There is a legend (and a delightful poem) about six blind men who examine an elephant. The first finds the elephant’s side and declares that an elephant is like a wall. The second feels its tusk and compares it to a spear. And so on and so forth it goes…with observations of its trunk, ears, tail and knee.
The end of the poem is as follows:
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Bad statistics is like the observations of blind men describing an elephant.
On the other hand, consider another blind man who had once seen an elephant in his childhood, or who, since he had become blind, heard stories from those who personally seen an elephant. Armed with these descriptions, this blind man collects the same six pieces of data described above. Wouldn’t his observations make much more sense?
Good statistics starts with a question–it happens when you know, loosely speaking, what you are looking for, and you establish analytical methods for finding data that will help you answer the question you’ve asked.
Good statistics continues with an antithetical question–it considers what happens when you assume the opposite and examines the data in this light as well.
Good statistics is very powerful. It’s like a seesaw…but you’ll have to wait until next time to read about that.