We Need Dustin Hoffman Again – Now to hear “Statistics” not “Plastics”

August 20, 2009
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In an August 6, 2009 New York Times (NYT) article For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics I am reminded of the famous cinema quote of advice to Dustin Hoffman in his career breakthrough 1967 movie The Graduate. It occurs when a self-righteous Los Angeles businessman takes aside the baby-faced Dustin Hoffman and declares, “I just want to say one word to you – just one word – ‘plastics.’ ”

This spotlight on statistics is apparently relevant because this news article ranked in that week’s top two NYT e-mailed articles (and sixth the following week) as tracked by the Times. The article cites an example of a Google employee who “uses statistical analysis of mounds of data to come up with ways to improve (Google’s) search engine.” It describes the employee as “an Internet-age statistician, one of many who are changing the image of the profession as a place for dronish number nerds. They are finding themselves increasingly in demand – and even cool.”

Is statistics really a profession or is it a skill that is becoming of mainstream value due to the increasingly thinner margin for decision error and the requirement to gain insights and inferences from the treasure chest of ..


In an August 6, 2009 New York Times (NYT) article For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics I am reminded of the famous cinema quote of advice to Dustin Hoffman in his career breakthrough 1967 movie The Graduate. It occurs when a self-righteous Los Angeles businessman takes aside the baby-faced Dustin Hoffman and declares, “I just want to say one word to you – just one word – ‘plastics.’ ”

This spotlight on statistics is apparently relevant because this news article ranked in that week’s top two NYT e-mailed articles (and sixth the following week) as tracked by the Times. The article cites an example of a Google employee who “uses statistical analysis of mounds of data to come up with ways to improve (Google’s) search engine.” It describes the employee as “an Internet-age statistician, one of many who are changing the image of the profession as a place for dronish number nerds. They are finding themselves increasingly in demand – and even cool.”

Is statistics really a profession or is it a skill that is becoming of mainstream value due to the increasingly thinner margin for decision error and the requirement to gain insights and inferences from the treasure chest of raw transactional data that organizations have stored (and continue to store) in a digital format? The article states:

In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore – sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm. …Yet data is merely the raw material of knowledge. We’re rapidly entering a world where everything can be monitored and measured, but the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data. …(Analysts) use powerful computers and sophisticated mathematical models to hunt for meaningful patterns and insights in vast troves of data. The applications are as diverse as improving Internet search and online advertising, culling gene sequencing information for cancer research and analyzing sensor and location data to optimize the handling of food shipments.

The application of business analytics is becoming a mainstream need. Dustin, there is likely a new movie script awaiting you. I can’t wait to see it.