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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Quote of the day: statisticians

Alan Englehardt posted this on LinkedIn (the quote is from Stephen Senn, not from him, but the links are Alan’s).

“If mathematics is the handmaiden of science, statistics is the whore: all that scientists are looking for is a quick fix without the encumbrance of a meaningful relationship. Statisticians are second-class mathematicians, third-rate scientists and fourth-rate thinkers. They are the hyenas, jackals and vultures of the scientific ecology: picking over the bones and carcasses of the game that the big cats, the biologists, the physicists and the chemists, have brought down.”

The author is a statistician and he does propose a different view; see http://www.cybaea.net/Blogs/Data/Friday-quote-20110819.html for an extract or "Dicing with Death: Chance, Risk and Health" for the full story (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521540232/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=allanengelhardt&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399369&creativeASIN=0521540232 - affiliate link)

It’s a quote that gets your attention, even though it seems to be an obvious strawman.  But even if true, one might note that a statistician can serve as a bridge between higher rate scientists, mathematicians dealing in math alone, and the community that needs to evaluate them though some sort of communications filter (e.g. statistical significance, effect size, meta-analysis) and communications outreach (appropriate data summaries and graphical displays).

And if statisticians and lower class mathematicians, scientists, and thinkers, that is another way of saying that a good statistician is a generalist rather than  specialist. We need both.

It’s not a bad place to be, and one might note that hyenas, jackals and vultures serve a valuable ecological function in the environment. 

I’m not saying statistics is exactly where it should be. But that as critical stereotypes go, this isn’t such a bad one.


The thread I took this from is at http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&srchtype=discussedNews&gid=77616&item=66604630&type=member&trk=eml-anet_dig-b_pd-ttl-cn&ut=2e9qUVy2XNrQU1

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