Monday, June 23, 2008

RIP Karlin (1924-2007) & Carlin (1937-2008)

Within a span of about six months we have lost two greats with homophonic surnames -- Sam Karlin, the national academy belonging statistician whose pioneering work in computational biology lead to the statistics behind BLAST (as well as more obscure programs), and now the great comedian George Carlin. Many people may think that besides their name, these two people had nothing in common. Not true.

For example, Carlin as well as Karlin has contributed to statistics. Who can forget his great insight "Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!"? And before you object that he should have used "median" in that sentence, be aware that the statistical use of "average" need not mean "mean" (in the arithmetic sense) -- the median can legitimately be called an average as well.

And Karlin was a master of the pithy one-liner himself: "The purpose of models is not to fit the data but to sharpen the questions". Well, maybe it didn't bring down the house when he said it, but it's something worth always keeping in mind.

No comments: