been ascertained by statistical observation that in engineering enterprises one man is killed for every million francs that is spent on the works.] Supposing you have to build a bridge at an expense of one hundred million francs, you must be prepared for the death of one hundred men. In building the Eiffel Tower, which was a construction costing six million and a half, we only lost four men, thus remaining below the average. In the construction of the Forth Bridge, 55 men were lost in over 45,000,000 francs’ worth of work. That would appear to be a large number according to the general rule, but when the special risks are remembered, this number shows as a very small one.
As quoted in 'M. Eiffel and the Forth Bridge', The Tablet (15 Mar 1890), 75, 400. Similarly quoted in Robert Harborough Sherard, Twenty Years in Paris: Being Some Recollections of a Literary Life (1905), 169, which adds to the end “, and reflects very great credit on the engineers for the precautions which they took on behalf of their men.” Sherard gave the context that Eiffel was at the inauguration [4 Mar 1890] of the Forth Bridge, and gave this compliment when conversing there with the Prince of Wales.
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[Like people] if you torture statistics long enough, they'll tell you anything you want to hear.
In Erica Beecher-Monas, Evaluating Scientific Evidence (2007), 63.
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[To give insight to statistical information] it occurred to me, that making an appeal to the eye when proportion and magnitude are concerned, is the best and readiest method of conveying a distinct idea.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 2.
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27% des statistiques sont fausses. Et 95% des plaisanteries sur les statistiques sont éculées.
27% of statistics are false. And 95% of jokes about statistics are stale.
Translated from cartoon in magazine Pour la Science (Feb 2004), No. 316. Éculées may also be translated as corny, banal, or worn out.
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Conclusions
I. A curve has been found representing the frequency distribution of standard deviations of samples drawn from a normal population.
II. A curve has been found representing the frequency distribution of values of the means of such samples, when these values are measured from the mean of the population in terms of the standard deviation of the sample…
IV. Tables are given by which it can be judged whether a series of experiments, however short, have given a result which conforms to any required standard of accuracy or whether it is necessary to continue the investigation.
'The Probable Error of a Mean', Biometrika, 1908, 6, 25.
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Il y aura toujours une valeur (ou plusieurs) qui dépassera toutes les autres.
There will always be one (or more) value that will exceed all others.
Origin French in 'Les Valeurs Extrêmes des Distributions Statistiques', Annales de l'Institut Henri Poincaré (1935), 5, 115. English by Webmaster using Google Translate.
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L'homme moyen.
The average man.
The emergence of the concept.
A Treatise on Man and the Development of his Faculties (1842). Reprinted with an introduction by Solomon Diamond (1969), 96.
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Nos numeros sumus et fruges consumere nati.
We are but ciphers, born to consume earth’s fruits.
[Alternate: We are just statistics, born to consume resources.]
Epistles bk. 1, no. 2, 1. 27. In Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (1926), 264-5.
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The Charms of Statistics.—It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once. An Average is but a solitary fact, whereas if a single other fact be added to it, an entire Normal Scheme, which nearly corresponds to the observed one, starts potentially into existence. Some people hate the very name of statistics, but I find them full of beauty and interest. Whenever they are not brutalised, but delicately handled by the higher methods, and are warily interpreted, their power of dealing with complicated phenomena is extraordinary. They are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the Science of man.
Natural Inheritance (1889), 62-3.
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~~[No known primary source]~~ If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.
As quoted, without citation in 'Preface', Norman T.J. Bailey the Mathematical Approach to Biology and Medicine (1967, 1989), v. Also in revised book, Norman T. J. Bailey, Mathematics, Statistics, and Systems for Health (1977), 51. Webmaster has so far found no primary source for verification (Can you help?)
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~~[Paraphrase]~~ Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.
This is not a verbatim quote from H.G. Wells, but is a much-shortened paraphrase from his book Mankind in the Making (1903). The paraphrase was expressed by statistician Samuel S. Wilks, in a 1951 address. See the Samuel S. Wilks Quotations page on this site for the full citation. See this H.G. Wells quote page for the original full quote, beginning: “The new mathematics is a sort of supplement to language…” Note that, in fact, Wells referred only to “mathematical analysis” such as “averages and maxima and minima” — and did not specify (more complex) “statistics” at all!
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A good psychologist has to be able to distinguish strongly between problems of process, which are causal, and problems of structure, which are analytic and descriptive. In particular the statistics adequate for the latter are not sufficient for the former.
From archive recording (3 Jun 1959) with to John C. Kenna, giving his recollection of his farewell speech to Cambridge Psychological Society (4 Mar 1952), in which he gave a summary of points he considered to be basic requirements for a good experimental psychologist. Point 5 of 7, from transcription of recording held at British Psychological Society History of Psychology Centre, London, as abridged on thepsychologist.bps.org.uk website.
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A great surgeon performs operations for stone by a single method; later he makes a statistical summary of deaths and recoveries, and he concludes from these statistics that the mortality law for this operation is two out of five. Well, I say that this ratio means literally nothing scientifically and gives us no certainty in performing the next operation; for we do not know whether the next case will be among the recoveries or the deaths. What really should be done, instead of gathering facts empirically, is to study them more accurately, each in its special determinism. We must study cases of death with great care and try to discover in them the cause of mortal accidents so as to master the cause and avoid the accidents.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 137-138. (Note that Bernard overlooks how the statistical method can be useful: a surgeon announcing a mortality rate of 40% invites comparison. A surgeon with worse outcomes should adopt this method. If a surgeon has a better results, that method should be adopted.)
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A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.
According to Ralph Keyes in The Quote Verifier this is not a quote by Joseph Stalin. Although a 1958 book review in the New York Times used similar words, no citation was provided, and likely because there is none. However, the quote is often seen incorrectly attributed to Stalin, and sometimes Lenin or Heinrich Himmler.
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A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 3.
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A statistician is one who has learned how to get valid evidence from statistics and how (usually) to avoid being misled by irrelevant facts. It’s too bad that we apply the same name to this kind of person that we use for those who only tabulate. It’s as if we had the same name for barbers and brain surgeons because they both work on the head.
In How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (1983), 1.
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A witty statesman said you might prove anything with figures.
In Chartism (1839, 1840), 9.
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All statements are true, if you are free to redefine their terms.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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All the events which occur upon the earth result from Law: even those actions which are entirely dependent on the caprices of the memory, or the impulse of the passions, are shown by statistics to be, when taken in the gross, entirely independent of the human will. As a single atom, man is an enigma; as a whole, he is a mathematical problem. As an individual, he is a free agent; as a species, the offspring of necessity.
In The Martyrdom of Man (1876), 185-186.
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Among the current discussions, the impact of new and sophisticated methods in the study of the past occupies an important place. The new 'scientific' or 'cliometric' history—born of the marriage contracted between historical problems and advanced statistical analysis, with economic theory as bridesmaid and the computer as best man—has made tremendous advances in the last generation.
Co-author with Geoffrey Rudolph Elton (1921-94), British historian. Which Road to the Past? Two Views of History (1983), 2.
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Any experiment may be regarded as forming an individual of a 'population' of experiments which might be performed under the same conditions. A series of experiments is a sample drawn from this population.
Now any series of experiments is only of value in so far as it enables us to form a judgment as to the statistical constants of the population to which the experiments belong. In a great number of cases the question finally turns on the value of a mean, either directly, or as the mean difference between the two qualities.
