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To understand God's thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose. ~ Florence Nightingale

Statistics is a mathematical science pertaining to the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data.


  • I wish that people would be persuaded that psychological experiments, especially those on the complex functions, are not improved (by large studies); the statistical method gives only mediocre results; some recent examples demonstrate that. The American authors, who love to do things big, often publish experiments that have been conducted on hundreds and thousands of people; they instinctively obey the prejudice that the persuasiveness of a work is proportional to the number of observations. This is only an illusion.
    • Alfred Binet (1903). L’Etude experimentale de l’intelligence. Paris: Schleicher Freres and Cie. p. 299; As cited in: Carson (1999, 360)
Reproduction of an item from the 1908 Binet-Simon intelligence scale, showing three pairs of pictures, about which the tested child was asked, "Which of these two faces is the prettier?" Reproduced from the article "A Practical Guide for Administering the Binet-Simon Scale for Measuring Intelligence" by J. W. Wallace Wallin in the March 1911 issue of the journal The Psychological Clinic (volume 5 number 1), public domain.
  • Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.
    • Attributed to statistician, George E. P. Box quoted in (1987). Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces, p. 424,
  • Statisticians, like artists, have the bad habit of falling in love with their models.
  • ...the statistician knows...that in nature there never was a normal distribution, there never was a straight line, yet with normal and linear assumptions, known to be false, he can often derive results which match, to a useful approximation, those found in the real world.
    • George Box (JASA, 1976, Vol. 71, 791-799)
  • Strange events permit themselves the luxury of occurring.
    • Charlie Chan in a book by Earl Derr Biggers (1928). Behind That Curtain. 
  • If you torture the data enough, nature will always confess.
  • Statistics is the science of learning from data, and of measuring, controlling, and communicating uncertainty.
  • Statistics has been the most successful information science.
    Those who ignore Statistics are condemned to reinvent it.
  • The rise of biometry in this 20th century, like that of geometry in the 3rd century before Christ, seems to mark out one of the great ages or critical periods in the advance of the human understanding.
  • To consult the statistician after an experiment is finished is often merely to ask him to conduct a post mortem examination. He can perhaps say what the experiment died of.
  • briefly, and in its most concrete form, the object of statistical methods is the reduction of data. A quantity of data, which usually by its mere bulk is incapable of entering the mind, is to be replaced by relatively few quantities which shall adequately represent the whole, or which, in other words, shall contain as much as possible, ideally the whole, of the relevant information contained in the original data.
  • It is a statistical commonplace that the interpretation of a body of data requires a knowledge of how it was obtained.
  • Statistics is both the science of uncertainty and the technology of extracting information from data.
  • I think the essential thing if you want to be a good statistician, as opposed to being a mathematician, is to talk to people and find out what they're doing and why they're doing it.
  • Most people don’t have a good understanding of just how variable statistics are, even when you are dealing with robots.
    • Jonah Keri, Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong (2007), p. 246
  • Statistics is the study and informed application of methods for reaching conclusions about the world from fallible observations.
  • Each of us has been doing statistics all his life, in the sense that each of us has been busily reaching conclusions based on empirical observations.
  • Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.
    • Aaron Levenstein (1911–1986), quoted by Laurence J. Peter in Quotations for Our Time (1977), requoted in Oxford Essential Quotations (4 ed.) (2016)
  • Politicians use statistics in the same way that a drunk uses lampposts — for support rather than illumination.
    • Andrew Lang, in a 1910 speech: as quoted in Alan L. Mackay, The Harvest of a Quiet Eye (1977), and reported in Chambers Dictionary of Quotations (2005), p. 488.
  • Uncertainty is a personal matter; it is not the uncertainty but your uncertainty.
    • Dennis Lindley, Understanding Uncertainty (2006)
  • According to a University College London study (2014), 40% of women surveyed with severe mental illness had suffered rape or attempted rape in adulthood, and 53% of those had attempted suicide as a result. In the general population, 7% of women had been victims of rape or attempted rape, of whom 3% had attempted suicide. If these statistics don't sound accurate to you, your hesitation or disbelief supports another reality about rape research: Because so many individuals who survive a rape may not report a rape (for a multitude of reasons), statistics have limited meaning.
  • A statistical procedure is not an automatic, mechanical truth-generating machine.
  • A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.
  • 91.7 percent of all statistics are made-up on the spot.
    • Anonymous
  • In God we trust. All others must bring data.
    • Variants: In God we trust. All others must have data. and In God we trust, others must provide data.
    • Proverbial, variant of "In God we trust. All others (pay) cash.", which dates to at least 1877 US.
    • Earliest attestation 1978, which already refers to it as a cliche:
      • I should like to close by citing a well-recognized cliche in scientific circles. The cliche is, "In God we trust, others must provide data."
      • Effect of Smoking on Nonsmokers: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Tobacco of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, Second Session, September 7, 1978, p. 5 (quoting Edwin R. Fisher, brother of Bernard Fisher)
    • Other earlier example 1981, in "Test Bias: in God We Trust; All Others Must Have Data", Cecil R. Reynolds, Invited address for the APA Division of Evaluation and Measurement, to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, August 1981.
