Hating on the statisticians

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Hating on the statisticians

Postby Dason » Sun Jun 06, 2010 9:24 pm UTC

It's occurred to me over the past couple of years that some mathematicians really don't like statisticians and statistics in general. I was just wondering what everybody's take on this is. If you're a mathematician do you dislike the field of statistics? Why? I'm not trying to imply that all mathematicians dislike statistics but it seems like I've run across quite a few people that react like "He's a statistician! Get him!!!" or some action similar to this.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby the tree » Sun Jun 06, 2010 9:34 pm UTC

Yeah, that's a joke. It's a friendly rivalry thing. Practitioners of one consider to other to be too hard and too boring and think that people who like it are probably a bit weird.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby NathanielJ » Sun Jun 06, 2010 9:49 pm UTC

Dason wrote:He's a statistician! Get him!!!


This may have been sparked by a comment I made. If so, it was just a joke and I apologize if any offense was taken. Just a friendly rivalry type of thing, as tree mentioned -- my fiancee's a statistician.

Actuaries on the other hand...
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby GyRo567 » Mon Jun 07, 2010 5:28 am UTC

A statistician got me into pure mathematics. :]

I also had a professor who was first an algebraic number theorist, but now has a book on actuarial science in wide use.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Black » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:08 am UTC

Everyone makes fun of everyone else. It is the healthiest form of respect.

Except philosophers. I'm serious when I make fun of them.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby phlip » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:59 am UTC

I can say with 70% confidence that most statisticians are at least 80% OK and reasonable people (p=0.16).

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Velifer » Mon Jun 07, 2010 12:13 pm UTC

I'm a statistician of the most nefarious sort. I'm a miserable mathematician. I can pretty much kinda understand what's going on with whatever tool I use, but that's what all those monster formulae with hyphenated last names are to me: tools. They help me to figure out what's going on in the real world. I don't have much interest in coming up with new methods, though I find it useful to put the methods of others to work. Pure math (as practiced by "real" university mathematician-types) is as alien a discipline to me as music theory.

I can certainly expect to entertain some real disdain from people who work with numbers, as I am lumped into their field by the non-mathy populace while not really contributing in ways mathematicians find meaningful. On the other hand, I'm finding practical uses for math that benefit regular people directly and rather quickly.

I don't ever feel much disdain, it's mostly a good-natured ribbing back and forth with tired tropes about ivory towers and "applied" as a dirty word.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Cleverbeans » Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:31 pm UTC

My opinion of statisticians can be clearly derived from Hardy's apology. I also consider proximity to financial industries like banking and insurance to be the best evilness metric out there, and statisticians are in with the worst of them. Damn you evildoers, damn you all to hell. :evil:
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jun 07, 2010 1:47 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:I also consider proximity to financial industries like banking and insurance
Good luck getting that next loan, or having your car repairs paid for when there's an unfortunate "accident"...
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Cleverbeans » Mon Jun 07, 2010 2:08 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Good luck getting that next loan, or having your car repairs paid for when there's an unfortunate "accident"...


I would never borrow or lend money, it's the most brutal form of class exploitation still tolerated in modern society. I've never owned a car, and never plan to, and I maintain a sufficient emergency fund to keep my family going for year in the event of my death while my wife grieves and finds work. All my other insurance is socialized, and I have no trouble with democratically accountable risk management. I'm completely aware this is an eccentric position, and I'm certainly conflicted about your actuarial pursuits and excellent moderation of these forums. That being said, blanket moral statements which ignore such nuances are much more fun at parties. :twisted:
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jun 07, 2010 3:14 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:I would never borrow or lend money, it's the most brutal form of class exploitation still tolerated in modern society.
So wait, it's exploitation to make it possible for poor people to buy homes?
I've never owned a car, and never plan to
Lucky you. Many people need cars, though, and yet can't afford to repair any significant problems that might arise. Hence the utility of car insurance.
I maintain a sufficient emergency fund to keep my family going for year in the event of my death
Again, lucky you, that you're wealthy enough to have such a fund. Still, though, a $500,000 life insurance policy would cover them for well more than just a year, but wouldn't actually cost you anything near a full $500,000 to buy.

