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SIR HUMPHREY: If local authorities don’t send us statistics, Government figures will be a nonsense.
SIR HUMPHREY: They’ll be incomplete.
HACKER: Government figures are a nonsense, anyway.
BERNARD: I think Sir Humphrey wants to ensure they’re a complete nonsense.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes Minister, S3E3 “The Skeleton in the Cupboard” (25 Nov 1982) [with Anthony Jay]
Added on 21-Nov-22 | Last updated 22-Nov-22
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The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify. Statistical methods and statistical terms are necessary in reporting the mass data of social and economic trends, business conditions, “opinion” polls, the census. But without writers who use the words with honesty and understanding and readers who know what they mean, the result can only be semantic nonsense.

Darrell Huff
Darrell Huff (1913-2001) American writer
How to Lie with Statistics, Introduction (1954)
Added on 22-Jul-21 | Last updated 22-Jul-21
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The individual source of the statistics may easily be the weakest link. Harold Cox tells a story of his life as a young man in India. He quoted some statistics to a Judge, an Englishman, and a very good fellow. His friend said, “Cox, when you are a bit older, you will not quote Indian statistics with that assurance. The Government are very keen on amassing statistics — they collect them, add them, raise them to the nth power, take the cube root and prepare wonderful diagrams. But what you must never forget is that every one of those figures comes in the first instance from the chowty dar (village watchman), who just puts down what he damn pleases.”

Josiah Stamp
Josiah Stamp (1880-1941) English industrialist, economist, statistician, banker
Some Economic Factors in Modern Life (1929)

Quoting Harold Cox (1859-1936), English economist and politician.
Added on 8-Jul-21 | Last updated 8-Jul-21
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The true foundation of theology is to ascertain the character of God. It is by the aid of Statistics that law in the social sphere can be ascertained and codified, and certain aspects of the character of God thereby revealed. The study of statistics is thus a religious service.

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) English social reformer, statistician, founder of modern nursing

Attributed in F.N. David in Games, Gods, and Gambling: A History of Probability and Statistical Ideas (1962).

There is a related variant of this quote: "To understand God's thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose." This appears to be a paraphrase by Francis Galton of her beliefs (in full in Karl Pearson, Life of Francis Galton, Vol. 2, ch. 13, sec. 1 (1924)). While Galton is describing her beliefs, the quotation is often rewritten from third to first person, as though it were something she said.
Added on 1-Jul-21 | Last updated 1-Jul-21
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While it is easy to lie with statistics, it is even easier to lie without them.

Frederick Mosteller (1916-2006) American statistician, academic
Added on 23-Jun-21 | Last updated 23-Jun-21
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Luck is probability taken personally.

Penn Jillette (b. 1955) American stage magician, actor, musician, author

While Jillette says this often, he attributes it to statistician and fellow skeptic, Daniel "Chip" Denman.
Added on 3-Jun-21 | Last updated 3-Jun-21
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In God we trust. All others must bring data.

W Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) American management consultant, educator

Variants: "All others must have/provide data."

Frequently attributed to Deming, probably through Mary Walton, The Deming Management Method, ch. 20 (1986), though it is presented there without attribution: "'In God we trust. All others must bring data.' If there is a credo for statisticians, it is that."

The earliest appearance in print comes from Edwin R. Fisher, Effect of Smoking on Nonsmokers: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Tobacco of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, Second Session (7 Sep 1978): "I should like to close by citing a well-recognized cliche in scientific circles. The cliche is, 'In God we trust, others must provide data.'"

For more discussion see here.
Added on 21-Jul-20 | Last updated 21-Jul-20
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The plural of anecdote is data.