If the number of experiments be very large, we may have precise information as to the value of the mean, but if our sample be small, we have two sources of uncertainty:— (I) owing to the 'error of random sampling' the mean of our series of experiments deviates more or less widely from the mean of the population, and (2) the sample is not sufficiently large to determine what is the law of distribution of individuals.
'The Probable Error of a Mean', Biometrika, 1908, 6, 1.
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Any statistics can be extrapolated to the point where they show disaster.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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As a doctor, as a man of science, I can tell you there is no such thing as curses Everything just happens as a question of probability. The statistical likelihood of a specific event.
…...
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As soon as the circumstances of an experiment are well known, we stop gathering statistics. … The effect will occur always without exception, because the cause of the phenomena is accurately defined. Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined,Only when a phenomenon includes conditions as yet undefined, can we compile statistics. … we must learn therefore that we compile statistics only when we cannot possibly help it; for in my opinion, statistics can never yield scientific truth.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-137.
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Cancer is a biological, not a statistical problem.
'Shoot Out in Marlboro Country', Mother Jones Magazine (Jan 1979), 36.
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Deaths, births, and marriages, considering how much they are separately dependent on the freedom of the human will, should seem to be subject to no law according to which any calculation could be made beforehand of their amount; and yet the yearly registers of these events in great countries prove that they go on with as much conformity to the laws of nature as the oscillations of the weather.
'Idea of a Universal history on a Cosmo-Political Plan' (1784). As translated by Thomas De Quinsey in The London Magazine (Oct 1824), 10, 385. Reprinted in 1859 by De Quincey in Vol. 8 of his Collective Edition of his writings.
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Do not expect to be hailed as a hero when you make your great discovery. More likely you will be a ratbag—maybe failed by your examiners. Your statistics, or your observations, or your literature study, or your something else will be patently deficient. Do not doubt that in our enlightened age the really important advances are and will be rejected more often than acclaimed. Nor should we doubt that in our own professional lifetime we too will repudiate with like pontifical finality the most significant insight ever to reach our desk.
Theories of the Earth and Universe (1988), 365.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special theory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity.
This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist’s. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
In Variety of Men (1966), 100-101. First published in Commentary magazine.
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Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes (1995), 765. Sometimes seen attributed, probably incorrectly, to Mark Twain. Webmaster has not yet found any primary source, and doubts that it is a Twain quote.
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Facts may belong to the past history of mankind, to the social statistics of our great cities, to the atmosphere of the most distant stars, to the digestive organs of a worm, or to the life of a scarcely visible bacillus. It is not the facts themselves which form science, but the method in which they are dealt with.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 15.
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Finally in a large population, divided and subdivided into partially isolated local races of small size, there is a continually shifting differentiation among the latter (intensified by local differences in selection but occurring under uniform and static conditions) which inevitably brings about an indefinitely continuing, irreversible, adaptive, and much more rapid evolution of the species. Complete isolation in this case, and more slowly in the preceding, originates new species differing for the most part in nonadaptive parallel orthogenetic lines, in accordance with the conditions. It is suggested, in conclusion, that the differing statistical situations to be expected among natural species are adequate to account for the different sorts of evolutionary processes which have been described, and that, in particular, conditions in nature are often such as to bring about the state of poise among opposing tendencies on which an indefinitely continuing evolutionary process depends.
In 'Evolution In Mendelian Populations', Genetics, (1931), 16, 158.
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For the most part, statistics is a method of investigation that is used when other methods are of no avail; it is often a last resort and a forlorn hope.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 3.
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Geography is … only a branch of statistics, a knowledge of which is necessary to the well-understanding of the history of nations, as well as their situations relative to each other.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 5.
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Given a large mass of data, we can by judicious selection construct perfectly plausible unassailable theories—all of which, some of which, or none of which may be right.
I-Ching and the citric acid cycle. Unpublished manuscript/seminar notes quoted in Frederick Grinnell, Everyday Practice of Science (2008), 86.
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Half the people you know are below average.
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Hardly a year passes that fails to find a new, oft-times exotic, research method or technique added to the armamentarium of political inquiry. Anyone who cannot negotiate Chi squares, assess randomization, statistical significance, and standard deviations
…...
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Having always observed that most of them who constantly took in the weekly Bills of Mortality made little other use of them than to look at the foot how the burials increased or decreased, and among the Casualties what had happened, rare and extraordinary, in the week current; so as they might take the same as a Text to talk upon in the next company, and withal in the Plague-time, how the Sickness increased or decreased, that the Rich might judg of the necessity of their removal, and Trades-men might conjecture what doings they were likely to have in their respective dealings.
From Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made upon Bills of Mortality (1662), Preface. Reproduced in Cornelius Walford, The Insurance Cyclopaedia (1871), Vol. 1, 286. Italicizations from another source.
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He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination.
Attributed.
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Historically, Statistics is no more than State Arithmetic, a system of computation by which differences between individuals are eliminated by the taking of an average. It has been used—indeed, still is used—to enable rulers to know just how far they may safely go in picking the pockets of their subjects.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 1.
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Hubris is the greatest danger that accompanies formal data analysis, including formalized statistical analysis. The feeling of “Give me (or more likely even, give my assistant) the data, and I will tell you what the real answer is!” is one we must all fight against again and again, and yet again.
In 'Sunset Salvo', The American Statistician (Feb 1986), 40, No. 1, 75.
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I am one of the unpraised, unrewarded millions without whom Statistics would be a bankrupt science. It is we who are born, who marry, who die, in constant ratios. It is we who are born, who marry, who die, in constant ratios; who regularly lose so many umbrellas, post just so many unaddressed letters every year. And there are enthusiasts among us who, without the least thought of their own convenience, allow omnibuses to run over them; or throw themselves month by month, in fixed numbers, from the London bridges.
In 'Where Do I Come In', Trivia (1917,1921), 106.
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I deal not with the perishing things of the hour—with statistics, … so fugitive,—that truth to-day is falsehood almost on the morrow.
In The Shoe and Canoe: Or Pictures of Travel in the Canadas (1850), viii.
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I do not … reject the use of statistics in medicine, but I condemn not trying to get beyond them and believing in statistics as the foundation of medical science. … Statistics … apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still [uncertain or] indeterminate. … There will always be some indeterminism … in all the sciences, and more in medicine than in any other. But man’s intellectual conquest consists in lessening and driving back indeterminism in proportion as he gains ground for determinism by the help of the experimental method..
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138-140.
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I fancy you give me credit for being a more systematic sort of cove than I really am in the matter of limits of significance. What would actually happen would be that I should make out Pt (normal) and say to myself that would be about 50:1; pretty good but as it may not be normal we'd best not be too certain, or 100:1; even allowing that it may not be normal it seems good enough and whether one would be content with that or would require further work would depend on the importance of the conclusion and the difficulty of obtaining suitable experience.
Letter to E. S. Pearson, 18 May 1929. E. S. Pearson, '"Student" as Statistician', Biometrika, 1939, 30, 244.
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I look upon statistics as the handmaid of medicine, but on that very account I hold that it befits medicine to treat her handmaid with proper respect, and not to prostitute her services for controversial or personal purposes.
'On the Influence of the Sanatorium Treatment of Tuberculosis', British Medical Journal (1910), 1, 1517.
