A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
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Thursday, October 7, 2010


Who knew 3-D heteroscedasticity could be so beautiful?

Jargon. Lingo. Vernacular. Drivel. Call it what you will. Every field of interest has its own lexicon. One may speculate that such esoteric vocabulary is a good way to keep out the riff raff. And whether or not that’s the intention, it is in fact, the end result.
In our house we sometimes have a war of words.  This does not involve the dropping of bombs (OK, I admit, the occasional F-bomb is discharged), deployment of weapons or even IEDs (unless it stands for intellectually extravagant doublespeak), but nevertheless results in a certain level of shock and awe.  
I’m talking about Life sciences (myself) versus Statistics (the Huzby). A smack down for a throw down.  A biological head butt countered by a mathematical crotch shot. I mean, check out these rosters and see which side speaks to you. Which team wins you over? Which has more understandable terms? Which squad do you play for?
Team Life Sciences:                                
Pyknotic (nope, not related to hypnotic)   
Phenotype (with its tag-team member genotype)  
Endocytosis (and its evil twin exocytosis)       
Team Statistics:
Heteroscedasticity (not to be confused with homoscedasticity)
Ergodic (not at all what you’re thinking, I’m sure)
Eigenvalues (and their nasty cousins the Eigenvectors)
I could go on. There are many, many more players in the lineups on both sides. It’s possible you play for a different team all together. And don’t worry, I won’t bore you with definitions.  If you’re really that interested you can look them up yourselves. But I’m guessing this is enough to prove my point. We sling jargon like a gum-smacking, big-haired, bad dye-jobbed, red-lipped, wise-cracking, pencil-licking waitress slings hash. It happens with regularity at our house. However, should a definition be requested we do try to educate each other—not always successfully—but we try.
Generally, we make an effort not to assault unsuspecting visitors with these terms.  But there was one occasion at a dinner party we threw where a guest asked Tim about ergodic data. The out-of-the-know rest of us watched and listened as Tim went through the explanation. It’s possible I had my mouth open and may even have had food dropping out of it but no one would have noticed. We were all rapt, trying to understand what the hell Tim was talking about as he parsed through the definition for our statistically curious guest.
I believe the wife of this inquisitive diner may have been feeling a bit insecure and out of her element because after a minute or two she interrupted saying, “You know Tim, we all know you’re very smart. You really don’t have to prove it to anyone sitting at this table.” Hello? Lady, it was YOUR husband who asked the question in the first place. Anyway, another compassionate dinner guest (Thank you Greg K.) offered an easy out, stating that it was the first and probably last time he’d be privy to such a rarefied and abstruse dinner topic. The conversation politely moved on.
Shoptalk. Parlance. Twaddle. Gibberish.  It’s what we do and what we speak. And as “erotic” as “ergodic” data may sound it doesn’t necessarily provide for scintillating dinner dialog—at least not by everyone’s standards. Nor should “pyknotic” be used to describe the Catherine Trammell/Sharon Stone character in “Basic Instinct” although it’s tempting, isn’t it? And to further clarify: Bayesians are not required to wear beige. Blebbing is not what our thighs do after the holidays. Kurtosis is not what happens when your quarterback is Kurt Warner. And just think how much more exciting statistics would be if "bootstrapping" was the latest and greatest in S&M and "heteroscedasticity" had anything to do with sex. But no. It's just a tease. Still, it's always fun to think of the possibilities.
Where bootstrapping meets life sciences: Not as thrilling as one might hope.

Note: Thanks to Tim for helping me with some of the stats speak.


  1. Kurtosis is what you get if you are a Cardinals fan and Kurt Warner retires and you get Derek Anderson as your new quarterback.

  2. Derek Anderson is already a dated reference, Tim. It's going to be Max Hall taking snaps for the Cards against the Saints. Though I predict Max Hall will be Min Hall come Sunday. (Sorry.....that's the best I can do with the stats theme.)