Quotation for the week: Hooke

A fairly self-explanatory quotation this week, from the first chapter of Robert Hooke’s splendidly titled book How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (CRC Press, 1983):

It is commonly believed that anyone who tabulates numbers is a statistician. This is like believing that anyone who owns a scalpel is a surgeon.

This quotation is often misattributed to another Robert Hooke, the great microscopist and bitter enemy of Isaac Newton. The reason we can be fairly sure that this is a misattribution is, like treason, a matter of dates. The word “statistician” dates back only to the early nineteenth century, a good hundred years too late for this Robert Hooke, who died in 1703. Although the word “statistics” is a bit older, its modern sense is of a similar vintage to “statistician” — prior to this, rather than meaning the study of data, it meant specifically the study of political (state) affairs. So, arguably, statistics is what political science gets to be when it grows up…


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