Stories and Statistics

December 3, 2010

Señor Milman Parry, that final hyperlink in your Antarctic post about Stories vs. Statistics was an interesting read for me.  It touches on various things that I have interests in, including storytelling (which I learned a bit about from Prof. Minkowski), semantics and pragmatics (which I learned a bit about from Prof. von Fintel), and the foundations of probability (which I learned a bit about from Prof. Fine).

I have been recently writing a magazine article about business analytics, which is more literary and has more storytelling than my other published articles.  I like one of the lines I wrote in the article related to the human X factor in service science that you discussed: “lathes do not tire of going around in circles and voluntarily leave the company, whereas human workers might.”  Another human factor in business analytics is the way input is accepted and output is reported, usually through what are known as dashboards.  For adoption by the business community, predictive statistical and signal processing methods need to take stories as input and produce stories as output, but sprinkled with numbers that could be examined if desired.  I will elaborate on this and other points once this article moves forward in the publication pipeline.

Coming back to “Stories vs. Statistics,” I find it interesting that the author associates ‘gods’ with probability, because that is one view I have as well.  Einstein wrote that “He does not throw dice,” but I would say that He is the throw of the dice.  (It is a matter of interpretation: aleatoric uncertainty vs. epistemic uncertainty.)  Do I have any statistics to support that view?  No, but I do have stories.



  1. […] Now if only this together with real historical and sociological research, perhaps I would have a story to go along with the statistics on the adoption of this technology.  I don’t think it is […]

  2. […] up this post with an extended quotation from my magazine article about business analytics.  I promised I would elaborate more on the article and I will in due time. “Baniya merchants of the Mughal […]

  3. […] In the newsletter, I have been seeing ‘storytelling’ mentioned more and more as a tactic to sell, including an article this week.  You have some nice ideas for what grand challenge-type things IBM Research can do next after Watson, the Jeopardy! challenge, which you might share here in the future.  One of my ideas is a machine that can create stories or screenplays that make you laugh, think. and cry.  It fits in with the business focus of the company via this new storytelling trend in marketing, is challenging but doable in my estimation (and David Ferrucci’s), and is related to storytelling thoughts I have shared here previously (1, 2, 3).  […]

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