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I never could do anything with figures, never had any talent for mathematics, never accomplished anything in my efforts at that rugged study, and to-day the only mathematics I know is multiplication, and the minute I get away up in that, as soon as I reach nine times seven— [He lapsed into deep thought, trying to figure nine times seven. Mr. McKelway whispered the answer to him.] I’ve got it now. It’s eighty-four. Well, I can get that far all right with a little hesitation. After that I am uncertain, and I can’t manage a statistic.
Speech at the New York Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind (29 Mar 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 323.
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I thought that the wisdom of our City had certainly designed the laudable practice of taking and distributing these accompts [parish records of christenings and deaths] for other and greater uses than [merely casual comments], or, at least, that some other uses might be made of them; and thereupon I ... could, and (to be short) to furnish myself with as much matter of that kind ... the which when I had reduced into tables ... so as to have a view of the whole together, in order to the more ready comparing of one Year, Season, Parish, or other Division of the City, with another, in respect of all Burials and Christnings, and of all the Diseases and Casualties happening in each of them respectively...
Moreover, finding some Truths and not-commonly-believed opinions to arise from my meditations upon these neglected Papers, I proceeded further to consider what benefit the knowledge of the same would bring to the world, ... with some real fruit from those ayrie blossoms.
From Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made upon Bills of Mortality (1662), Preface. Reproduced in Cornelius Walford, The Insurance Cyclopaedia (1871), Vol. 1, 286-287.
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I would rather see the behavior of one white rat observed carefully from the moment of birth until death than to see a large volume of accurate statistical data on how 2,000 rats learned to open a puzzle box.
Introduction to G. V. Hamilton and Kenneth Macgowan, What Is Wrong with Marriage? (1929), xx.
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I've come loaded with statistics, for I've noticed that a man can't prove anything without statistics. No man can.
Speech at the Republican Rally, Hartford Opera House (26 Oct 1880). In Mark Twain and Paul Fatout (ed.,) Mark Twain Speaking (2006), 140.
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If it’s green or wriggles, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, it’s physics or engineering. If it’s green and wiggles and stinks and still doesn’t work, it’s psychology. If it’s incomprehensible, it’s mathematics. If it puts you to sleep, it’s statistics.
In Journal of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (1978), 79, 97, and additional lines from other sources.
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If one in twenty does not seem high enough odds, we may, if we prefer it, draw the line at one in fifty (the 2 per cent. point), or one in a hundred (the 1 per cent. point). Personally, the writer prefers to set a low standard of significance at the 5 per cent. point, and ignore entirely all results which fail to reach this level. A scientific fact should be regarded as experimentally established only if a properly designed experiment rarely fails to give this level of significance.
'The Arrangement of Field Experiments', The Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture, 1926, 33, 504.
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If we betake ourselves to the statistical method, we do so confessing that we are unable to follow the details of each individual case, and expecting that the effects of widespread causes, though very different in each individual, will produce an average result on the whole nation, from a study of which we may estimate the character and propensities of an imaginary being called the Mean Man.
'Does the Progress of Physical Science tend to give any advantage to the opinion of necessity (or determinism) over that of the continuency of Events and the Freedom of the Will?' In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 818.
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If you are young, then I say: Learn something about statistics as soon as you can. Don’t dismiss it through ignorance or because it calls for thought. … If you are older and already crowned with the laurels of success, see to it that those under your wing who look to you for advice are encouraged to look into this subject. In this way you will show that your arteries are not yet hardened, and you will be able to reap the benefits without doing overmuch work yourself. Whoever you are, if your work calls for the interpretation of data, you may be able to do without statistics, but you won’t do as well.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 463.
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In 1786, I found that in Germany they were engaged in a species of political inquiry, to which they had given the name of Statistics;… an inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining the political strength of a country, or questions respecting matters of state;… as I thought that a new word, might attract public attention, I resolved on adopting it, and I hope that it is now completely naturalised and incorporated with our language.
In Statistical Account of Scotland: Drawn Up from the Communications of the Ministers of the Different Parishes, Volume 20 (1798), xiii-xiv.
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In a Dublin hospital, many years ago, it was noticed that the death-rate was markedly higher in the ground-floor wards than it was in the wards upstairs. This fact was commented on in an official report, and marked down as requiring investigation. Then it was discovered that, when new patients came in, the porter of the hospital was in the habit of putting them upstairs if they could walk by themselves, and downstairs if they could not.
From 'Figures Can Lie', Science Digest (Sep 1951), 30, No. 3, 53. (As condensed from The Listener). Excerpted in Meta Riley Emberger and Marian Ross Hall, Scientific Writing (1955), 407.
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In a sense, of course, probability theory in the form of the simple laws of chance is the key to the analysis of warfare;… My own experience of actual operational research work, has however, shown that its is generally possible to avoid using anything more sophisticated. … In fact the wise operational research worker attempts to concentrate his efforts in finding results which are so obvious as not to need elaborate statistical methods to demonstrate their truth. In this sense advanced probability theory is something one has to know about in order to avoid having to use it.
In 'Operations Research', Physics Today (Nov 1951), 19. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 25.
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In earlier times they had no statistics and so they had to fall back on lies. Hence the huge exaggerations of primitive literature, giants, miracles, wonders! It's the size that counts. They did it with lies and we do it with statistics: but it's all the same.
In Model Memoirs and Other Sketches from Simple to Serious (1971), 265.
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In God we trust, all others must bring data.
Variously attributed to W. Edwards Deming, George Box, Robert W. Hayden in different sources.
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In India we have clear evidence that administrative statistics had reached a high state of organization before 300 B.C. In the Arthasastra of Kautilya … the duties of the Gopa, the village accountant, [include] “by setting up boundaries to villages, by numbering plots of grounds as cultivated, uncultivated, plains, wet lands, gardens, vegetable gardens, fences (váta), forests altars, temples of gods, irrigation works, cremation grounds, feeding houses (sattra), places where water is freely supplied to travellers (prapá), places of pilgrimage, pasture grounds and roads, and thereby fixing the boundaries of various villages, of fields, of forests, and of roads, he shall register gifts, sales, charities, and remission of taxes regarding fields.”
Editorial, introducing the new statistics journal of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sankhayā (1933), 1, No. 1. Also reprinted in Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (Feb 2003), 65, No. 1, viii.
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In the patient who succumbed, the cause of death was evidently something which was not found in the patient who recovered; this something we must determine, and then we can act on the phenomena or recognize and foresee them accurately. But not by statistics shall we succeed in this; never have statistics taught anything, and never can they teach anything about the nature of the phenomenon.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138.
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Insight is not the same as scientific deduction, but even at that it may be more reliable than statistics.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 123.
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It has been said that numbers rule the world; but I know that the numbers teach us, whether it is governed well or badly.