(Yes, obviously there are insurance and banking practices that are morally questionable, to put it as mildly as possible. But this is more an indictment of specific banks and insurance companies than it is of the principle of having banks and insurers.)
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby bitsplit » Mon Jun 07, 2010 3:20 pm UTC

There are several small coop banks and insurance companies that provide good services. I have found that they tend to be (although there are definitely exceptions) more scrupulous than larger banks. The downside is you have to buy shares, but then again, it's a minimal investment that you get back, and it helps fund the coop.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jun 07, 2010 3:44 pm UTC

Yeah, I'm completely in favor of supporting small businesses over impersonal multinational corporations. Though at the same time, insurance and banking are both things that can offer better services the more people they have involved. It is a mathematical fact that an insurance company with more policyholders can afford to charge lower premiums for the same policy and still have the same level of confidence that it won't lose money.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Velifer » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:47 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:...statisticians are in with the worst of them...

I don't know what country you're in, but I'll guess that your government has biostatisticians, epidemiologists, actuaries, spatial analysts, demographers, and economic statisticians, among other statistical types. On your evil scale, where's your government? What about a non-profit working tirelessly to improve the lives of children? Those evil bastards could be getting some direction from a social epidemiologist. Environmental groups have accountants! Fiends! Your "democratically accountable risk management" is thick with statisticians, even the non-profit or government kind. And the tiniest and most noble of banks (without any profit motive, I assure you!) is checking rate tables and statistical market projections when setting that CD interest.

Hardy was a dusty depressed old navel-gazing crank. Do math for its own sake, but don't pretend doing such is somehow morally superior to using math to reduce harm in the world, either directly, or by supporting those who are.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby diotimajsh » Mon Jun 07, 2010 7:56 pm UTC

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You make baby Heidegger cry.


(I'm not suggesting Heidegger is the Jesus of philosophy, by the way, just the first name that felt amusing in that context.)
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby GyRo567 » Tue Jun 08, 2010 12:27 am UTC

On that note, Bertrand Russell should serve as a convincing example (especially on a math forum) of why scientists tend to overlook analytic philosophy when they condemn philosophers to their pointless existence. As in the Hardy quote, the value of pure thought is in learning method, not in practical application, which can be easily figured out once the tools of thought are in place. Some continental philosophers still insist that reality should conform to absurdity, but analytic philosophers are interested in making human thought conform to reality, much like scientists; and analytic philosophy is by far the dominant tradition as you go farther West.

And what scientists often forget is that they originated in natural philosophy.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Natty » Tue Jun 08, 2010 5:43 pm UTC

Mathematicians dislike statisticians because statisticians don't mind putting the square peg on top of the round hole and then bashing it in with a hammer.

Statisticians dislike mathematicians because mathematicians whine to the teacher when the statisticians bash the square peg into the round hole with a hammer.

The moral: Mathematicians started the hate, but maybe the statisticians shouldn't be breaking the toys.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Natty » Tue Jun 08, 2010 5:45 pm UTC

P.S. I have degrees in math and statistics. Sometimes I hate myself so much I go into a dark room and write poetry that overuses the words "Angst" and "Erdos".
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby OverBored » Tue Jun 08, 2010 9:27 pm UTC

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby GroverCleveland » Wed Jun 09, 2010 1:24 am UTC

My math teacher told us a little while ago, when asked why she didn't like statistics, "There's lies, There's damn lies, and then there's statistics."
I think the only reason that statistics is disliked is because it has been bastardized and convoluted by politicians, and "researchers" promoting who use statistics to "prove" obviously false claims.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby majikthise » Wed Jun 09, 2010 1:48 am UTC

That's a well known saying, and you're right in that it isn't really a criticism of statistics itself. However unlike most of the general population, pure mathematicians know this and so their dislike (if harmless poking fun can be called that) of stats is down to other reasons!
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby mouseposture » Wed Jun 09, 2010 2:35 am UTC

Natty wrote:Statisticians dislike mathematicians because mathematicians whine to the teacher.

Wait, who's the teacher in this metaphor?

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby nash1429 » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:13 am UTC

MATHEMATICIANS FTW!!!!!!!!!!

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Natty » Wed Jun 09, 2010 1:12 pm UTC

mouseposture wrote:
Natty wrote:Statisticians dislike mathematicians because mathematicians whine to the teacher.

Wait, who's the teacher in this metaphor?



