Most of us appear to be plagued by the notion that digits describe a thing (for instance an infant) more accurately than do the qualities the thing possesses (for instance the infant’s drooling smiles, watery eyes, redundant dimples, pathetic coiffure, tiered chins and helpless unignorable outcries). Accuracy is a useful thing, certainly. A skyscraper designed by an architect with a head for nothing but drooly smiles and tiered chins is likely never to scrape the sky. But there are times and places to employ statistics and times and places not to – and the times-and-places-not-to comprised one of many lessons I was doomed to learn ‘the hard way.’

I’m finally getting around to reading David James Duncan’s The River Why, which has been sitting on my shelf for two years. This is from Chapter 3a – a short but mesmerizing chapter “Concerning Statistics.” It reminded me of James McWilliams’ Hedgehog Review piece, “On the Value of Not Knowing Everything” (

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