In addition to the quotes noted on this page, see also the R-fortunes.pdf at the link provided or in the file attached at the bottom of this page.

The page Statistics by Dante is also a good read.

This site has a collection of quotes related to forecasting:  http://www1.secam.ex.ac.uk/famous-forecasting-quotes.dhtml


"... a scientific theory is a mathematical model that describes and codifies the observations we make.  A good theory will describe a large range of phenomena on the basis of a few simple postulates and will make definite predictions that can be tested.  If the predictions agree with the observations, the theory survives that test, though it can never be proved to be correct.  On the other hand, if the observations disagree with the predictions, one has to discard or modify the theory.  (At least, that is what is supposed to happen.  In practice, people often question the accuracy of the observations and the reliability and moral character of those making the observations.)"
~ Stephen Hawking, "The Universe in a Nutshell", chapter 2, page 31


"But what a weak barrier is truth when it stands in the way of an hypothesis!"
~ Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)


"If you didn't invite me to the take-off, don't invite me to the crash landing."
 ~ unknown (taken from an article by T. Sowell on 16NOV2010)


"If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then nine times out of ten it will."

~ Paul Harvey




To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a postmortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of.”

~ Sir R. A. Fisher, Indian Statistical Congress, Sankhya, ca 1938.



"Trying to glean useful information out of happenstance data is akin to resurrecting a gourmet meal from a garbage can."

~ Tryg Helseth (Stat-Ease)



“In God we trust. All others must bring data.”

~ Robert Hayden, Plymouth State College




"Without data, you are just one more person with an opinion."

~ unknown




"I have never yet seen an inspection problem which would not benefit from the point of view that the product to be inspected was a frequency distribution."

~ G. D. Edwards



"If you want three opinions, just ask two statisticians."

~ unknown



"Theory and practice are the same in theory.  In practice they are different."

~ unknown



"A couple of months in the laboratory can frequently save a couple of hours in the library [or, with a statistician]."

~ unknown




“Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”

~ William W. Watt




"Black holes are where God divided by zero." 
Steven Wright



"The herd instinct among forecasters makes sheep look like independent thinkers."

Edgar R. Fiedler




"In physical science the first essential step in the direction of learning any subject is to find principles of numerical reckoning and practicable methods for measuring some quality connected with it. I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be." [PLA, 1883-05-03]

~ Lord Kelvin



"Large increases in cost with questionable increases in performance can be tolerated only in race horses and fancy women."

~ Lord Kelvin



The blonde reported for the university final examination that consists of yes/no type questions. She takes her seat in the examination hall, stares at the question paper for five minutes and then, in a fit of inspiration, takes out her purse, removes a coin and starts tossing the coin, marking the answers after each toss.

Within half an hour she is all done, whereas the rest of the class is still sweating it out. During the last few minutes she is seen desperately throwing the coin, muttering and sweating. The moderator, alarmed, approaches her and asks what is going on. "I finished the exam in half an hour, but now I'm rechecking my answers."

~ unknown



“To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a postmortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of."

~ Sir R. A. Fisher, Indian Statistical Congress, Sankhya, ca 1938




Three professors (a physicist, a chemist, and a statistician) are called in to see their dean. Just as they arrive the dean is called out of his office, leaving the three professors there. The professors see with alarm that there is a fire in the wastebasket.

The physicist says, "I know what to do! We must cool down the materials until their temperature is lower than the ignition temperature and then the fire will go out."

The chemist says, "No! No! I know what to do! We must cut off the supply of oxygen so that the fire will go out due to lack of one of the reactants."

While the physicist and chemist debate what course to take, they both are alarmed to see the statistician running around the room starting other fires. They both scream, "What are you doing?"

To which the statistician replies, "Trying to get an adequate sample size."

~ unknown



Here are the results of our drug testing study on rabbits: 1/3 of the sample died; 1/3 of the sample survived; the other one ran away.

~ unknown 




"I.R.S. statistics show that the average American now works 3 and 1/2 hours every day for the government, which comes out to 1 and 1/2 more hours than civil servants do!!"

