Three Quotes from Tukey

John Tukey (1915-2000) has been called the father of modern exploratory data analysis and data visualization. These quotes (the first two via The Endeavour, the third from his Wikipedia article) should be read and taken to heart.

To statisticians, hubris should mean the kind of pride that fosters an inflated idea of one’s powers and thereby keeps one from being more than marginally helpful to others. … The feeling of “Give me (or more likely even, give my assistant) the data, and I will tell you what the real answer is!” is one we must all fight against again and again, and yet again.

The data may not contain the answer. 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.

Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.

That said, a few years ago I purchased a copy of Tukey’s Exploratory Data Analysis. It contains a lot of great ideas, but I must say that if ever a book needed an editor, it is that one.

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