Welcome to the Ivory Tower

IvoryTowerHere is the post-post scriptum of one of Andrew Gelman’s blog entries. The post was discussing how it could possibly be that such an influential statistician like Brian Ripley has such an outdated webpage:

P.P.S. Somebody pointed out that you can search for B D Ripley’s recent papers using Google. Here’s what’s been going on since 2002. Aside from the R stuff, he seems to have been focusing on applied work. … I find that working with applied collaborators gives me insights that I never would’ve had on my own, and I’d be interested in hearing Ripley’s thoughts on his own successes and struggles on applied problems.

I am a bit puzzled that influential statisticians like Andrew Gelman seem to be surprised that the very important inputs come from real life problems. But maybe this is mainly caused by the fact that in graphical data analysis there is not much like a theory. The next important development usually comes from the next dataset which we can’t analyze efficiently. Once one understood the generalization of the solution, a new piece can be put into the mosaic.

Anyway, life outside the ivory tower is different (but reality) and I think it is important to regularly move in and out the tower.


  1. Hi–I just noticed this. I’m not sure why you think I was surprised that important inputs come from real life problems. This doesn’t surprise me at all–it’s the story of my (professional) life!

  2. martin says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I was probably reading your lines a bit biased towards this interpretation, as I had a couple of incidences in which I found statisticians with quite a solid theoretical background seriously struggling with “real life datasets”.
    But I am glad to hear that you also prefer Tukey’s “a) here is the data, b) what is it trying to tell us; in particular, which questions does it want us to ask? c) what seems to be going on?” situation over the next optimality proof for a situation we will probably never observe the data for.


Leave a Reply