Some Quotations

These might cheer you up on a dark winter's night.
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics".
-- Disraeli
Charles Dickens begins his book Hard Times, with Mr. Gradgrind's instructions to the teachers at his model school.
"Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life."
A page later, a pupil is asked to define a horse, and replies:
"Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty four grinders, four eye teeth and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."
But does this give us any idea of what a horse looks like? And is not the situation similar for any set of statistics?
"The fact is that, despite its mathematical base, statistics is as much an art as it is a science. A great many manipulations and even distortions are possible within the bounds of propriety. Often the statistician must choose among methods, a subjective process, and find the one that he will use to represent the facts. In commercial practice he is about as unlikely to select an unfavorable method as a copywriter is to call his sponsor's product flimsy and cheap when he might as well say light and economical."

"This suggests giving stastical material, the facts and figures in newspapers and book, magazines and advertising, a very sharp second look before accepting any of them. sometimes a careful squint will sharpen the focus. But arbitrarily rejecting statistical methods makes no sense either. That is like refusing to read because writers sometimes use words to hide facts and relationships rather than reveal them."

-- Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics
"There is something fascinating about science. One get such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."
-- Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
"It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong."
-- John Maynard Keynes on statistics.
"There are three kinds of statistician: those who can count and those who can't."
-- An anonymous statistician.
"Why don't tomb, comb and bomb rhyme?"
-- An anonymous student.

Return to CSE 270 home page.
3 December 1996.