~ unknown



The secretary of defense gave the president his daily briefing. He concluded by saying:  
"Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"Oh No!" the president exclaimed. "That's Terrible!"

His staff was stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the president sat his head in his hands.

Finally, the president looked up and asked, "Just how many is a brazillion?"

~ unknown




"The statistician’s lot is not a happy one.  The opposite sex ignores us because we are boring, and managers hate us because all our suggestions seem to require an increase in the budget. 

But controls will save money in the end.  Blinding is essential if our results are to have credence, and care in treatment allocation is mandatory if we are to avoid bias."

~ Phillip I. Good, James W. Hardin; “Common Errors in Statistics and How to Avoid Them




"Before the curse of statistics fell upon mankind we lived a happy, innocent life, full of merriment and go and informed by fairly good judgment."

~ Hilaire Belloc (taken from “The Book of General Ignorance”, page 75)



"The most important statistic for car manufacturers is autocorrelation."

~ found on the Stat-Ease website




"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

~ Comedian Groucho Marks




"The plural of anecdote is not data."

~ Roger Brinner



"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."

~ John Tukey




"Three out of two people have difficulties with fractions."

~ unknown




“A fool with a tool [or statistical software package] is still a fool.”

~ unknown



 1. Deviation is considered normal.
 2. We feel complete and sufficient.
 3. We are "mean" lovers.
 4. Statisticians do it discretely and continuously.
 5. We are right 95% of the time.
 6. We can legally comment on someone's posterior distribution.
 7. We may not be normal but we are transformable.
 8. We never have to say we are certain.
 9. We are honestly significantly different.
10. No one wants our jobs.

~ unknown




"The purpose of models is not to fit the data but to sharpen the questions."

~ Samuel Karlin




"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."

~ J.W. Tukey



"There is a limit to the extent that competent experimental design can compensate for poor engineering."


See also Q51



"All models are wrong, but some are useful."

~ George Box 



A modern version of Occam's Razor is: If you have two theories that both explain the observed facts then you should use the simplest one until more evidence comes along - also called the Law of Parsimony.



"Make your theory as simple as possible, but no simpler."

"For every complex question there is a simple and wrong solution."

~ Albert Einstein



"You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts." 

~ (the late) Senator Patrick Moynahan  



"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."
~ Sir Winston Churchill


Account from "The Cult of Statistical Significance" page 112

Question to William Kruskal a couple of years before his death:

>  "Why did significance testing get so badly mixed up, even in the hands of professional statisticians?"


>  "Well", replied Kruskal, smiling sadly, "I guess it's a cheap way to get marketable results."


"I am surely not alone in having suspected that some of Fisher's major views were adopted simply to avoid agreeing with his opponents."

~ Leonard J. Savage, Annals of Statistics, 1976


"I'm not an outlier; I just haven't found my distribution yet!"

~ website of Yihui Xie - http://yihui.name/ on 15JAN2011


"If you have a house, you know that you must work hard to keep it habitable - the tiles on the roof, the paint on the walls, the washing machine [...] all need attention from time to time.  A car, a friendship, and our own bodies must similarly be continually nurtured or they will not remain in shape very long.  The same is true for industrial [and business] processes.  If left to themselves, machines do not stay adjusted, components wear out, and managers and operators forget, miscommunicate, and change jobs.  Thus a stable stationary state is an unnatural one and its approximate achievement requires a hard and continuous fight.  Both process monitoring and process adjustment can help achieve this.  Both are likely to be needed." 

~ George Box; Statistical Control by Monitoring and Adjustment (Box) page 1


"The fundamental difference between engineering with and without statistics boils down to the difference between the use of a scientific method based upon the concept of laws of nature that do not allow for chance or uncertainty and a scientific method based upon the concept of laws of probability as an attribute of nature."