Around these parts, it's gmalivuk who the mathematicians tattle to and then he comes and yells at the statisticians for breaking all the toys that the mathematicians were kind enough to provide in the first place.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby the tree » Wed Jun 09, 2010 1:33 pm UTC

GroverCleveland wrote:My math teacher told us a little while ago, when asked why she didn't like statistics, "There's lies, There's damn lies, and then there's statistics."
I think the only reason that statistics is disliked is because it has been bastardized and convoluted by politicians, and "researchers" promoting who use statistics to "prove" obviously false claims.
Really quick note on this: this is exactly why everyone ever should learn basic statistics, it's the only defense you have against the dishonest use of large numbers.
Statistics, done honestly, can only do good since they add to the collection of knowlege- and really, really, really, really, really, really important things like medical research just wouldn't work without it.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Velifer » Wed Jun 09, 2010 2:13 pm UTC

the tree wrote:Statistics, done honestly, can only do good since they add to the collection of knowlege

Stats has a dark history.
Wikipedia wrote:Galton's formulation of eugenics was based on a strong statistical approach, influenced heavily by Adolphe Quetelet's "social physics". Unlike Quetelet, however, Galton did not exalt the "average man" but decried him as mediocre. Galton and his statistical heir Karl Pearson developed what was called the biometrical approach to eugenics, which developed new and complex statistical models (later exported to wholly different fields) to describe the heredity of traits.

Galton, Pearson, Fisher: the people who laid the foundation for the field were doing so to build tools to breed superior people and weed out the weak. Unlike the mathematicians' Moriarty, our villains are real.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 09, 2010 2:49 pm UTC

Yeah, when people ask "why do I need to know this?", statistics is one of the easiest fields to give a good answer about. "You need to know this so you're less likely to fall for bald-faced lies someone tells using numbers."
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Dason » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:29 pm UTC

majikthise wrote:That's a well known saying, and you're right in that it isn't really a criticism of statistics itself. However unlike most of the general population, pure mathematicians know this and so their dislike (if harmless poking fun can be called that) of stats is down to other reasons!

I think this is more or less what I was trying to get at. I didn't ask about why the general population doesn't like statistics/statisticians because I already have a pretty good idea of why that is. I also want to point out that I've never really been offended by anybody on this forum (NathanielJ's comment actually made me laugh when I saw it).

Mathematicians have every right to poke fun at us statisticians because what we do isn't always right. But we tell you up front that we're wrong about 5% of the time. But I have met a few mathematicians who did seem to legitimately hate everything to do with statistics. But thinking back on it I'm not sure if they ever had a basic stats class so they're just like the general population in their distrust... hmm.

... or maybe they did take an intro class and it was just like my first stats class! I hated that class...
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby majikthise » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:44 pm UTC

I've not once met a mathematician who seriously hates the field of statistics/statisticians. Sure, loads of people hate doing statistics for various reasons (personally, I hate it because three years of algebra and set theory means I've forgotten all calculus apart from the predicate variety) and would never choose it for a career, and many may believe that pure mathematics is somehow more "proper" and a more intrinsically beautiful and interesting subject in it's own right, but they still respect statistics for what it is- a marvelously useful, even downright essential tool for understanding the world around us.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby ConMan » Thu Jun 10, 2010 1:23 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Yeah, when people ask "why do I need to know this?", statistics is one of the easiest fields to give a good answer about. "You need to know this so you're less likely to fall for bald-faced lies someone tells using numbers."

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby andrewxc » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:07 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Cleverbeans wrote:I would never borrow or lend money, it's the most brutal form of class exploitation still tolerated in modern society.
So wait, it's exploitation to make it possible for poor people to buy homes?

Micro-loans, recently inspired by Muhammad Yunus, are a great way to empower the lower classes to build credit and to help the communities they serve.
I agree, most banks are unscrupulous enough to hammer people with ridiculous interest rates and not care about their well-being, but that isn't every bank. Besides, if you are able to pay more than the minimum, you should have no problems... It probably helps that my wife has a high-paying (government) job as a mathematician, but even if we were both teachers, she's a money hoarder, so we'd still be in good shape.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby andrewxc » Thu Jun 10, 2010 11:13 am UTC

Dason wrote:(NathanielJ's comment actually made me laugh when I saw it).

Everyone knows actuaries are the bastard-children sell-outs of the mathematics field... :P
I didn't like my intro class as an undergrad, and I sure hated the master's level class I had to take. Granted, it was fairly easy and involved calculus, which I liked much more, but I still don't like statistics, unless it is particularly useful for whatever I'm working on.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby dean.menezes » Thu Jun 10, 2010 3:28 pm UTC

Natty wrote:P.S. I have degrees in math and statistics. Sometimes I hate myself so much I go into a dark room and write poetry that overuses the words "Angst" and "Erdos".

Poems or it didn't happen!


Well at the very least he could create a haiku consisting soley of the words "angst" and "Erdos". Exercise: how many such haikus are there? (Hint: bunnies)

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Yakk » Thu Jun 10, 2010 3:46 pm UTC

All numbers include taxes.

At the age of 20, you just started a job. You are currently broke.

Over the next 40 years, you can expect to earn 50k$ (inflation adjusted).

