The Statistician’s Parable. Nthposition, May 09

This was written on a phone, a Nokia of some kind. There are two companion parables. Changing the sex of the character from sentence to sentence seemed profound at the time, it doesn’t now.  I will post them separately. I am not sure what I make of this writing now. It seems rather superficial, but also oddly endearing.

Perhaps I will re post them with a consistent pronoun and see how different it is.

The statistician’s parable

Do you miss the statistician?

We drove him away when we got tired of her way of pointing things out. We wanted things to be a certain way – comfortable, every day in every way getting better and better – and he refused to reassure us. We took her and his tests of association and confidence intervals and left them all at the edge of town. From now on our town would proceed the way we wanted. For reality is always malleable, and the statistician denied this.

She lingered in the hills outside town, scavenging for berries at first, but gradually winning over the sheep farmers. They seemed keen to have him advise them. We in the town were surprised at this. We like to define ourselves against the credulous, roughly dressed, unsophisticated, frankly smelly sheep farmers. Their embrace of the statistician disturbs us. Why would they need her services?

We hear that the sheep farmers want to know, with precision, how much they need to supplement their flock’s feeds by. One of us of a historical inclination informs us all that the statisticians, it turns out, got their start on the farms, comparing fields fertilised with different things, or not at all, and the like. Another one of us – who likes to tell good-natured jokes against himself as his grandfather was a farmer – tells us all that farming is more precise than we thought.

One night we call a town meeting. All the people who decided to run the statistician out of town discuss kidnapping him back. Then I point out that the farmers’ faith in the statistician is further proof of their backwardness – we in the town are beyond such faith. We’ll eat their mutton and lamb, and wear their wool, without ever thinking about where it came from. We will go right ahead and create our own reality in the town. We are all agreed, after my intervention, that we do not miss the statistician.

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