P.Mean: What you should look for in a statistical consultant (created 2012-12-31).

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"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent." It's dangerous to list all the characteristics of a good statistician because it might devolve into a list as generic as the Boy Scout pledge. Here are the main features, though, that you should look for in a statistical consultant. A statistician is understandable, inquisitive, involved, interested, and disinterested.

Understandable. "Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom." Clifford Stoll. Statisticians can't be so in love with their data analyses that they lose sight of the bigger picture. The have to be able to explain what the results mean in a very pragmatic sense. They should never speak to you in "Greek." I love formulas. I breath formulas on a daily basis. Statisticians can't speak "Greek" to their clients. I love formulas and I use them on a daily basis. But if I can't convey the message of these formulas in a non-techinical setting, then I am limited in who I can help.

Inquisitive. "The statistician who supposes that his main contribution to the planning of an experiment will involve statistical theory, finds repeatedly that he makes his most valuable contribution simply by persuading the investigator to explain why he wishes to do the experiment, by persuading him to justify the experimental treatments, and to explain why it is that the experiment, when completed, will assist him in his research." -- Gertrude M. Cox. Be prepared for a lot of questions. It's not an attack on your research concept, but a probing to make sure that whatever you do is well justified.

Involved. "To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a post-mortem examination: he may be able to say what the experiment died of." You have an obligation to invite your statistician to the early planning phases of your research. Otherwise you may end up collecting the wrong data. Your statisticianhas a parallel obligation to explore alternative approaches to answering your research question.

Interested. "The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard." -- John W. Tukey You can't expect a statistician to know the medicine or the science as well as you do, but they do have to learn as much about your field as you learn about theirs.

Disinterested."No one who cannot rejoice in the discovery of his own mistakes deserves to be called a scholar." - Donald Foster. There's a myth about the "disinterested scientist." All scientists are passionate about what they believe in, but they are disinterested in the sense that they are willing to abandon those beliefs in the face of evidence. Your statistician should provide you the tools to insure a disinterested result. He/she should develop a research design and data analysis that can both prove and disprove your most cherished beliefs.

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