English using Google translate from the original German, “Man hat behauptet, die Welt werde durch Zahlen regiert; das aber weiss ich, dass die Zahlen uns belehren, ob sie gut oder schlecht regiert werde,” in J.P. Eckermann, entry for Sonntag den 31 Januar 1830', Gespräche mit Goethe (1836), 180. However, notice that in the original context, the sense of Zahen is “pay.” In the translation by S.M. Fuller, the full context is thus: “Goethe read in the French periodical, the ‘Times,’ an article on the enormous salaries of the English clergy, who receive more than all other ecclesiastics in Christendom put together. ‘It has been maintained,’ said Goethe, ‘that the world is governed by pay; this I know, by examining the distribution of pay, we can find out whether it is well or ill governed.’” In J.P. Eckermann and S.M. Fuller (trans.), 'Sunday, 31st January', Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His Life (1839), 336. Yet commonly seen on the web as “It has been said that figures rule the world. Maybe. But I am sure that figures show us whether it is being ruled well or badly.”
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It is impossible to predict the velocity of a particular molecule or the length of life of an individual man, but with a sufficient number of molecules or men we can deal with them statistically and say how many will move within certain velocities or how many will die within a given year. Statistical determination, but individual uncertainty.
In A Shorter History of Science (1944), 96.
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It is interesting to note how many fundamental terms which the social sciences are trying to adopt from physics have as a matter of historical fact originated in the social field. Take, for instance, the notion of cause. The Greek aitia or the Latin causa was originally a purely legal term. It was taken over into physics, developed there, and in the 18th century brought back as a foreign-born kind for the adoration of the social sciences. The same is true of the concept of law of nature. Originally a strict anthropomorphic conception, it was gradually depersonalized or dehumanized in the natural sciences and then taken over by the social sciences in an effort to eliminate final causes or purposes from the study of human affairs. It is therefore not anomalous to find similar transformations in the history of such fundamental concepts of statistics as average and probability. The concept of average was developed in the Rhodian laws as to the distribution of losses in maritime risks. After astronomers began to use it in correcting their observations, it spread to other physical sciences; and the prestige which it thus acquired has given it vogue in the social field. The term probability, as its etymology indicates, originates in practical and legal considerations of probing and proving.
The Statistical View of Nature (1936), 327-8.
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It is possible to apply statistical methods to the calculation of nuclear processes provided that the energies involved are large in comparison with the lowest excitation energies of nuclei.
First sentence from Abstract to 'Statistics and Nuclear Reactions', Physical Review (1937), 52, No. 4, 295–303.
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It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It was noted long ago that the front row of burlesque houses was occupied predominantly by bald-headed men. In fact, such a row became known as the bald-headed row. It might be assumed from this on statistical evidence that the continued close observation of chorus girls in tights caused loss of hair from the top of the head.
[Disputing a statistical study for the American Cancer Society showing smoking to be a cancer causative.]
In Bess Furman, '2 Cite Extraction of Cigarette Tar', New York Times (26 Jul 1957), 21. The article reported on testimony before the Legal and Monetary Affairs Subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee.
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It will be noticed that the fundamental theorem proved above bears some remarkable resemblances to the second law of thermodynamics. Both are properties of populations, or aggregates, true irrespective of the nature of the units which compose them; both are statistical laws; each requires the constant increase of a measurable quantity, in the one case the entropy of a physical system and in the other the fitness, measured by m, of a biological population. As in the physical world we can conceive the theoretical systems in which dissipative forces are wholly absent, and in which the entropy consequently remains constant, so we can conceive, though we need not expect to find, biological populations in which the genetic variance is absolutely zero, and in which fitness does not increase. Professor Eddington has recently remarked that “The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of nature.” It is not a little instructive that so similar a law should hold the supreme position among the biological sciences. While it is possible that both may ultimately be absorbed by some more general principle, for the present we should note that the laws as they stand present profound differences—-(1) The systems considered in thermodynamics are permanent; species on the contrary are liable to extinction, although biological improvement must be expected to occur up to the end of their existence. (2) Fitness, although measured by a uniform method, is qualitatively different for every different organism, whereas entropy, like temperature, is taken to have the same meaning for all physical systems. (3) Fitness may be increased or decreased by changes in the environment, without reacting quantitatively upon that environment. (4) Entropy changes are exceptional in the physical world in being irreversible, while irreversible evolutionary changes form no exception among biological phenomena. Finally, (5) entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world, at least from the human standpoint of the utilization of energy, while evolutionary changes are generally recognized as producing progressively higher organization in the organic world.
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 36.
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It’s important for students to be put in touch with real-world problems. The curriculum should include computer science. Mathematics should include statistics. The curriculums should really adjust.
From address at a conference on Google campus, co-hosted with Common Sense Media and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop 'Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age'. As quoted in Technology blog report by Dan Fost, 'Google co-founder Sergey Brin wants more computers in schools', Los Angeles Times (28 Oct 2009). On latimesblogs.latimes.com website. As quoted, without citation, in Can Akdeniz, Fast MBA (2014), 280.
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Keep in mind that new ideas are commonplace, and almost always wrong. Most flashes of insight lead nowhere; statistically, they have a half-life of hours or maybe days. Most experiments to follow up the surviving insights are tedious and consume large amounts of time, only to yield negative or (worse!) ambiguous results.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998, 1999), 60
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Killing one man is murder. Killing millions is a statistic
Address to the Joint Defense Appeal of the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, Chicago (21 Jun1961). In Sue G. Hall (ed.), The Quotable Robert F. Kennedy (1967), 120.
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Like the statistician who was drowned in a lake of average depth six inches.
Saying.
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Measurement has too often been the leitmotif of many investigations rather than the experimental examination of hypotheses. Mounds of data are collected, which are statistically decorous and methodologically unimpeachable, but conclusions are often trivial and rarely useful in decision making. This results from an overly rigorous control of an insignificant variable and a widespread deficiency in the framing of pertinent questions. Investigators seem to have settled for what is measurable instead of measuring what they would really like to know.
'Patient Care—Mystical Research or Researchable Mystique/', Clinical Research (1964), 12, no. 4, 422.
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Medical statistics are like a bikini bathing suit: what they reveal is interesting; what they conceal is vital.
'Shoot Out in Marlboro Country', Mother Jones Magazine (Jan 1979), 36.
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Medical statistics will be our standard of measurement: we will weigh life for life and see where the dead lie thicker, among the workers or among the privileged.
Inaugurating his journal, Die Medizinische Reform (1848), 182, in which he asked scholars to collect medical statistics. (The Medical Reform.) As quoted in Paul Farmer, Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues (2001), 1. Cited in David L. Brunsma, Keri E. Iyall Smith and Brian K. Gran (eds.), Institutions Unbound: Social Worlds and Human Rights (2016), 10 & 207 footnote.
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More discoveries have arisen from intense observation of very limited material than from statistics applied to large groups. The value of the latter lies mainly in testing hypotheses arising from the former. While observing one should cultivate a speculative, contemplative attitude of mind and search for clues to be followed up. Training in observation follows the same principles as training in any activity. At first one must do things consciously and laboriously, but with practice the activities gradually become automatic and unconscious and a habit is established. Effective scientific observation also requires a good background, for only by being familiar with the usual can we notice something as being unusual or unexplained.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 101.
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Most variables can show either an upward or downward trend, depending on the base year chosen.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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No effective historian of the future can be innocent of statistics, and indeed he or she should probably be a literate amateur economist, psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and geographer.
In 'The Challenge of Modern Historiography', American Historical Review (1 Feb 1982), 87, No. 1, 24.
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No study is less alluring or more dry and tedious than statistics, unless the mind and imagination are set to work, or that the person studying is particularly interested in the subject; which last can seldom be the case with young men in any rank of life.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 16.
