Data Doctors

Terry Speed writes columns for IMS Bulletin and the June 2007 issue has Terence’s Stuff: Data Doctors (p. 7). He quotes Fisher who described a statistician as a post-mortem examiner or a pathologist, but thinks that statisticians (statistical consultants) are doctors who maintain close, active, and alive relationships with their patients.

Nonetheless, I think statisticians working with astronomers are assistants to post-mortem examiners. Most likely, statisticians nor astronomers cannot design experiments with unreachable objects. Astronomers are post-mortem examiners with telescopes and statisticians are assistants with charts which are by products from post-mortem examinations. These assistants may or may not be useful to astronomers.

One Comment
  1. vlk:

    I think your characterization of “experiments” is too narrow. It is true that we cannot meddle with the environments of the objects we study, and almost all that we know of them comes to us via photons. However, that does not mean astronomers are passive data collectors who simply take what the Universe gives. We can, and do, design observations to provide specific answers to specific questions. When we use statistics, it is not so much to understand what our data are like, but rather to understand how much to believe the answers we get from our analyses. I think astronomers in general — but maybe not the theoreticians! — understand their data very well; it is the modeling that is subject to pratfalls, and is is there that statisticians must be most vigilant when speaking with astronomers.

    06-15-2007, 12:46 am
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