May 4, 2001
Telling the Truth About Damned Lies and Statistics
The dissertation prospectus began by quoting a statistic -- a "grabber" meant to capture the reader's attention. The graduate student who wrote this prospectus undoubtedly wanted to seem scholarly to the professors who would read it; they would be supervising the proposed research. And what could be more scholarly than a nice, authoritative statistic, quoted from a professional journal in the student's field?
So the prospectus began with this (carefully footnoted) quotation: "Every