Posts filed under Quotes (3)

March 15, 2016

Joseph Pulitzer on statistics in journalism

From the North American Review, May 1904, writing about the proposed School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Everybody says that statistics should be taught. But how ?

Statistics are not simply figures. It is said that nothing lies  like figures except facts. You want statistics to tell you the truth. You can find truth there if you know how to get at it, and  romance, human interest, humor and fascinating revelations as well. The journalist must know how to find all these things truth, of course, first. His figures must bear examination. It is much better to understate than to overstate his case, so that his critics and not himself may be put to confusion when they challenge him to verify his comparisons.

He must not read his statistics blindly; he must be able to test them by knowledge and by common sense. He must always be
on the alert to discover how far they can actually be trusted and what they really mean. The analysis of statistics to get at the essential truth of them has become a well-developed science whose principles are systematically taught. And what a fascinating science it is!

via Amelia McNamara and Mark Hansen.

June 25, 2015

Poetry about statistics

On Twitter, Evelyn Lamb pointed me to the poem “A contribution to Statistics”, by Wisława Szymborska (who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature). It begins

Out of every hundred people

those who always know better:
— fifty-two,

doubting every step
   — nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long:
— as high as forty-nine,

Read all of it here

The same blog, “Poetry with Mathematics”, has some other statistically themed poems:

The last was written in honour of Florence Nightingale, who was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society, and also an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.

May 16, 2014

On keeping your own score…

“People and institutions cannot keep their own score accurately. Metrics soon become targets and then pitches, and are thereby gamed, corrupted, misreported, fudged…

Examples: premature revenue recognition, Libor rates, beating the quarterly forecast by a single penny, terrorist attacks prevented, Weapons of Mass Destruction, number of Twitter followers, all body counts (crowd sizes, civilians blown up). Sometimes call the Principle of Lake Woebegone, where all children are above average.”

– Edward Tufte