    • Later attestation[1] "1984 W. J. Youden Memorial Address: The Key Role of Statisticians in the Transformation of North American Industry", by Brian L. Joiner (at American Statistical Association fall conference), transcript published variously:
      • ASQ Statistics Division Newsletter, volume 6, number 2 (1985)
      • The American Statistician Vol. 39, No. 3 (Aug., 1985), pp. 224-227, DOI: 10.2307/2683943, p. 226:
      • We [Statisticians] can show how understanding processes helps provide ways for data-based communication of departmental needs. We can help to eliminate finger-pointing and get down to the facts. "In God we trust. All others must bring data." Or, "Facts often kill a good argument."
    • Frequently attributed to W. Edwards Deming; it appears in The Deming Management Method, by Mary Walton, 1986, p. 96, without any attribution, to Deming or anyone else:
      • Chapter 20: Doing It with Data: "In God we trust. All others must bring data." If there is a credo for statisticians, it is that.
  • The true foundation of theology is to ascertain the character of God. It is by the art 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.
    • Attributed to Florence Nightingale by F.N. David in Games, Gods, and Gambling: A History of Probability and Statistical Ideas, 1962, page 103.
  • Average a left-hander with a right-hander and what do you get?
    • Donald Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (1988), Ch. 6, p. 162
  • Although its evolution in the United States differed markedly from that of applied mathematics, statistics, too, benefited from the presence of the emigres and from the overall war effort. After a protracted period of professional differentiation from the social scientists and from the social sciences, mathematical statisticians had formed their own society, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS), in 1935. By 1938, the IMS had also taken over responsibility for the Annals of Mathematical Statistics, a journal that had been founded in 1929 to serve the needs of the more mathematically and theoretically inclined statistical practitioners. Thus, when refugees like Neyman, William Feller, Mark Kac, and Abraham Wald took up positions in the United States at Berkeley, Brown, Cornell, and Columbia, respectively, they were able to participate in a young, but viable, community of mathematical statisticians.
  • Numbers and stats bob in a sentimental slop, a swampy slurry of bits of hard data and buckets of mushy manipulation.
  • The individual source of the statistics may easily be the weakest link. Harold Cox tells a story of his life as a young man in India. He quoted some statistics to a Judge, an Englishman, and a very good fellow. His friend said, Cox, when you are a bit older, you will not quote Indian statistics with that assurance. The Government are very keen on amassing statistics—they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of those figures comes in the first instance from the chowty dar [chowkidar] (village watchman), who just puts down what he damn pleases.
  • Thomasina: If there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?
    Septimus: We do.
    Thomasina: Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?
    Septimus: I do not know.
    Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.
  • The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard
  • Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.
    • John Tukey (1962). "The future of data analysis". Annals of Mathematical Statistics 33 (1): 13.
    • Variant: "An approximate answer to the right question is worth a great deal more than a precise answer to the wrong question." "as the renowned statistician John Tukey once reportedly said," according to Super Freakonomics page 224.
  • The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data.
    • John Tukey (1986). "Sunset salvo". The American Statistician.
  • The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.
    • Variants: One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.
      A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.
      When one dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic.
    • This quotation may originate from "Französischer Witz" (1925) by Kurt Tucholsky: "Darauf sagt ein Diplomat vom Quai d'Orsay: «Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!»" ("To which a Quai d'Orsay diplomat replies: «The war? I can't find it so terrible! The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!»")
  • Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read or write.
    • Attributed to H. G. Wells by Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics (1954), epigraph
    • The actual quote referenced mathematics in general rather than statistics:
      • The great body of physical science, a great deal of the essential fact of financial science, and endless social and political problems are only accessible and only thinkable to those who have had a sound training in mathematical analysis, and the time may not be very remote when it will be understood that for complete initiation as an efficient citizen of one of the new great complex world-wide States that are now developing, it is as necessary to be able to compute, to think in averages and maxima and minima, as it is now to be able to read and write. [HG Wells 1911, Mankind in the Making 2041]
      • Tankard, James W Jr. (February 1979). "The H.G. Wells quote on statistics: A question of accuracy". Historia Mathematica 6 (1): 30-33. DOI:10.1016/0315-0860(79)90101-0.
      • According to Tankard: It might be argued that statistics and mathematics were closely related in Wells' mind, and that when he wrote this passage he was to some extent thinking of procedures we would now regard as statistics. That is conjecture, however. Earlier sections of the paragraph deal with arithmetic and geometry, and its literal topic is mathematics. It doesn't contain the word "statistics " even though the term was clearly in use at the time of Well:' writing [Yule 19051].
  • Statistics is a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty
    • W. Allen Willis and Harry V. Roberts (1956). Statistics: A New Approach. The Free Press. pp. 3. 
  • While nothing is more uncertain than the duration of a single life, nothing is more certain than the average duration of a thousand lives.

See also[edit]


  1. “In God we trust. All others must bring data”, Barry Popik, The Big Apple, October 19, 2015

External links[edit]

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