Quotes in Statistics & Science

Statistics is the mathematical language of scientific experimentation. It embodies the framing of key questions, design of experiments, analysis of data, and interpretation of results. There are many quotations that have come along over the years. This is a brief compilation of some quotes that capture the flavor of the science of statistics.

Science is the best way to satisfy your own curiosity for the governmental account.
Lee Artsimovich
Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.
Charles Babbage
How does one know when one knows?... How does one know when to continue to push an experiment? And how does one know when to abandon a clue as a false trail? No one interested in truth will torture the data itself. But a scientist can--and should--seek any way to answer a question.... And if one experiment shows a hint of a result ... a bump ..., then a scientist designs the next experiment ... to create conditions more likely to get more bumps until they become either consistent and meaningful or demonstrate that the initial bump was mere random variation without meaning.... One key to science is that work be reproducible. Someone in another laboratory doing the same experiment will get the same result. The result then is reliable enough that someone can build upon it. The most damning condemnation is to dismiss a finding as `not reproducible.' That can call into question not only ability but on occasion ethics. If a reproducible finding comes from torturing nature, however, it is not useful. To be useful a result must ... be ... expandable. One must be able to enlarge it, explore it, learn from it, use it as a foundation to build structures upon. These things become easy to discern in hindsight. But how does one know when to persist, when to continue to try to make an experiment work, when to make adjustments--and when finally to abandon a line of thought as mistaken or incapable of solution with present techniques?... The question is one of judgment. For the distinguishing element of science is not intelligence but judgment. Or perhaps it is simply luck.
John M. Barry (2004, pp. 262-263) The Great Influenza: The epic story of the deadliest plague in history. Viking Press.
Statistics is the science of variation.
Douglas M. Bates (~1985)
The allelic state at one locus can mask or uncover the effects of allelic variation at another.
William Bateson (1907)
All models are wrong, but some models are useful.
George E.P. Box (1979) Robustness in the strategy of scientific model building, in Robustness in Statistics, R.L. Launer and G.N. Wilkinson, Editors. 1979, Academic Press: New York.
Expression genetic data may not require a new breed of scientist, but they probably will require a new breed of collaboration. The focus of the computational biologist will need to change from the development of tools that answer specific questions to the development of general tools that enable biologists to carry out their own investigations---to explore, visualize and find biological signals in complex data.
Karl W. Broman (2005 Nat Genet 37: 209-210)
One out of every four people is suffering from some form of mental illness. Check three friends. If they're OK, then it's you.
Rita Mae Brown
The utmost confusion is caused when people argue on different statistical data.
Sir Winston Churchill
Where there is often a question for the doctor if it is ethical to conduct an experiment, but from the broader view-point [it is] a question of whether it is ethical not to conduct experiments.
William C. Cochran
Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius
The statistician who supposes that his main contribution to the planning of an experiment will involve statistical theory, finds repeatedly that he makes his most valuable contribution simply by persuading the investigator to explain why he wishes to do the experiment.
Gertrude M Cox
Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.
Innovation comes from the producer -- not from the customer.
W. Edward Deming
It is more important to have beauty in one's equations that to have them fit experiment.... if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress. If there is not complete agreement between the results of one's work and experiment, one should not allow oneself to be too discouraged, because the discrepancy may well be due to minor features that are not properly taken into account and that will get cleared up with further development of the theory. [The evolution of the physicist's picture of nature. Scientific American 208(5) (1963)]
The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics which get continually more advanced ... modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundation and gets more abstract.... the advance in physics is to be associated with continual modification and generalisation of the axioms at the base of mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation. [Paper on Magnetic Monopoles (1931)]
Paul Dirac
There are three types of lies--lies, damn lies and statistics.
Benjamin Disraeli or Alfred Marshall or Mark Twain? (attributed)
The coming century is surely the century of data.
David Donoho (2000)
But the shocking discovery was that 50% were below the median age.
Dogbert (Scott Adams)