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Now having (I know not by what accident) engaged my thoughts upon the Bills of Mortality, and so far succeeded therein, as to have reduced several great confused Volumes into a few perspicuous Tables, and abridged such Observations as naturally flowed from them, into a few succinct Paragraphs, without any long Series of multiloquious Deductions, I have presumed to sacrifice these my small, but first publish'd, Labours unto your Lordship, as unto whose benign acceptance of some other of my Papers even the birth of these is due; hoping (if I may without vanity say it) they may be of as much use to persons in your Lordships place, as they are of none to me, which is no more than fairest Diamonds are to the Journeymen Jeweller that works them, or the poor Labourer that first digg'd them from Earth.
[An early account demonstrating the value of statistical analysis of public health data. Graunt lived in London at the time of the plague epidemics.]
From Graunt's 'Epistle Dedicatory', for Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made upon Bills of Mortality (1662). Reproduced in Cornelius Walford, The Insurance Cyclopaedia (1871), Vol. 1, 286. (This text used abbreviations for “Mort.” and “vols.”) The italicized words are given as from other sources. Note: bills of mortality are abstracts from parish registers showing the numbers that have died in each week, month or year.
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One death is a tragedy, 100,000 deaths are statistics.
The Crazy Ape (1970), 29.
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One of the main purposes of scientific inference is to justify beliefs which we entertain already; but as a rule they are justified with a difference. Our pre-scientific general beliefs are hardly ever without exceptions; in science, a law with exceptions can only be tolerated as a makeshift. Scientific laws, when we have reason to think them accurate, are different in form from the common-sense rules which have exceptions: they are always, at least in physics, either differential equations, or statistical averages. It might be thought that a statistical average is not very different from a rule with exceptions, but this would be a mistake. Statistics, ideally, are accurate laws about large groups; they differ from other laws only in being about groups, not about individuals. Statistical laws are inferred by induction from particular statistics, just as other laws are inferred from particular single occurrences.
The Analysis of Matter (1927), 191.
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Perhaps H. G. Wells was right when he said ‘statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write’!
From address (28 Dec 1950) to the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association in Chicago, when retiring as president of the association. Published in 'Undergraduate Statistical Education', Journal of the American Statistical Association (Mar 1951), 46, No. 253, 5. Note that Wilks is giving his own short paraphrase, and not a verbatim quote from H.G. Wells. Wilks' paraphrase has taken on a life of its own as a quote commonly seen attributed to H.G. Wells, without mention of Wilks, even though the paraphrase wording comes from Wilks’ presidential address. The origin quote comes from H.G. Wells, Mankind in the Making (1903), 204. See the full origin quote on this site Herbert George (H.G.) Wells Quotations page, beginning: “The new mathematics is a sort of supplement to language…”. In fact, Wells referred only to “mathematical analysis” such as “averages and maxima and minima” — and did not specify (more complex) “statistics” at all!
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Satan delights equally in statistics and in quoting scripture.
In The Undying Fire: A Contemporary Novel (1919), 9.
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Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.
'Shoot Out in Marlboro Country', Mother Jones Magazine (Jan 1979), 36.
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Starting from statistical observations, it is possible to arrive at conclusions which not less reliable or useful than those obtained in any other exact science. It is only necessary to apply a clear and precise concept of probability to such observations.
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939), 1. In the 1957 edition, this was rewritten as, “Starting from statistical observations and applying to them a clear and precise concept of probability it is possible to arrive at conclusions which are just as reliable and “truth-full” and quite as practically useful as those obtained in any other exact science.”
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Statements about climate trends must be based on, er, trends. Not individual events or occurrences. Weather is not climate, and anecdotes are not statistics.
In article, 'Dear Donald Trump: Winter Does Not Disprove Global Warming', on the Mother Jones website (2 Jan 2014).
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Statistical accounts are to be referred to as a dictionary by men of riper years, and by young men as a grammar, to teach them the relations and proportions of different statistical subjects, and to imprint them on the mind at a time when the memory is capable of being impressed in a lasting and durable manner, thereby laying the foundation for accurate and valuable knowledge.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 5-6.
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Statistical analysis in cases involving small numbers can be particularly helpful because on many occasions intuition can be highly misleading.
In essay 'Statistical Proof of Employment Discrimination', collected in Judith M. Tanur et al. (eds.), Statistics, a Guide to the Unknown (3rd ed., 1989), 83.
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Statistical science is indispensable to modern statesmanship. In legislation as in physical science it is beginning to be understood that we can control terrestrial forces only by obeying their laws. The legislator must formulate in his statutes not only the national will, but also those great laws of social life revealed by statistics.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 217.
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Statistically the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you would think the mere fact of existence would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.
In 'On Probability and Possibility', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 165.
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Statistics are far from being the barren array of figures ingeniously and laboriously combined into columns and tables, which many persons are apt to suppose them. They constitute rather the ledger of a nation, in which, like the merchant in his books, the citizen can read, at one view, all of the results of a year or of a period of years, as compared with other periods, and deduce the profit or the loss which has been made, in morals, education, wealth or power.
Statistical View of the United States: A Compendium of the Seventh Census (1854), 9.
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Statistics are like a bikini: what they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital.
Attributed, for example, in Peter’s Quotations (1977, 1978), 477. Also seen attributed to Arthur Koestler.
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Statistics are like alienists—they will testify for either side.
In 'The Banking Investigation', Liberty Magazine (13 May 1933). As cited in Elyse Sommer (ed.), Similes Dictionary (2013), 220. [Alienism is an obsolete term for psychiatry, the study and treatment of mental illnesses, and is seen for a physician who evaluates the competence of defendants to stand trial. —Webmaster]
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Statistics are no substitute for judgment.
In report on a speech delivered to a business group (Sep 1930), in 'Production Prices and Depression: Professor Clay on the Trade Outlook', Evening Sentinel (Staffordshire, 13 Oct 1930), 5. As cited on the quoteinvestigator.com website, which notes that later ascriptions to Kentucky politician Henry Clay Sr. are incorrect. The Evening Sentinel used the word “substitution” but this was replaced “substitute”, when it was subsequently printed in 'Quotation Marks', New York Times (9 Nov 1930), XX2. It is in this latter form that the quote is now widely propagated.
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Statistics are somewhat like old medical journals, or like revolvers in newly opened mining districts. Most men rarely use them, and find it troublesome to preserve them so as to have them easy of access; but when they do want them, they want them badly.
'On Vital and Medical Statistics', The Medical Record, 1889, 36, 589.
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Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death.
'On Statistics'. In On the Silence of the Sea and Other Essays (1941),199-200.
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Statistics can be made to prove anything—even the truth.
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes (1995), 765.
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Statistics has been the handmaid of science, and has poured a flood of light upon the dark questions of famine and pestilence, ignorance and crime, disease and death.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 216.
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Statistics is a science which ought to be honourable, the basis of many most important sciences; but it is not to be carried on by steam, this science, any more than others are; a wise head is requisite for carrying it on.
Chartism (1839, 1840), 9.
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Statistics is the budget of things; and without a budget there is no public safety.
…...
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Statistics is, or should be, about scientific investigation and how to do it better, but many statisticians believe it is a branch of mathematics.
In Technometrics (1990), 32, 251-252.