With a loan, you can transfer money from next year to this year at the cost of (say) 6% of the money.

Now, imagine that you need a car. Without a car you can only earn 30k$ per year, as you have a more limited set of jobs. (For the sake of this argument, the cost of driving the car is included in your 50k$ salary -- it is more like 55k$, ok?)

The car costs 15k$, and your living expenses come to 20k$ per year. So you work for 1.5 years without your car, then buy the car with cash, then you go get the better paying job.

At the end of year 2, you have 5k$ in savings, a car, and a 50k$ job.

Your friend instead borrows the 15k$ at 6% interest. He isn't very good at finance, so he first saves up the 15k$ and then pays it off.

He gets the job for 50k$ at the start, spends 20k$ on living expenses, and ends up with 30k$ at the end of the year. At this point he pays off the 16k$ loan on the car, and has 14k$. He then works for another year at 50k$, putting another 30k$ away.

He has 44k$, a car, and a 50k$ a year job at the end of year 2. Admittedly the car is older -- so he sells it for 0k$ and buys a brand new for 15k$ and ends up with only 29k$ in savings (instead of 5k$).

Being able to transfer wealth over time is useful. Now, you can also use it to do stupid things, but it is also useful.
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Dason » Thu Jun 10, 2010 4:33 pm UTC

andrewxc wrote:I didn't like my intro class as an undergrad, and I sure hated the master's level class I had to take. Granted, it was fairly easy and involved calculus, which I liked much more, but I still don't like statistics, unless it is particularly useful for whatever I'm working on.

Like I said earlier I didn't like my intro stats class. I also TA'd for a graduate level "So this is what you need to know about stats" for engineers course. I don't see how anybody could have come out of that liking stats at all.

It just seems like in any class where you try to give a broad overview of everything a certain person should know about statistics you're going to miss the main picture and instead focus on too many of the details. The flip side is that if we didn't do it like that then the intro type courses would probably have to be at least two semesters and most students think one course is too much already...
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Paz » Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:31 pm UTC

Hate the game, not the player.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Dason » Fri Jun 11, 2010 3:41 am UTC

Paz wrote:Hate the game, not the player.

I'd actually prefer it the other way around in this case. There's nothing wrong with statistics when used properly. It's the people that search and search for an analysis that gives them the result they want that should be hated.

What do you have against statistics?
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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Paz » Sun Jun 13, 2010 12:24 am UTC

There's nothing wrong with people who decided the maths of what you do when you suddenly find you have large unwieldy data sets is interesting. Though I did not consider every interpretation of my statement by anyone that could be made, in full generality, when I made it. And I don't like cheapening it by giving my interpretation now.

In general, there's nothing wrong with people. Not too much. Yet. Anyway that was my primary naivette point: don't hate on people. Hate statistics, not statisticians. The people who manipulate statistics for their own benefit usually wouldn't be thought of as statisticians by their peers (though if anyone has a counter example, dirt on someone even, then I can think of few better places to make it public than here). They'd uniformly be branded as ass holes by most people. Within a 95% confidence interval I guess, though I wish the proportion of genuine altruists was higher.

Furthermore: in this case to dig myself out of a hole, I would define the chase for any evidence or stats that tells you what you want to know, when you ignore a lot of stuff that you don't like, as worthy of hate. That's probably anti stats or unreliable stats though.

In my own personal math learning history I've simply just never liked stats not just because some of those lectures were on a saturday but also because without comparing my results to someone elses, in that subject I never totally know if I'm right or not. Dealing with this uncertainty was not the reason I got into math. I'm just calculating a number. And this absolute truth, this illusion of truth that I got from applied math and pure math, well that's what has motivated me from a long time.

But, I do have a respect for people who can `do' statistics. Hating on them is just silly. Let alone hating on the people who do them. I thought I'd find that on other lesser websites. And in a lot of the softer (yet more important) areas of science, statistics are incredibly important.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Paz » Sun Jun 13, 2010 12:29 am UTC

Yeah, also a lot of people are making a good living out of stats in insurance companies and I don't hate them, anymore than I do private sector teachers, doctors nurses and dentists, soldiers, arms company engineers, ans eskimos. Afterall, what the fucking hell would you do in their position?

I'm against people wasting their hate.

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Re: Hating on the statisticians

Postby Robocop » Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:35 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:Being able to transfer wealth over time is useful. Now, you can also use it to do stupid things, but it is also useful.


Thus is why an elementary understanding of economics (ie. opportunity cost, time value of money, etc) is probably just as important for everybody to have as a basic understanding of statistics.


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