Statistical Genetics Quotations

contributed by Mac (Ian MacKay)

Time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiastes ix.11

It is certainly a matter of experience that every time our experimental technique has taken a leap forward, we have found things totally unexpected and wholly unimagined before. H. Bondi

Nothing in Biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution. T Dobzhansky

Biologists work very close to the frontier between bewilderment and understanding. Sir Peter Medewar. Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought

We see that the theory of probabilities as at bottom only commonsense reduced to calculation: it makes us appreciate with exactitude what reasonable minds feel by a sort of instinct. PS Laplace

Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship which grinds you stuff of any degree of fineness, but nevertheless what you get out depends on what you put in - and as the grandest mill in the world will not extract wheat flour from peascods so pages of formulae will not get a definite result out of loose data. TH Huxley

The student must take care in the placing of the decimal point: neither to place it too far to the left nor too far to the right. Hilaire Belloc

The true ratio of the numbers can only be ascertained by an average deducted from the sum of as many single values as possible; the greater the number, the more are merely chance effects eliminated. G Mendel

Now six and eight one would think should admit of no difference in advantage with seven, but if you will rightly consider the case, and be so vain to make trial thereof, you will find a great advantage in seven over six and eight. How can that be you will say, hath not six, seven and eight equal chances? For example, in six, quarter deuce and two treys; in eight, six deuce, cinque trey, and two quarters, and hath not seven three as aforesaid? It is confest; but pray consider the disadvantage in the doublets, two treys and two quarters, and you will find that six deuce is sooner thrown than two quarters, and so consequently, cinque Ace or quarter deuce sooner than two treys; I saw an old rook once take up a young fellow in a tavern upon this very score: the bargain was made that the rook should have seven always and the young gentleman six, and throw continually; agreed to play they went, the rook got the first day ten pound, the next day the like sum; and so for six days together losing in all threescore pounds; notwithstanding the gentleman, I am confident, had square dice, and threw them always himself. Charles Cotton, The Compleat Gamester 1674

I know of scarcely anything so apt to impress the imagination as the wonderful form of cosmic order expressed by the "Law of Frequency of Error" The law would have been personified by the Greeks and deified if they had know of it. It resigns with serenity and in complete self-effacement amidst the wildest confusion. The huger the mob, and the greater the apparent anarchy, the more perfect is its sway. It is the supreme law of Unreason. F Galton Natural Inheritance (1889)

The majority are mediocre. F. Galton

... you will meet with several observations and experiments which, though communicated for true by candid authors or undistrusted eye-witnesses, or perhaps recommended by your own experience, may, upon further trial, disappoint your expectation, either not at all succeeding constantly, or at least varying much from what you expected. Robert Boyle, 1673,

Concerning the Unsuccessfulness of Experiments We have a duty of formulating, of summarizing, and of communicating our conclusions, in intelligible form, in recognition of the right of other free minds to utilize them in making their own decisions. RA Fisher, 1955

The statistician cannot excuse himself from the duty of getting his head clear on the principles of scientific inference, but equally no other thinking man can avoid a like obligation. RA Fisher (1951)

I believe each scientist and interpreter of experimental results bears ultimate responsibility for his own concepts of evidence and his own interpretation of results. A Birnbaum 1962

By...shape of likelihood, the news was told. HenryIV part 1

Another scientifically disabling belief is to expect to be able to carry out experimental research by issuing instructions to lesser mortals who scurry hither and thither to do one's bidding. What is disabling about this belief is the failure to realise that experimentation is a form of thinking as well as a practical expression of thought. Sir Peter Medewar, Advice to a Young Scientist.

Linkage analysis is sometimes perceived as a matter of simply using the proper computer program, so that anyone with sufficient computer expertise could "do the linkage analysis" after family data and marker typing have been obtained. Such claims are not usually made in other fields of research and should not be made here either. It is dangerous to have linkage analysis carried out by individuals without the necessary theoretical background. Jurg Ott

The failure to use appropriate statistical tools, whether it springs from ideological reasons or not, is definitely unscientific. Sir J Huxley

[Mendelism's] so called laws... are based entirely on chance, mutation, the separation of the so-called paternal and maternal chromosomes at meiosis, fertilization being all matters of chance. Thus living nature appears to the Morganists as a medley of fortuitous isolated phenomena without any necessary connection and subject to no laws. Chance reigns supreme...Unable to reveal the laws of living nature, the Morganists have to resort to the theory of probabilities, and since they fail to grasp the concrete content of biological processess, they reduce biological science to mere statistics...With such a science it is impossible to work towards a definite goal. Physics and chemistry have been rid of fortitudes. That is why they have become exact sciences. By ridding our science of Mendelism-Morganism we will expel fortitudes from biological science. We must firmly remember that science is the enemy of chance. T.D. Lysenko

The doctrine of, in its essence, purely mathematical; and thus we have the anomaly of the most rigidly exact in science applied to the shadow and spirituality of the most intangible in speculation. Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Roget

Now, reader I have told my dream to thee, See if thou canst interpret it to me, Or to thyself, or neighbour; but take heed Of misinterpreting, for that, instead Of doing good, will but thyself abuse; By misinterpreting, evil ensues. John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress

The Crab to Cancer junior gave advice; 'Know what you want, my son, and then proceed Directly sideways. God has thus decreed- Progress is lateral; let that suffice.' Julian Huxley
It is a statistical commonplace that the interpretation of a body of data requires knowledge of how it was obtained. Fisher 1934
"I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, with four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." (Enrico Fermi)
If you are still alive when you read this, close your eyes. I am under their lids, growing black. Bill Knott
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