How to Lie with Statistics – the Trilogy

How to Lie with Statistics – the Trilogy

Latest news from Cannes: Darrell Bluff announces the long awaited “prequels” (with George Clooney as the Good Statistician, Björk as Lucia, and Donald Sutherland as Judge Death) to his cult movie “How to Lie with Statistics”. Parts –2 and –1 of the already celebrated trilogy will be called How to Die with Statistics, and How to Lie with Legal Facts. Asked whether the cliff-hanging conclusion of the trilogy is going to be resolved by a true sequel, and if so how, Bluff refused to comment, though recent sightings of him enjoying numerous Grimbergen Triples (fine Belgian Trappist beer) with Clint Eastwood are fueling intense speculation among insiders here in Cannes-sur-Veluwe.


Continue reading

Lies, damned lies, and legal truths

Lies, damned lies, and legal truthsPortrait of George Canning

If there’s one thing which makes a statistician sick, it’s having people always quote “Lies, damned lies and statistics” at them, and looking expectantly (or sheepishly, or arrogantly) at you as they await wise or witty repartee. Sometimes they refer to Mark Twain, sometimes to Disraeli. Well, Disraeli is apocryphal; Twain was actually misquoting the famous British Prime Minister George Canning who about 1820 said “you can prove everything with statistics except the truth”. (Canning was probably the best PM Britain ever had, but his term was one of the Book Covershortest, since he died “young” from a cold caught while at a funeral in the rain). I have been looking for a long time for a counter “bon mot”. And I think I have found it.

Continue reading

Lucia de B op de brandstapel dankzij elk statistisch fout uit het boekje

Screwed up statistics condemn nurse Lucia de B

Recent uncovered evidence shows that nurse Lucia de B has been convicted of murder on the basis of statistical arguments only and by abusing just about every rule in the book.

 * Whether or not an incident was classified as suspect depended on whether or not Lucia was on duty (simply a question of checking which nurse is on duty and then asking enough doctors till you get a "suspicious" verdict

* Data was collected in this way till there was enough to condemn her

* A professor of statistics in law, and trained mathematician, does not know the meaning of one of the most basic statistical concepts – the p-value. (Statistician Henk Elffers multiplied three independent p-values in order to obtain a combined p-value).

It somehow reminds me of the old method to see if someone is a witch – if they drown they were innocent, if they are guilty you can burn them

The statisticial profession in the Netherlands, myself included, is deeply shamed that *no-one* has enquired how the data was gathered… this took many years and a philosopher to ask that question …. 

Incredible that a mass murderer could kill ten or more people in a hosptial while simultaneously taking care that the number of unexplained deaths was lower than usual…

Peter Grünwald has put it all very elegantly in an email to me, in Dutch, but I’ll add an English translation as soon as possible.

Continue reading

DAG RIP (Eulogy for my Father)

David Anthony Gill:    28 September 1926 — 5 August, 2006

In a few weeks from now [these words were spoken at the memorial service on 2nd September] my father would celebrate and enjoy his 80’th birthday — towards the end of a full life in which he played many rôles — Father, (…-in-law, grand-…), husband, ( lover ), son; scientist, student, teacher; a churchwarden and a churchgoer; a colleague, a friend; a patient in a psychiatric ward … a man and a human being. Friendly, warm-hearted, rational, passionate, social, private. Anxious to please, humorous, independent. (A man of contradictions?)

Let me outline the facts of this life and then try to weave some threads together.
Continue reading

The past is particles, the future a wave

These are my current thoughts on the foundations of quantum mechanics, life, the universe and everything. They are shamelessly stolen from many sources without any guarantee that their original owners would recognize let alone authorize this representation of them. They are also shamelessly connected to my present thinking on matters religious/philosophical. Though I agree the necessity to separate science from religion, I am pleasantly surprised when my thoughts on these two sides seem to converge.

Continue reading