The Zen of Statistics

Why Zenstat?

My nickname comes from the proposed title for a book I was going to write a couple of decades ago: The Zen of Statistics. I didn't get to it. Fortunately other people wrote some books for the interested public which cover the territory. I'll give a more complete list of them, but let's start with:

The Tyranny of Numbers
Lady Luck
The Wisdom of Crowds
How to Lie With Statistics
How Not To Be Wrong

(more reading suggestions to come)

About Steve/Zenstat

When I'm being a purist I like to think that what I say will be judged on its own merit and I should not have to trot out qualifications and experience. But I know better. So here are 3 pages on why I might have something of value to say on some topics.

Click to download my CV (as a PDF)

Zen Koans of Statistics

The man with one watch knows what time it is. The man with two watches is never sure.

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who do not.

Statistics means never having to say you're certain.

"The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance" (Robert R Coveyou)

The trouble with back of the envelope calculations is that no matter how far you push the envelope it is still stationery.

"All models are wrong but some are useful" (George Box, 1978)

If the cost of information is too high, what then is the price of ignorance?

"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is key" (Saul Bellow, To Jerusalen and Back 1976)

"You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into" (Dave Hansford, Protecting Paradise 2016)

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. What then is the evidence of evidence? Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge

"I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play or not." -- Fran Lebowitz

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." -- disputed origin (after people started looking at the quote differently)

Know what you don't know.

It's important to remember that "significant" in this context means "detectable" rather than "important." (Thomas Lumley, 2017)

"Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts." (Bernard Baruch, 1950)


"For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert, but for every fact there is not necessarily an equal and opposite fact" (Thomas Sowell, 1995 in The Vision of the Anointed)

"Don't confuse me with the facts. I've got a closed mind." (Senator Earl Landgrebe, August 8, 1974)

"Comment is free, but facts are sacred" (C.P. Scott 1929)

"Comment is free, but facts are alternative" (90th anniversary update to C.P. Scott 1929)

The Marketplace:
When you are selling it is a buyers market
When you are buying it is a sellers market
Even when you are doing both at the same time.

"By climate we mean the average weather as ascertained by many years observations. Climate also takes into account the extreme weather experienced during that period. Climate is what on an average we may expect, weather is what we actually get." (Andrew John Herbertson 1901, simplified to "Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get." by Robert Heinlein 1973)

text last updated 28 Dec 2019 3:05 PM

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