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Statistics, one may hope, will improve gradually, and become good for something. Meanwhile, it is to be feared the crabbed satirist was partly right, as things go: “A judicious man,” says he, “looks at Statistics, not to get knowledge, but to save himself from having ignorance foisted on him.”
In Chartism (1839, 1840), 10.
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Statistics: the mathematical theory of ignorance.
From chapter title, 'The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance: The Statistical Approach to the Study of Man', in Mathematics in Western Culture (1953, 1964), 340.
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Statistics: The only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.
In Esar’s Comic Dictionary (1943, 4th ed. 1983), 569.
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Statistics: The science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures.
In Esar’s Comic Dictionary (1943, 4th ed. 1983), 568.
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Strictly speaking, the observed death rate for the human condition is something like 93%—that is, around 93% of all humans have died. This means the death rate among humans who were not members of The Beatles is significantly higher than the 50% death rate among humans who were.
On website what-if.xkcd.com
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The American Cancer Society's position on the question of a possible cause-effect relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is:
1. The evidence to date justifies suspicion that cigarette smoking does, to a degree as yet undetermined, increase the likelihood of developing cancer of the lung.
2. That available evidence does not constitute irrefutable proof that cigarette smoking is wholly or chiefly or partly responsible for lung cancer.
3. That the evidence at hand calls for the extension of statistical and laboratory studies designed to confirm or deny a causual relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
4. That the society is committed to furthering such intensified investigation as its resources will permit.
Conclusions of statement after a meeting of the ACS board of directors in San Francisco (17 Mar 1954). Quoted in 'Tobacco Industry Denies Cancer Tie'. New York Times (14 Apr 1954), 51.
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The assumptions of population thinking are diametrically opposed to those of the typologist. The populationist stresses the uniqueness of everything in the organic world. What is true for the human species,–that no two individuals are alike, is equally true for all other species of animals and plants ... All organisms and organic phenomena are composed of unique features and can be described collectively only in statistical terms. Individuals, or any kind of organic entities, form populations of which we can determine the arithmetic mean and the statistics of variation. Averages are merely statistical abstractions, only the individuals of which the populations are composed have reality. The ultimate conclusions of the population thinker and of the typologist are precisely the opposite. For the typologist, the type (eidos) is real and the variation. an illusion, while for the populationist the type (average) is an abstraction and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different.
Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory in Biology (1959), 2.
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The bushels of rings taken from the fingers of the slain at the battle of Cannæ, above two thousand years ago, are recorded; … but the bushels of corn produced in England at this day, or the number of the inhabitants of the country, are unknown, at the very time that we are debating that most important question, whether or not there is sufficient substance for those who live in the kingdom.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 7-8.
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The chief instrument of American statistics is the census, which should accomplish a two-fold object. It should serve the country by making a full and accurate exhibit of the elements of national life and strength, and it should serve the science of statistics by so exhibiting general results that they may be compared with similar data obtained by other nations.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 219.
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The development of statistics are causing history to be rewritten. Till recently the historian studied nations in the aggregate, and gave us only the story of princes, dynasties, sieges, and battles. Of the people themselves—the great social body with life, growth, sources, elements, and laws of its own—he told us nothing. Now statistical inquiry leads him into the hovels, homes, workshops, mines, fields, prisons, hospitals, and all places where human nature displays its weakness and strength. In these explorations he discovers the seeds of national growth and decay, and thus becomes the prophet of his generation.
Speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 217.
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The difference between a successful and an unsuccessful business man lies often in the greater accuracy of the former’s guesses. Statistics are no substitution for judgment. Their use is to check and discipline the judgments on which in the last resort business decisions depend.
In report on a speech delivered to a business group (Sep 1930), in 'Production Prices and Depression: Professor Clay on the Trade Outlook', Evening Sentinel (Staffordshire, 13 Oct 1930), 5. As cited on the quoteinvestigator.com website.
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The equations of dynamics completely express the laws of the historical method as applied to matter, but the application of these equations implies a perfect knowledge of all the data. But the smallest portion of matter which we can subject to experiment consists of millions of molecules, not one of which ever becomes individually sensible to us. We cannot, therefore, ascertain the actual motion of anyone of these molecules; so that we are obliged to abandon the strict historical method, and to adopt the statistical method of dealing with large groups of molecules … Thus molecular science teaches us that our experiments can never give us anything more than statistical information, and that no law derived from them can pretend to absolute precision. But when we pass from the contemplation of our experiments to that of the molecules themselves, we leave a world of chance and change, and enter a region where everything is certain and immutable.
'Molecules' (1873). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 374.
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The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale.
In The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (1986), 317.
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The evidence from both approaches, statistical and experimental, does not appear sufficiently significant to me to warrant forsaking the pleasure of smoking. As a matter of fact, if the investigations had been pointed toward some material that I thoroughly dislike, such as parsnips, I still would not feel that evidence of the type presented constituted a reasonable excuse for eliminating the things from my diet. I will still continue to smoke, and if the tobacco companies cease manufacturing their product, I will revert to sweet fern and grape leaves.
Introduction in Eric Northrup, Science Looks at Smoking (1957), 34.
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The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.
The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of the most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of math, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.
The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check [bill], the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon of this field.)
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982, 1995), 47-48.
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The first requirement in using statistics is that the facts treated shall be reduced to comparable units.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 136.
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The goal of scientific physicians in their own science … is to reduce the indeterminate. Statistics therefore apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still indeterminate.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 139.
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The history of psychiatry to the present day is replete with examples of loose thinking and a failure to apply even the simplest rules of logic. “A Court of Statistical Appeal” has now been equated with scientific method.
Quoted in book review by Myre Sim about 'Ending the Cycle of Abuse', The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry (May 1997), 42:4, 425.
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The history of the word sankhyā shows the intimate connection which has existed for more than 3000 years in the Indian mind between ‘adequate knowledge’ and ‘number.’ As we interpret it, the fundamental aim of statistics is to give determinate and adequate knowledge of reality with the help of numbers and numerical analysis. The ancient Indian word Sankhyā embodies the same idea, and this is why we have chosen this name for the Indian Journal of Statistics.
Editorial, Vol. 1, Part 1, in the new statistics journal of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sankhayā (1933). Also reprinted in Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (Feb 2003), 65, No. 1, xii.
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The investigation of causal relations between economic phenomena presents many problems of peculiar difficulty, and offers many opportunities for fallacious conclusions. Since the statistician can seldom or never make experiments for himself, he has to accept the data of daily experience, and discuss as best he can the relations of a whole group of changes; he cannot, like the physicist, narrow down the issue to the effect of one variation at a time. The problems of statistics are in this sense far more complex than the problems of physics.
In 'On the Theory of Correlation', Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Dec 1897), 60, 812, as cited in Stephen M. Stigler, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 (1986), 348.
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The law of diminishing returns means that even the most beneficial principle will become harmful if carried far enough.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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The laws of physics and chemistry are statistical throughout.
…...
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The main purpose of a significance test is to inhibit the natural enthusiasm of the investigator.
Selected Quantitative Techniques (1954), 331-332. Co-author with American physicist turned psychologist and statistician, Robert R. Bush (1920-71). Quoted in Eugene B. Zechmeister and Emil J. Posavac, Data Analysis and Interpretation in the Behavioral Sciences (2003), 390.
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The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things.
