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The Royal Statistical Society’s Christmas Quiz is highly regarded for the level of challenge it provides. But if you are looking for something a little less taxing at this time of the year, the Significance Quotes Quiz has you covered. Our thanks to Jim Norton for putting the questions together. Have fun, thank you for reading, and we look forward to welcoming you back in 2017.

1. Which notable statistical figure said the following? “I am fain to sum up an urgent appeal for adopting a uniform system of publishing the statistical records of hospitals. In attempting to arrive at the truth, I have applied everywhere for information, but scarcely have I been able to obtain hospital records fit for any purpose of comparison.”

2. Name the eponymous hero of a children’s book who said: “Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them you have made a new friend, they never ask you about essential matters. They never ask you, ‘What games does he love best?’ … Instead they demand, ‘How old is he? How much money does his father make?’ Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” 

3. Name the children’s book containing this exchange: “Pardon me for staring,” said Milo, after he had been staring for some time, “but I’ve never seen half a child before.” “It’s .58 to be precise,” replied the child from the left side of his mouth (which happened to be the only side of his mouth). “What is the rest of your family like?” said Milo, this time a bit more sympathetically. “Oh, we’re just the average family,” he said thoughtfully; “mother, father and 2.58 children – and, as I explained, I’m the .58.”

4. Which famous character, who first appeared in print in 1887, said: “Data! Data! Data! I cannot make bricks without clay.”?

5. The following quote describes the most evil mathematician in history. Can you name him? “He is endowed with a phenomenal mathematical faculty. At the age of 21 he wrote a treatise upon the binomial theorem. He won a mathematical chair at one of our smaller universities. … But the man had hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind.”

6. Bootstrapping is a resampling method that can be used to calculate standard errors and confidence intervals and perform tests of significance. In what novel does the following appear? “I found myself in a hole nine fathoms under the grass. … Looking down, I observed that I had on a pair of boots with exceptionally sturdy straps. Grasping them firmly, I pulled with all of my might. Soon I had hoist myself to the top and stepped out on terra firma without further ado.”

7. Who said: “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”?

8. Can you identify the famous humorist from Oklahoma who said: “We are always reading statistics and figures. Half of America do nothing but prepare statistics for the other half to read.”?

9. Which famous author of spy fiction wrote: “Daniel’s a statistician. He sees numbers – fractions, equations, totals – and they spell out the odds for him. God knows he’s brilliant at it; he’s saved the lives of hundreds with those statistics.”?

10. This description of a character’s first wife comes from a novel named after said character. Can you name him? “An utterly steady, reliable woman, responsible to the point of grimness, Daisy was a statistician for the Gallup Poll.”

11. What two substances does R. A. Fisher combine in his famous “thought experiment” in Chapter One of The Design of Experiments (1935)?

12. Aaron Levenstein compared statistics to which item of women’s apparel?

13. Who said: “The government is very keen on amassing statistics. They collect them, add them, raise them to the Nth power, take the cube root, and prepare wonderful diagrams. But you must never forget, that every one of these figure comes from the village watchman, who just puts down what he damn pleases.”?

14. Can you finish this quote of Myron Tribus in a letter to Science? “If experimentation is the Queen of the sciences, surely statistical methods must be regarded as …”

15. Which famous US Supreme Court Justice said: “For the rational study of the law the black-letter man may be the man of the present, but the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics.”?

16. Which famous American sports team owner, now deceased, said: “Everybody knows it’s always heads!”?

17. Who said the following? “To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a postmortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of.”

18. Who is the author of the following quote from the short story, “The Undoing of Lamia Gurdleneck”, reprised in part on page v of The Advanced Theory of Statistics by Maurice G. Kendall and Alan Stuart? “Aunt Sara said, ‘To express anything important in mere figures is so plainly impossible that there must be endless scope for well-paid advice on how to do it. But don’t you think that life with a statistician would be rather, shall we say, humdrum?’ Lamia was silent. She felt reluctant to discuss the surprising depth of emotional possibility which she had discovered below Edward’s numerical veneer. ‘It’s not the figures themselves, she said finally, ‘it’s what you do with them that matters.’”

19. Who is the author of the short story, “The Handbook of Hymen”, summarized as follows? Sanderson Pratt and his partner, Idaho Green, are prospectors who, during a blizzard, become snowed in in an abandoned cabin for several months. Idaho finds two books in the cabin. He decides to keep a book of poetry to read and by default Sandy is left with Herkimer’s Handbook of Indispensable Information. After reading several chapters, Sandy describes the book to Idaho. Here is Idaho’s response. “What you’ve got … is statistics, the lowest grade of information that exists. They’ll poison your mind.” … Later in the story Sandy tries to charm and impress the widow Sampson with his knowledge of statistics. After listening to him recite numerous facts and figures, here is her response: “Go on, Mr. Pratt. … Them ideas is so original and soothing. I think statistics are just as lovely as they can be.”

20. Name the character and the movie containing this quote: “And may the odds ever be in your favor.”

21. Which British writer and poet said: “Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death. Before the curse of statistics fell upon mankind we lived a happy, innocent life, full of merriment and go and informed by fairly good judgment.”?

22. Which British poet wrote the following stanza?
Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon world affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test.
Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

23. Who said in 2009: “the sexy job of the next 10 years will be statisticians.”?

  • Find the answers here.
  • H. James (Jim) Norton, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Biostatistics, Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte NC. His website,, is dedicated to teaching statistics.


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