Sunday, February 24, 2013

The S Word

When people ask what I do for a living, I initially avoid outright use of the "S word" - statistician. I'm quite proud of my profession, but just from personal experience, using the S word invokes three common responses:
  • "I hated Intro Stat." (followed by a rant about their horrific ordeal)
  • "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." / "You can prove anything with statistics."
    • Suppressing the reflexive groan hasn't become any easier with practice.
    • "Oh that's nice," followed by either:
      • "So what exactly does a Statistician do?"
      • (More frequently) An abrupt change of topic
    I don't want to sound cynical, but just from personal experience, statisticians appear to be in the same boat as dentists- usually the only people not apathetic to your profession are those trying to score a free consult. While people seem to know what dentists do, and some may have a modicum of respect or appreciation for the value of dentistry, the same can't generally be said for statisticians. Very few people seem to understand exactly what statisticians do, and how our profession fits into society. This is why I usually refer to myself as a "medical researcher" - this doesn't seem to carry as much emotional baggage as the S word, people generally understand the value of medical research, and this tends to sustain enough of a conversation to discuss why statistics and statisticians matter.