From edited version of a speech, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (15 Apr 1992), as reprinted from the Independent newspaper in Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (2004), 84.
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The one who stays in my mind as the ideal man of science is, not Huxley or Tyndall, Hooker or Lubbock, still less my friend, philosopher and guide Herbert Spencer, but Francis Galton, whom I used to observe and listen to—I regret to add, without the least reciprocity—with rapt attention. Even to-day. I can conjure up, from memory’s misty deep, that tall figure with its attitude of perfect physical and mental poise; the clean-shaven face, the thin, compressed mouth with its enigmatical smile; the long upper lip and firm chin, and, as if presiding over the whole personality of the man, the prominent dark eyebrows from beneath which gleamed, with penetrating humour, contemplative grey eyes. Fascinating to me was Francis Galton’s all-embracing but apparently impersonal beneficence. But, to a recent and enthusiastic convert to the scientific method, the most relevant of Galton’s many gifts was the unique contribution of three separate and distinct processes of the intellect; a continuous curiosity about, and rapid apprehension of individual facts, whether common or uncommon; the faculty for ingenious trains of reasoning; and, more admirable than either of these, because the talent was wholly beyond my reach, the capacity for correcting and verifying his own hypotheses, by the statistical handling of masses of data, whether collected by himself or supplied by other students of the problem.
In My Apprenticeship (1926), 134-135.
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The only thing harder to understand than a law of statistical origin would be a law that is not of statistical origin, for then there would be no way for it—or its progenitor principles—to come into being. On the other hand, when we view each of the laws of physics—and no laws are more magnificent in scope or better tested—as at bottom statistical in character, then we are at last able to forego the idea of a law that endures from everlasting to everlasting.
In 'Law without Law' (1979), in John Archibald Wheeler and Wojciech Hubert Zurek (eds.), Quantum Theory and Measurement (1983), 203.
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The picture of scientific method drafted by modern philosophy is very different from traditional conceptions. Gone is the ideal of a universe whose course follows strict rules, a predetermined cosmos that unwinds itself like an unwinding clock. Gone is the ideal of the scientist who knows the absolute truth. The happenings of nature are like rolling dice rather than like revolving stars; they are controlled by probability laws, not by causality, and the scientist resembles a gambler more than a prophet. He can tell you only his best posits—he never knows beforehand whether they will come true. He is a better gambler, though, than the man at the green table, because his statistical methods are superior. And his goal is staked higher—the goal of foretelling the rolling dice of the cosmos. If he is asked why he follows his methods, with what title he makes his predictions, he cannot answer that he has an irrefutable knowledge of the future; he can only lay his best bets. But he can prove that they are best bets, that making them is the best he can do—and if a man does his best, what else can you ask of him?
The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (1951, 1973), 248-9. Collected in James Louis Jarrett and Sterling M. McMurrin (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy: A Book of Readings (1954), 376.
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The reason that, having started as a chemist, I became a statistician was that Statistics seemed to me of much greater importance. It was about the catalysis of scientific method itself.
In article Total Quality: Its Origins and its Future (1995), published at the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement.
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The same set of statistics can produce opposite conclusions at different levels of aggregation.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 102.
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The saying often quoted from Lord Kelvin… that “where you cannot measure your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory,” as applied in mental and social science, is misleading and pernicious. This is another way of saying that these sciences are not science in the sense of physical science and cannot attempt to be such without forfeiting their proper nature and function. Insistence on a concretely quantitative economics means the use of statistics of physical magnitudes, whose economic meaning and significance is uncertain and dubious. (Even wheat is approximately homogeneous only if measured in economic terms.) And a similar statement would even apply more to other social sciences. In this field, the Kelvin dictum very largely means in practice, “if you cannot measure, measure anyhow!”
'What is Truth' in Economics? (1956), 166.
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The so-called science of poll-taking is not a science at all but mere necromancy. People are unpredictable by nature, and although you can take a nation's pulse, you can't be sure that the nation hasn't just run up a flight of stairs, and although you can take a nation's blood pressure, you can’t be sure that if you came back in twenty minutes you’d get the same reading. This is a damn fine thing. .
In 'Polling' (13 Nov 1948), collected in Writings from The New Yorker, 1925-1976 (1976, 2006), 60.
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The starting point of Darwin’s theory of evolution is precisely the existence of those differences between individual members of a race or species which morphologists for the most part rightly neglect. The first condition necessary, in order that any process of Natural Selection may begin among a race, or species, is the existence of differences among its members; and the first step in an enquiry into the possible effect of a selective process upon any character of a race must be an estimate of the frequency with which individuals, exhibiting any given degree of abnormality with respect to that, character, occur. The unit, with which such an enquiry must deal, is not an individual but a race, or a statistically representative sample of a race; and the result must take the form of a numerical statement, showing the relative frequency with which the various kinds of individuals composing the race occur.
Biometrika: A Joumal for the Statistical Study of Biological Problems (1901), 1, 1-2.
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The statistical method is required in the interpretation of figures which are at the mercy of numerous influences, and its object is to determine whether individual influences can be isolated and their effects measured. The essence of the method lies in the determination that we are really comparing like with like, and that we have not overlooked a relevant factor which is present in Group A and absent from Group B. The variability of human beings in their illnesses and in their reactions to them is a fundamental reason for the planned clinical trial and not against it.
Principles of Medical Statistics (1971), 13.
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The statistician cannot excuse himself from the duty of getting his head clear on the principles of scientific inference, but equally no other thinking man can avoid a like obligation.
The Design of Experiments (1935), 2.
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The statistics of nihilism … “No matter how many times something new has been observed, it cannot be believed until it has been observed again.” I have also reduced my attitude toward this form of statistics to an axiom: “No matter how bad a thing you say about it, it is not bad enough.”
In Seeing Red: Redshifts, Cosmology and Academic Science (1998), 75.
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The true foundation of theology is to ascertain the character of God. It is by the aid of Statistics that law in the social sphere can be ascertained and codified, and certain aspects of the character of God thereby revealed. The study of statistics is thus a religious service.
As quoted by Florence Nightingale David in Games, Gods, and Gambling: A History of Probability and Statistical Ideas (1962, 1998), 103. David introduced the quote by saying “Florence Nightingale, after some lengthy calculations, wrote:”.
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The word 'statistic' is derived from the Latin status, which, in the middle ages, had become to mean 'state' in the political sense. 'Statistics', therefore, originally denoted inquiries into the condition of a state.
'Statistics' Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), Vol. 25, 806. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 49.
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There are three kinds of lies—lies, damned lies and statistics.
In Autobiography (1924).
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There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Attributed to Disraeli in Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924), Vol. 1, 246. However, this attribution is the only reference stating that Disraeli made this statement.
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There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.
Death of a Doxy (1966, 2010), 82.
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There are two kinds of statistics: the kind you look up and the kind you make up.
…...
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Things are always best seen when they are a trifle mixed up, a trifle disordered; the chilly administrative neatness of museums and filing cases, of statistics and cemeteries, is an inhuman and antinatural kind of order; it is, in a word, disorder. True order belongs to Nature, which never yet has produced two identical trees or mountains or horses.
In Journey to the Alcarria: Travels Through the Spanish Countryside (1948, 1990), 131.
