Statistical jokes


15 July 2003

Most of these jokes were posted to Usenet news groups. People who read such things collected them and put them on their web sites. I have shamelessly borrowed them, edited them and posted them here for the light relief of other statisticians.

The Biologist, the Statistician, the Mathematician, and the Computer Scientist

A biologist, a statistician, a mathematician, and a computer scientist are on a photo-safari in Africa. They drive out into the savannah in their jeep, stop, and scour the horizon with their binoculars.

The biologist: “Look! There’s a herd of zebras! And there, in the middle: a white zebra! It’s fantastic! There are white zebras! We’ll be famous!”

The statistician: “It’s not significant. We only know there’s one white zebra.”

The mathematician: “Actually, we know there exists a zebra which is white on one side.”

The computer scientist: “Oh no! A special case!”

The Physicist, the Chemist, and the Statistician

Three professors (a physicist, a chemist, and a statistician) are called in to see their dean. Just as they arrive the dean is called out of his office, leaving the three professors there. The professors see with alarm that there is a fire in the wastebasket.

The physicist says, “I know what to do! We must cool down the materials until their temperature is lower than the ignition temperature and then the fire will go out.”

The chemist says, “No! No! I know what to do! We must cut off the supply of oxygen so that the fire will go out due to lack of one of the reactants.”

While the physicist and chemist debate what course to take, they both are alarmed to see the statistician running around the room starting other fires. They both scream, “What are you doing?”

To which the statistician replies, “Trying to get an adequate sample size.”


  • Statistics means never having to say you’re certain.
  • Statistics is the art of never having to say you’re wrong.
  • Variance is what any two statisticians are at.
  • 97.3% of all statistics are made up.
  • It’s like the tale of the roadside merchant who was asked to explain how he could sell rabbit sandwiches so cheap. “Well,” he explained, “I have to put some horse-meat in too. But I mix them 50:50. One horse, one rabbit.” (Darrel Huff, How to Lie with Statistics)
  • Are statisticians normal?
  • Smoking is a leading cause of statistics.
  • 43% of all statistics are worthless.
  • 3 out of 4 Americans make up 75% of the population.
  • Death is 99 per cent fatal to laboratory rats.
  • A statistician is a person who draws a mathematically precise line from an unwarranted assumption to a foregone conclusion.
  • A statistician can have his head in an oven and his feet in ice, and he will say that on the average he feels fine.
  • 80% of all statistics quoted to prove a point are made up on the spot.
  • Fett’s Law: Never replicate a successful experiment.
  • Classification of mathematical problems as linear and nonlinear is like classification of the Universe as bananas and non-bananas.
  • A law of conservation of difficulties: there is no easy way to prove a deep result.
  • “This is a one line proof…if we start sufficiently far to the left.”
  • “The problems for the exam will be similar to the discussed in the class. Of course, the numbers will be different. But not all of them. Pi will still be 3.14159…”

A Greater Than Average Number of Legs

The great majority of people have more than the average number of legs. Amongst the 57 million people in Britain there are probably 5,000 people who have only one leg. Therefore the average number of legs is

(5000 \times 1 + 56,995,000 \times 2)/57,000,000 = 1.9999123.

Since most people have two legs…

The Man who Counts the Number of People at Public Gatherings

You’ve probably seen his headlines, “Two million flock to see Pope”, “200 arrested as police find ounce of cannabis”, “Britain #3 billion in debt.” You probably wondered who was responsible for producing such well rounded-up figures. What you didn’t know was that it was all the work of one man, Rounder-Up to the media, John Wheeler. But how is he able to go on turning out such spot-on statistics? How can he be so accurate all the time?

“We can’t,” admits Wheeler blithely. “Frankly, after the first million we stop counting, and round it up to the next million. I don’t know if you’ve ever counted a papal flock, but, not only do they look a bit the same, they also don’t keep still, what with all the bowing and crossing themselves.”

“The only way you could do it accurately is by taking an aerial photograph of the crowd and handing it to the computer to work out. But then you’d get a headline saying, ‘1,678,163 [sic] flock to see Pope, not including 35,467 who couldn’t see him,’ and, believe me, nobody wants that sort of headline.”

The art of big figures, avers Wheeler, lies in psychology, not statistics. The public like a figure it can admire. It likes millionaires, and million-sellers, and centuries at cricket, so Wheeler’s international agency gives them the figures it wants, which involves not only rounding up but rounding down.

“In the old days people used to deal with crowds on the Isle of Wight principle–you know, they’d say that every day the population of the world increased by the number of people who could stand upright on the Isle of Wight, or the rain-forests were being decreased by an area the size of Rutland. This meant nothing. Most people had never been to the Isle of Wight for a start, and even if they had, they only had a vision of lots of Chinese standing in the grounds of the Cowes Yacht Club. And the Rutland comparison was so useless that they were driven to abolish Rutland to get rid of it.

“No, what people want is a few good millions. A hundred million, if possible. One of our inventions was street value, for instance. In the old days they used to say that police had discovered drugs in a quantity large enough to get all of Rutland stoned for a fortnight. We started saying that the drugs had a street value of #10 million. Absolutely meaningless, but people understand it better.”

Sometimes they do get the figures spot on. “250,000 flock to see Royal two,” was one of his recent headlines, and although the 250,000 was a rounded-up figure, the two was quite correct. In his palatial office he sits surrounded by relics of past headlines–a million-year-old fossil, a #500,000 Manet, a photograph of the Sultan of Brunei’s #10,000,000 house–but pride of place goes to a pair of shoes framed on the wall.

