Lies, Damned Lies, and Lower-case “s” statistics

“There are three kinds of lies….”

“Statistics don’t lie but liars use statistics.”

“Statistics are like bikinis….”

There’s no doubt that Statistics needs a makeover.  The problem is that for upwards of 100 years people have confused lower-case “s” statistics with Statistics as a legitimate and powerful science.  Lower-case “s” statistics are numbers that people pull from anywhere and nowhere using them as a bludgeon to win arguments.  Upper-case “S” Statistics could be defined as the science of using all available data to make decisions in the face of uncertainty.  The latter was hardly a twinkle in the eye of Sir Ronald Fisher when Samuel Clemens was said to have described the three kinds of lies.  And it would be over a century before modern computing would provide a way to take advantage of an even more complete Statistical theory.  It may take a generation to reclaim the word, but it will never happen if Statisticians don’t realize that the jokes are not about them.

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