Raymond Wolfinger (1931-2015) American political scientist and professor
Comment (c. 1969)

  • In a 2004 email to Fred R. Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, Wolfinger wrote: "I said 'The plural of anecdote is data' some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student's dismissal of a simple factual statement -- by another student or me -- as a mere anecdote. The quotation was my rejoinder. Since then I have missed few opportunities to quote myself."
  • The first print appearance is in Roger C. Noll, "The Game of Health Care Regulation," in Richard S. Gordon, ed., Issues in Health Care Regulation (1980): "Most of the evidence is anecdotal. Nevertheless, in the words of a leading political scientist, Raymond Wolfinger, the plural of anecdote is data ...."
Added on 13-Jul-20 | Last updated 13-Jul-20
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You mean, your statistics are facts, but my facts are just statistics.

Jonathan Lynn (b. 1943) English actor, comedy writer, director
Yes, Prime Minister, S1E3 “The Smokescreen” (23 Jan 1986) [with Anthony Jay]
Added on 11-Feb-20 | Last updated 11-Feb-20
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If you torture the data long enough, Nature will confess.
Coase - torture the data - wist_info quote

Ronald Coase (1910-2013) British economist, academic, author

Criticizing econometricians. Cited as early as 1977. Variants:
  • "If you torture data long enough, it will confess to anything you'd like."
  • "If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything."
Added on 25-Apr-16 | Last updated 25-Apr-16
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There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Benjamin Disraeli - lies statistics - wist_info

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author

Attributed by Mark Twain in "Chapters from My Autobiography" (Apr 1904), North American Review (7 Sep 1906): "Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

The phrase has not been found in any of Disraeli's works, and he is considered unlikely to be the originator. Variants of the phrase date back a century or more from Twain's reference. More discussion about this quotation here:

Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Jun-22
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There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) American writer
Death of a Doxy, ch. 9 (1966)
Added on 22-Mar-10 | Last updated 15-Jul-21
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An actuary is someone who brings a fake bomb on a plane because that decreases the chances that there will be another bomb on the plane.

Lawrence J Peter
Lawrence J. Peter (1919-1990) American educator, management theorist
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 3-Apr-20
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He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost — for support rather than for illumination.

Andrew Lang (1844-1912) Scottish writer, journalist, historian

Original source not found, but attributed by several sources to Lang in 1937, possibly derived from a comment by A. E. Houseman. More information here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-Jun-21
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A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.

Josef Stalin (1879-1953) Georgian revolutionary and Soviet dictator

Alternate versions:
  • "Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic."
  • "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic."
  • "When one dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic."
  • "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."
The actual quote (such as is supported) appears to be "When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics." It is found in David McCullough, Truman (1992), said by Stalin to Churchill in Tehran when the latter was concerned over the potential casualties of opening a second front in France prematurely. McCullough cites it to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: Portrait of Tyranny (1981).

On the other hand, Mary Soames (Churchill's daughter) said in a BBC interview with Andrew Marr (11 Nov 2011) that she overhead Stalin say this to her father at Potsdam, when Churchill was upset over the death of a family friend and then apologized to Stalin given the high number of Russian war casualties.

The earliest mention of the quote and Stalin is a 28 Sep 1958 book review.

Compare to Erich Maria Remarque, Der schwarze Obelisk (1956): "Sonderbar, denke ich, wir alle haben doch so viele Tote im Kriege gesehen, und wir wissen, daß über zwei Millionen von uns nutzlos gefallen sind — warum sind wir da so erregt wegen eines einzelnen, und die zwei Millionen haben wir schon fast vergessen? Aber das ist wohl so, weil ein einzelner immer der Tod ist — und zwei Millionen immer nur eine Statistik." [Strangely, I think we all have seen so many dead in the war, and we know that more than two million of us are unvalued -- why we are so excited because of an individual, and we have two million almost forgotten already? But that is probably so because a single death is always a death -- and two million only a statistic.]

Also compare to a 1925 essay on French humor, "Französischer Witz," by Kurt Tucholsky, German journalist, pacifist, and satirist. He wrote of a diplomat in the French Ministry of Foreign affairs, who said: "The war? I cannot find it to be so bad! The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!" ["Darauf sagt ein Diplomat vom Quai d'Orsay: «Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!"]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Jul-21
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