~ W. A. Shewart


"The purpose of that field of science known as 'statistics' is to provide the means for measuring the amount of subjectivity that goes into the scientists' conclusions and thus to separate 'science' from 'opinion'."
~ W. J. Conover; Practical Nonparametric Statistics


"Statistics are like women; mirrors of purest virtue and truth, or like [rhymes with 'stores'] to use as one pleases."

~Theodor Billroth


"Statistics, ... like veal pies, are good if you know the person that made them, and are sure of the ingredients."

~ Harvard President Lawrence Lowell in 1909


Data Orienteering (definition):
  • The process of exploring a data file handed to you without any form of guidance except for a nebulous statement about what you are supposed to do with it - no record layout, no data map, no indication of which columns are relevant to the task at hand. The completeness of the task specification follows the inverse specificity law - the more complex the data and importance of the task, the less information you are given.


"Numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger."
~ from xkcd site (http://xkcd.com/1131/)


"You can’t expect statistical procedures to rescue you from poor data."
~ Berton Gunter (on dealing with missing values in a cluster analysis) from R-help (April 2005)

(found in the "Fortunes" package in R)

See also Q29 and Q35


"Forecasting is hard, especially about the future."
~ Yogi Berra


"An engineer who does not know experimental design is not an engineer."
~ Comment made to one of the authors by an executive of the Toyota Motor Company
Also mentioned here.


"Most people would rather live with a problem they can't solve, than accept a solution they can't understand."

~ R. E. D. Woolsey and H. S. Swanson


"In certain types of manufacturing processes, the greatest value of an X-bar chart may be that it tells the operator when to leave the process alone."
~ Statistical Quality Control (Grant) section 4.6.2


"Variability [the study of] is statistics' reason for being.  With respect to process improvement, it entails a reduction in the variability.  It is clearly not enough to study the mean of our process when we are trying to improve it.  We need to know how much data are clustered around the central values."

~ book Use R Six Sigma with R (Cano)


A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.
~ Proverbs 11:1,  King James Bible "Authorized Version", Cambridge Edition


"The best prophet naturally is the best guesser; and the best guesser, he that is most versed and studied in the matters he guesses at, for he hath most signs to guess by.  A sign is the event antecedent of the consequent; and contrarily, the consequent of the antecedent, when the like consequences have been observed before: and the oftener they have been observed, the less uncertain is the sign.  And therefore he that has most experience in any kind of business has most signs whereby to guess at the future time, and consequently is the most prudent: and so much more prudent than he that is new in that kind of business, as not to be equalled by any advantage of natural and extemporary wit, though perhaps many young men think the contrary."
~ Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

From: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/748/leviathan.pdf


"Statisticians don’t have friends because they are mean people."
~ Source: book by James Geary (2011, page 55)


"There are three kinds of people in the world, those that can count, and those that can't."
~ Source: unknown


"Statistics are the chemical weapons of persuasion.  [...]  Release a few statistics into the discussion and the effects will be visible within moments: eyes glaze over, jaws slacken, and soon everyone will be nodding in agreement."
~ Source: "Crimes Against Logic" by Jamie Whyte


"You need not be a mathematical statistician to do good statistical work, but you will need the guidance of a first class mathematical statistician.  A good engineer, or a good economist, or a good chemist, already has a good start, because the statistical method is only good science brought up to date by the recognition that all laws are subject to the variations which occur in nature.  Your study of statistical methods will not displace any other knowledge that you have; rather, it will extend your knowledge of engineering, chemisty, or economics, and make it more useful."
~ W. E. Deming


(A version of the Serenity Prayer for statisticians)

"Let us have the serenity to embrace the variation that we cannot reduce, the courage to reduce the variation we cannot embrace, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other."
~ Posted by Stephen Senn via Twitter


"I came here to chew bubble gum and to kick a$$, and I'm all out of bubble gum."
~ Rowdy Roddy Piper in the movie "They Live"   (OK ... this isn't a quote about statistics, but it's still a great quote.)


"The desire to get things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly." 
~ Confucius
Clifford Long,
Jan 28, 2010, 10:18 AM
Clifford Long,
Mar 18, 2011, 9:28 AM