Statistics ER: A play in one act


in Oxford, Rants, Science, Writing

Dramatis Personae:

Dr. Von Spatz: Haggard and unshaven, Dr. Spatz carries a clipboard and coffee cup. Bleary eyed, he has the tendency to rave very slightly at times.

Nurse Wilhelm: Beautiful, but shrill, Nurse Wilhelm wears a freshly pressed, very white nurse’s uniform and fiddles with various medical instruments and sensors.


Patient: Convulsing and comatose, in alternating fashion.

NURSE WILHELM, clearly in a state of considerable agitation, stands beside a gurney in the crowded ER, frantically looking at a chart, then at the clock, and back to the chart again. 

Through the double doors, SPATZ enters, cup of coffee in hand.

WILHELM: Thank God you’re here, doctor! He’s been heteroskedastic for the last twenty minutes!

SPATZ: (wearily) What’s your confidence level, nurse? Don’t think that your frantic and increasingly standard deviations from close medical practice are going unnoticed.

WILHELM: The p-value is .08 and rising, doctor! He’s regressing!

SPATZ: (more alarmed) Multivariate? Have you checked the concavity?

WILHELM: His r-squared has been falling ever since we took the log of the dependent variable.

SPATZ: Adjusted r-squared?

WILHELM: Also falling! Now at 0.13!

SPATZ: (whistles softly) Houston, we have an endogeneity problem.

WILHELM: Shall I induce multicollinearity, doctor? The data are increasingly dyadic.

SPATZ: Nurse, drop the outliers and set his IQR to red. STATA!

WILHELM: It’s no good, doctor, I can’t reject the null hypothesis! His t-test scores are neither unimodal nor symmetric.

INTERN enters and begins watching with a shocked expression. Noticing him, SPATZ turns to address him.

SPATZ: There’s not much we can do when we get them in this late, I’m afraid. It’s a standard error of people to wait until the variance is far too large, before bringing it to our attention.

Looks down into his coffee cup.

SPATZ: Some nights, it breaks my heart. Makes me think life’s nothing more than one big scatter plot for us to try and put a best-fit line through. Every time you think you’ve minimized the square of the residuals, some new outlier crops up to throw the whole thing off again. Sometimes… I wonder why I even bother.

INTERN: Because you’re a doctor, dammit, Spatz! Or have you forgotten your own causation? I remember when you used to run DFBETA tests all the time; now, you just throw away the outliers like yesterday’s newspaper.

SPATZ: Maybe you’re right… Maybe you’re right… Nurse, I am straightening up my game. Our relationship has been spurious all along, it’s only your close correlation with Nurse Whimpleton that has made it seem significant.

WILHELM: (gasps)

SPATZ: As for this poor fellow, make sure to check the interaction terms earlier next time.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous November 16, 2005 at 11:02 am

Regression analysis is tedious. You have my sympathy.

Nick S

Anonymous November 16, 2005 at 2:30 pm

Milan, this is shit. Don’t ever do it again.

Milan November 16, 2005 at 2:46 pm

I’m never been one to take the criticisms of foul mouthed and anonymous individuals seriously. The whole statistics issue strikes me as needing a bit of levity.

Requests phrased in the form of commands are also highly likely to be ignored.

B November 16, 2005 at 3:12 pm

I actually think it’s reasonably clever. I also resent the willingness of random, anonymous others to step so aggressively into my gadfly role. They’re not so random, of course. You’re anonymous to each other, people, not to the folks with the server logs.

Also, Remember that profanity is generally the sign of a weak mind trying to express itself forcefully.

Anonymous November 16, 2005 at 9:34 pm

Greetings from the last day of SCUSA 57.
Hope all is well

-Scott (your UBC successor)

Milan November 16, 2005 at 10:20 pm


It’s exciting to hear from you. I hope you enjoyed the conference. Which of the round tables did you sit on? Also, who was the keynote speaker this year?

Anonymous November 17, 2005 at 3:50 pm

The conference was outstanding.
I sat on the Terrorism and Insurgency roundtable and a second delegate sat on the Domestic Sources of Influence on Foreign Policy table. The keynote was Bruce Hoffmann and the panel was as expected, horrifyingly self-interested (realists in the truest form I’ve ever seen?)



Anonymous January 8, 2006 at 11:57 pm

I think it’s just meant to be a statement about how all technical jargon can be interchanged when presented to whose who don’t know it.

. September 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm

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