Hey academics, people don’t trust you.

It's far too complicated to explain, so you'll have to trust me.  But I don't trust you.

A guest post (by William Faulkner, João Martinho, and Heather Muntzer) put up on my friend Stephanie Evergreen’s blog sparked a big discussion in the comment section.

I’ll paraphrase a little…

Stats People – You don’t understand anything.  Confidence intervals really stand for blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  So this is the wrong way to visualize.  Oh and blah, blah, blah, blah.

Stephanie – Okay, so how would you visualize it?

Stats People – Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, stats police on you, blah, blah, blah.

Stephanie – No really, please share an alternative.

Stats people – …


This is a big problem people.

If we don’t learn how to communicate things simply or at least try to figure out how, the US might elect some jerk who has no regard for actual data and might push through budgets and policies in an attempt to kill lots of important federally funded science and evaluation…

Oh wait.


  1. Jen on April 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

    This is the best thing I have seen all day.

  2. Aaron on April 7, 2017 at 10:58 am

    If you can’t explain it to your grandmother, you don’t really understand it.

  3. Marvia Diane Jones on April 7, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Such a great point!

  4. Christina Gorga on April 7, 2017 at 11:51 am

    *Applause* Translation and communication is such a critical issue for academics. The more I went through graduate school, the less I found that academics really cared about translating their work for the public. Shouldn’t dissemination of scientific information be at the core of their work? The more we continue to only speak within our own circles and not with others that have different training, background, and experiences, the more we will continue to be tone deaf to bigger issues.

  5. Cheryl Endres on April 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Love this!

  6. Rita McPhail on April 7, 2017 at 3:38 pm


  7. William Faulkner on April 7, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Haha, thanks Chris! I love this. It’s a long road, but we’ll get there!

  8. Dawn on April 7, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    I agree, academics do need to try harder. However not everything can be simplified so much that your grandmother can understand it, and regression is a great example. Hell I’ve been trying to understand it for years, but I think it is almost like trying to explain something in another language that has no translation to someone who doesn’t know that language. I kinda get it but still, not really. Also, I don’t think it is very fair to only respond by saying, “ok then show me how you can do it better.” Not everybody has the same talents. Stephanie is brilliant at viz, not every statistician is going to be. Just because they aren’t able to produce a chart doesn’t mean their attempts to explain the stats are useless. In any case I really do hope you all can keep working on it because if you can figure out how to make a great viz, maybe I’ll finally be able to understand it!