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This alleged damage which the small radioactivity is causing—supposedly cancer and leukemia—has not been proved, to the best of my knowledge, by decent and clear statistics. It is possible that there is damage. It is even possible, to my mind, that there is no damage; and there is the possibility, further, that very small amounts of radioactivity are helpful.
From debate (20 Feb 1958) between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller on WQED-TV, San Francisco. Transcript published as Fallout and Disarmament: The Pauling-Teller Debate (1958). Reprinted in 'Fallout and Disarmament: A Debate between Linus Pauling and Edward Teller', Daedalus (Spring 1958), 87, No. 2, 155.
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To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a postmortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of.
Presidential address to the first Indian Statistical Congress, Sankhya, (ca. 1938), 14-.
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To illustrate the apparent contrast between statistics and truth … may I quote a remark I once overheard: “There are three kinds of lies: white lies, which are justifiable; common lies—these have no justification; and statistics.” Our meaning is similar when we say: “Anything can be proved by figures”; or, modifying a well-known quotation from Goethe, with numbers “all men may contend their charming systems to defend.”
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939), 1.
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To remember simplified pictures is better than to forget accurate figures.
In Otto Neurath, Empiricism and Sociology (1973), 220.
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To understand God’s thoughts, one must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose.
This is expressed in narrative form, not within quotation marks, in Karl Pearson in The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton (1924), Vol 2, 415. [Pearson writes, without quotes: But to understand God’s thoughts, she held we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose. Thus the study of statistics was for her a religious duty.] Pearson elsewhere does use quotation marks when providing a direct quote for illustration from other speakers. Thus, Webmaster cautions that the subject quote above perhaps should not be regarded as verbatim; Pearson was expressing Nightingale’s outlook in his own words.
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Torture numbers, and they will confess to anything.
'Our Warming World', New Republic, 11 November 1999, Vol. 221, 42.
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Two extreme views have always been held as to the use of mathematics. To some, mathematics is only measuring and calculating instruments, and their interest ceases as soon as discussions arise which cannot benefit those who use the instruments for the purposes of application in mechanics, astronomy, physics, statistics, and other sciences. At the other extreme we have those who are animated exclusively by the love of pure science. To them pure mathematics, with the theory of numbers at the head, is the only real and genuine science, and the applications have only an interest in so far as they contain or suggest problems in pure mathematics.
Of the two greatest mathematicians of modern tunes, Newton and Gauss, the former can be considered as a representative of the first, the latter of the second class; neither of them was exclusively so, and Newton’s inventions in the science of pure mathematics were probably equal to Gauss’s work in applied mathematics. Newton’s reluctance to publish the method of fluxions invented and used by him may perhaps be attributed to the fact that he was not satisfied with the logical foundations of the Calculus; and Gauss is known to have abandoned his electro-dynamic speculations, as he could not find a satisfying physical basis. …
Newton’s greatest work, the Principia, laid the foundation of mathematical physics; Gauss’s greatest work, the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, that of higher arithmetic as distinguished from algebra. Both works, written in the synthetic style of the ancients, are difficult, if not deterrent, in their form, neither of them leading the reader by easy steps to the results. It took twenty or more years before either of these works received due recognition; neither found favour at once before that great tribunal of mathematical thought, the Paris Academy of Sciences. …
The country of Newton is still pre-eminent for its culture of mathematical physics, that of Gauss for the most abstract work in mathematics.
In History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1903), 630.
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We cannot feed the hungry with statistics of national prosperity.
Speech in the House of Commons (6 Jan 1904). Quoted in epigraph, Montagu de Pomeroy Webb and Edward FitzGerald Law, India and the Empire: A Consideration of the Tariff Problem (1908), 36. [This has been misattributed (?) to Heinrich Heine, as the variant, “You cannot feed the hungry on statistics.”]
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We make a lot of mistakes in the environmental space. … We don’t do a good-enough job of asking, “What are the fundamentals of telling a good story?” And that is not statistics, it’s usually not science, or at least complex science. It’s people stories. … It’s got to have adventure, it’s got to be funny, it’s got to pull my heart strings, it’s got to have conflict, setting, character. It’s a story. And if it doesn’t have those things, it can be the best-meaning story in the world, and nobody’s going to buy it.
From interview with Dan Conover, 'A Conversation with Philippe Cousteau Jr.', Charleston City Paper (27 Jul 2012).
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We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Almost a third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen.
In The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & The Fate of Humanity (2006, 2007), 15.
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What the use of P [the significance level] implies, therefore, is that a hypothesis that may be true may be rejected because it has not predicted observable results that have not occurred.
Theory of Probability (1939), 316.
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When a physician is called to a patient, he should decide on the diagnosis, then the prognosis, and then the treatment. … Physicians must know the evolution of the disease, its duration and gravity in order to predict its course and outcome. Here statistics intervene to guide physicians, by teaching them the proportion of mortal cases, and if observation has also shown that the successful and unsuccessful cases can be recognized by certain signs, then the prognosis is more certain.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 213.
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When I was younger, Statistics was the science of large numbers. Now, it seems to me rapidly to be becoming the science of no numbers at all.
In Facts From Figures (1951), Chap. 7, 82. Webmaster has not, as yet, identified any earlier primary source. Can you help?
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When people talk about “the sanctity of the individual” they mean “the sanctity of the statistical norm”.
In The Decline and Fall of Science (1976), 4.
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When there are two independent causes of variability capable of producing in an otherwise uniform population distributions with standard deviations s1 and s2, it is found that the distribution, when both causes act together, has a standard deviation vs12 + s22. It is therefore desirable in analysing the causes of variability to deal with the square of the standard deviation as the measure of variability. We shall term this quantity the Variance of the normal population to which it refers, and we may now ascribe to the constituent causes fractions or percentages of the total variance which they together produce.
'The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance,' Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1918, 52, 399.
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Whenever you can, count.
Quoted in James R. Newman, Commentary on Sir Francis Galton (1956), 1169.
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Whether statistics be an art or a science... or a scientific art, we concern ourselves little. It is the basis of social and political dynamics, and affords the only secure ground on which the truth or falsehood of the theories and hypotheses of that complicated science can be brought to the test.
Letters on the Theory of Probabilities (1846), trans. O. G. Downes (1849).
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Whether we like it or not, quantification in history is here to stay for reasons which the quantifiers themselves might not actively approve. We are becoming a numerate society: almost instinctively there seems now to be a greater degree of truth in evidence expressed numerically than in any literary evidence, no matter how shaky the statistical evidence, or acute the observing eye.
Is History Sick? (1973), 64.
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With thermodynamics, one can calculate almost everything crudely; with kinetic theory, one can calculate fewer things, but more accurately; and with statistical mechanics, one can calculate almost nothing exactly.
Edward B. Stuart, Alan J. Brainard and Benjamin Gal-Or (eds.), A Critical Review of Thermodynamics (1970), 205.
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You can always create a fraction by putting one variable upstairs and another variable downstairs, but that soes not establish any causal relationship between them, nor does the resulting quotient have any necessary relationship to anything in the real world.
'Penetrating the Rhetoric', The Vision of the Anointed (1996), 103.
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You cannot ask us to take sides against arithmetic.
From Speech on Coal Dispute (31 Aug 1926), as quoted in Winston S. Churchill's Maxims and Reflections (1992), 153. He was referring to how a glut of competitive supply prevented raising wages at the time.
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In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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