In my new role as Director of the Computation Institute, I have got to know some statisticians. I'm learning interesting things:
- statistics, despite its 19th Century name, is actually an intellectually rich and vibrant field of research, with much to contribute to how we deal with data;
- there are big differences between biostatisticians, epidemiologists, and other types of statistician; and
- statisticians have a sense of humor.
A story, heard at a statistics dinner, illustrates the latter two points. A group of biostatisticians and epidemiologists take a train to the seaside. The epidemiologists, who as law-abiding scientists have all bought a ticket, are surprised to find that the biostatisticians have only a single ticket between them. "How will you get by with such a small sample?", they ask. "Don't worry, we have our methods" reply the biostatisticians. And indeed, just before the ticket collector comes by, the biostatisticians all disappear into the restroom, and when the ticket collector knocks on the door, they slide their single ticket under the door.
The epidemiologists are impressed, and on the way back they buy just a single ticket themselves. However, once on the train they find that the biostatisticians have not bought a ticket at all! Once again, the biostatisticians assure them, "we have our methods" when asked what they will do.
Hearing the ticket collector moving through the next carriage, the biostatisticans and epidemiologists head to the restrooms. A second later, one of the biostatisticians opens their door, heads to the other restroom, knocks on the door, and announces in an authoritative voice "tickets please!". A ticket is passed under the door ...