... industrial revolution of data.
The Economist (2010)
Those who ignore statistics are condemned to reinvent it.
Statistics is the science of learning from experience. (2006)
Bradley Efron
God does not play dice with the universe.
Don't do what I've done. Always have a cobbler's job. Always have a job where you can get up in the morning, face yourself, that you're doing something useful for humanity. Because nobody can be a genius every day. Don't make that kind of mistake. You know, when I accepted a job at the University of Berlin, I had no duties really. Nothing to do except wake up and solve all the problems of the universe every morning. Nobody can do that. Don't make that mistake. (as told to Ernest J. Sternglass)
Keep a cobbler's job, so you can pursue wild ideas in your spare time. (paraphrased? by Gwyneth Jones in Life, p. 194, ISBN 0-9746559-2-9)
Albert Einstein
Statistics: the only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different concluesion.
Evan Esar, prolific epigramologist
It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
There is a computer disease that anybody who works with computers knows about. It's a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is that you 'play' with them!
Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.
Richard P. Feynman
We may at once admit that any inference from the particular to the general must be attended with some degree of uncertainty, but this is not the same as to admit that such inference cannot be absolutely rigorous, for the nature and degree of the uncertainty may itself be capable of rigorous expression. (1935) The Design of Experiments
Natural selection is a mechanism for generating an exceedingly high degree of improbability.
Biometry, the active pursuit of biological knowledge by quantitative methods. (1947) Innagural address to the International Biometric Society (Biometrics, sep 1948: 217-219).
Sir Ronald A. Fisher
Nature is written in mathematical language.
Galileo Galilei
The dominant cause for [the] discrepancy [between progress in the healthcare and microchip industries] appears to lie in the disparate rates of knowledge turns between the 2 industries.... Knowledge turns are indicators of the time it takes for an experiment to proceed from hypothesis to results and then lead to a new hypothesis and a new result.
Andrew Grove, JAMA, 2005 (in a talk by Josh Sommer, Chordoma Foundation, 2010, at the Sage Congress)
An ounce of algebra is worth of a ton of verbal argument.
JBS Haldane as quoted in his obituary by Maynard Smith in Nature 206 (1965), p. 239.
For a theory is a composite memory of things apprehended with sense perception.... I approve of theorizing also if it lays its foundation in incident, and deduces its conclusion in accordance with phenomena.
Hippocrates of Cos, On the Sacred Disease
Data do not give up their secrets easily. They must be tortured to confess.
Jeff Hopper, Bell Labs
Sit down before a fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.
Thomas H. Huxley (1860)
Laplace [used] ... Bayes' theorem ... to help him decide which astronomical problems to work on.... in which problems is the discrepancy between prediction and observation large enough to give a high probability that there is something new to be found?
E. T. Jaynes (1986 Bayesian Methods: General Background)

Imperfect prediction, despite being imperfect, can be valuable for decision-making purposes.
Michael Kattan (2002) Statistical prediction models, artificial neural networks, and the sophism "I Am a Patient, Not a Statistic". J Clin Oncol 20: 885-887. [Paper]
Statistics really is like rocket science; it isn't easy, even to us who have studied it for a long time. Anybody who think it's easy surely lacks a deep enough knowledge to understand why it isn't! If your scientific integrity matters, and statistics is a mystery to you, then you need expert help. Find a statistician in your company or at a nearby university, and talk to her face-to-face if possible. It may well cost money. It's worth it.
Russ Lenth
Statistics is a body of methods for learning from experience.
Lincoln Moses
Sound policies rest on good information.
Frederick Mosteller
The job of a statistician in an animal health world is challenging and interesting. In a real sense, you become part of the effort to find new ways of improving life in our civilization.
Daniel H. Mowrey
Life is complicated, but not uninteresting.
Jerzy Neyman (~1980)
Statistics ... is the most important science in the whole world, for upon it depends the practical application of every other (science) and of every art.
To understand God's thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose.
Florence Nightengale (1820-1910)
79.48% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
John Paulos, Prof of Math
Statistics is the grammar of science.
Karl Pearson
If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to do a better experiment. (or: If you need to use statistics, then you should design a better experiment.)
Lord Ernest Rutherford
I think there's been too much a tendency in the past to see the only important user [of statistics] as being the government. I think we have to get away from that.
Sir Michael Scholar, chair of the UK Statistics Authority
Our networks are awash in data. A little of it's information. A smidgen of this shows up as knowledge. Combined with ideas, some of that is actually usefu. Mix in experience, context, compassion, discipline, humor, tolerance, and humility, and perhaps knowledge becomes wisdom.
Clifford Stoll (1995, ch. 11) Silicon Snake Oil: second thoughts on the information highway, Anchor Books & Doubleday.
The laboratory is an artifact. It does not reflect nature.
David Suzuki (Paraphrased from 2007 talk. See his 1989 book, Inventing the future: Reflections on science, technology and nature. Stoddart Publ.)
The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everybody's backyard.
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.
Today, [software] is at least as important as the `hardware' of tubes, transistors, wires, tapes and the like.
Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than the exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.
John Wilder Tukey (1915-2000)
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
Mark Twain
After all, facts are facts, and although we quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, ‘Lies – damned lies – and statistics’, still there are some easy figures [that] the simplest must understand and the astutest cannot wriggle out of.
Baron Courtney (1895); popularized and misconstrued by Mark Twain
Good statistical inference never strays very far from the data.
Brian S. Yandell (2007) as a comment to W. Whipple Neely.
Statistical analysis in cases involving small numbers can be particularly helpful because on many occasions intuition can be highly misleading.
Sandy Zabell, Statistics, a Guide to the Unknown (third ed)

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