“Why the shoes? Because they cost me #39.99. They serve as a reminder of mankind’s other great urge, to have stupid odd figures. Strange, isn’t it? They want mass demos of exactly half a million, but they also want their gramophone records to go round at thirty-three-and-a-third, forty-five and seventy-eight rpm. We have stayed in business by remembering that below a certain level people want oddity. They don’t want a rocket costing #299 million and 99p, and they don’t want a radio costing exactly #50.”

How does he explain the times when the figures clash–when, for example, the organisers of a demo claim 250,000 but the police put it nearer 100,000?

“We provide both sets of figures; the figures the organisers want, and the figures the police want. The public believe both. If we gave the true figure, about 167,890, nobody would believe it because it doesn’t sound believable.”

John Wheeler’s name has never become well-known, as he is a shy figure, but his firm has an annual turnover of #3 million and his eye for the right figure has made him a rich man. His greatest pleasure, however, comes from the people he meets in the counting game.

“Exactly two billion, to be precise.”

(Miles Kington, writing in The Observer, November 3, 1986)

Final Exam

A statistics major was completely hung over the day of his final exam. It was a true/false test, so he decided to flip a coin for the answers. The statistics professor watched the student the entire two hours as he was flipping the coin… writing the answer… flipping the coin… writing the answer. At the end of the two hours, everyone else had left the final except for the one student. The professor walks up to his desk and interrupts the student, saying, “Listen, I have seen that you did not study for this statistics test, you didn’t even open the exam. If you are just flipping a coin for your answer, what is taking you so long?”

The student replies bitterly (as he is still flipping the coin), “Shhh! I am checking my answers!”

The Ten Commandments of Statistical Inference

  1. Thou shalt not hunt statistical inference with a shotgun.
  2. Thou shalt not enter the valley of the methods of inference without an experimental design.
  3. Thou shalt not make statistical inference in the absence of a model.
  4. Thou shalt honor the assumptions of thy model.
  5. Thy shalt not adulterate thy model to obtain significant results.
  6. Thy shalt not covet thy colleagues’ data.
  7. Thy shalt not bear false witness against thy control group.
  8. Thou shalt not worship the 0.05 significance level.
  9. Thy shalt not apply large sample approximation in vain.
  10. Thou shalt not infer causal relationships from statistical significance.

Q: Why is it that the more accuracy you demand from an interpolation function, the more expensive it becomes to compute?

A: That’s the Law of Spline Demand.

An algebraic limerick: \int_1^{\sqrt[3]{3}} t^2dt \times\cos(3\pi/9) = \log(\sqrt[3]{e})

Which, of course, translates to:

Integral t-squared dt
from 1 to the cube root of 3
times the cosine
of three pi over 9
equals log of the cube root of ‘e’.

And it’s correct, too.

The remaining limericks are taken from Mark Carter’s page which has since disappeared.

A mathematician confided
That the Möbius band is one-sided
And you’ll get quite a laugh
If you cut one in half
’Cause it stays in one piece when divided.

A mathematician named Klein
Thought the Möbius band was divine
Said he: If you glue
The edges of two
You’ll get a weird bottles like mine.

There was a young fellow named Fisk,
A swordsman, exceedingly brisk.
So fast was his action,
The Lorentz contraction
Reduced his rapier to a disk.

’Tis a favorite project of mine
A new value of pi to assign.
I would fix it at 3
For it’s simpler, you see,
Than 3 point 1 4 1 5 9

If inside a circle a line
Hits the center and goes spine to spine
And the line’s length is “d”
the circumference will be
d times 3.14159

A challenge for many long ages
Had baffled the savants and sages.
Yet at last came the light:
Seems old Fermat was right–
To the margin add 200 pages.

If (1+x) (real close to 1)
Is raised to the power of 1
Over x, you will find
Here’s the value defined:

This poem was written by John Saxon (an author of math textbooks). ((12 + 144 + 20 + (3 * \sqrt{4})) / 7) + (5 * 11) = 9^2 + 0

A Dozen, a Gross and a Score,
plus three times the square root of four,
divided by seven,
plus five times eleven,
equals nine squared and not a bit more.

In arctic and tropical climes,
the integers, addition, and times,
taken (mod p) will yield
a full finite field,
as p ranges over the primes.

A graduate student from Trinity
Computed the cube of infinity;
But it gave him the fidgets
To write down all those digits,
So he dropped math and took up divinity.

A conjecture both deep and profound
Is whether the circle is round;
In a paper by Erdös,
written in Kurdish,
A counterexample is found.
(Note: Erdös is pronounced “Air-dish”)

Three jolly sailors from Blaydon-on-Tyne,
They went to sea in a bottle by Klein,
Since the sea was inside the hull,
The scenery seen was exceedingly dull.

By Chris Boyd (see comments below).

4 + (6! - 0.5(12^2 + (403 + 1))) = 2(15^2)

Four plus the difference between
The factorial of six and the mean
Of twelve squared and four
Hundred three (plus one more)
Equals double the square of fifteen.

Interesting Theorem: All positive integers are interesting.

Proof: Assume the contrary. Then there is a lowest non-interesting positive integer. But, hey, that’s pretty interesting! A contradiction.