I’ve been doing Serious Research lately and haven’t had much energy for blogging. I’m actually starting to remember that blogging gives me more energy (like exercising) if I can get myself to kick off the virtuous cycle when I don’t feel like it — so perhaps I’ll be posting more actively in the near future. Anyway, I tore myself away from my textbooks and equations this morning in order to share this brilliant quotation with you:
“An approximate answer to the right question is worth a great deal more than a precise answer to the wrong question.”
Tukey was a statistician, probably best known for the fast Fourier transform algorithm he co-developed. (Wikiquote indicates that this particular line is actually in Super Freakonomics where it is attributed to Tukey, while they have a direct source which reads: “Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.”)
The beauty of this quotation? I got it from a Christian apologetics blog. Yes, folks, religious apologists: those people who insist that their specific deity is somehow the answer to all possible questions because their ancient books say so, regardless of what the preponderance of scientific evidence or logical analysis might say. They just wanted to remind us that it’s better to say “I don’t know yet” and keep examining reality than to be devoutly certain but misguided. … Oh wait, no — that’s what we keep telling them.
Perhaps they would have done better to ponder this third sourced statement on Tukey’s Wikiquote page:
The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data.