In God We Trust; Others Must Provide Data

W. Edwards Deming? Edwin R. Fisher? Bernard Fisher? Cecil R. Reynolds? Brian L. Joiner? Ronald D. Snee? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please examine a humorous empirically-minded statement that expands upon a famous motto appearing on U.S. currency. Here are three versions:

  • In God we trust; all others must use data.
  • In God we trust; all others must bring data.
  • In God we trust; others must have data.

When do you think this quip originated?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI was spoken by Professor of Pathology Edwin R. Fisher who was addressing a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I should like to close by citing a well-recognized cliche in scientific circles. The cliche is, “In God we trust, others must provide data.” What we need is good scientific data before I am willing to accept and submit to the proposition that smoking is a hazard to the nonsmoker.

Fisher stated that the adage was already a cliché in 1978. Thus, the originator remains anonymous at this time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1979 “The Washington Post” published an article about medical treatments for breast cancer. Dr. Bernard Fisher, a surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh stated that patients should follow a well-established therapy or enroll in a carefully controlled trial for a less-established approach. Fisher’s last remark was the concluding statement of the article: 2

“In God we trust,” he said. “All others have data.”

Cecil R. Reynolds, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M University, also helped to popularize the expression. In 1981 he gave an invited address to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association with the following title: 3

Test Bias: In God We Trust, All Others Must Have Data

In 1985 “The American Statistician” published an article by Brian L. Joiner that included an instance: 4

We can help eliminate finger pointing and get down to the facts. “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” Or, “Facts often kill a good argument.”

In 1986 “The Deming Management Method” by Mary Walton included the saying at the beginning of a book chapter, but a careful reader would have recognized that the words were not attributed to W. Edwards Deming; no one was given credit: 5

“In God we trust. All others must use data.”

If there is a credo for statisticians, it is that. Critical to the Deming method is the need to base decisions as much as possible on accurate and timely data, not on wishes or hunches or “experience.”

In 1987 Robert V. Hogg, President-Elect of the American Statistical Association wrote a letter to “The Des Moines Register” of Iowa City that included a long version of the statement: 6

“In God We Trust,” but others must have good information and data which they can analyze correctly by constructing appropriate models.

—Robert V. Hogg, president-elect, American Statistical Association; University of Iowa, Iowa City.

In 1988 Ronald D. Snee employed the saying within an article in “The College Mathematics Journal”. The words were enclosed between quotation marks indicating that Snee disclaimed credit; however, no attribution was given: 7

Good decisions are based on facts, not opinions and emotions. We must adopt the view of

“In God we trust, others must have data.”

A new generation of textbooks is needed to help students understand this approach to teaching and using statistics.

In 1994 a commentary in “The American Statistician” printed the adage while pointing to the article by Snee: 8

As Snee (1988, p. 31) wrote, “In God we trust, others must have data.”

In conclusion, Edwin R. Fisher employed the saying in 1978, but he disclaimed credit by calling it a “well-recognized cliché”. This was the first known instance; hence, the saying is anonymous. Future researchers may uncover more revealing citations. The linkage to W. Edwards Deming appeared several years later, and there is no substantive support for assigning the saying to that famous engineer.

Image Notes: Creation of Adam, Fresco in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been altered, retouched, and resized.

(Great thanks to Erin Bolen whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Bolen mentioned Bernard Fischer as a candidate and pointed to a book by Siddhartha Mukherjee which included a bibliographic note referring to the 1979 citation. Special thanks to the volunteer editors of Wikiquote for listing the 1978 citation; also thanks to Barry Popik for his pioneering research.)

 

Notes:

  1. 1978, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Tobacco of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, Ninety-Fifth Congress, Second Session, Title of Hearing: Effect of Smoking on Nonsmokers, Date of Hearing: September 7, 1978, Statement of Edwin R. Fisher M.D. (Director of Laboratories, Shadyside Hospital, and Professor of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine), Start Page 2, Quote Page 5, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust) link
  2. 1979 October 29, The Washington Post, Treating Breast Cancer: Findings Question Need for Removal (Last of two articles) by Susan Okie (Washington Post Staff Writer), Start Page A1, Quote Page A24, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  3. 1984, School Psychology: Essentials of Theory and Practice by Cecil R. Reynolds, Terry B. Gutkin, Stephen N. Elliott, and Joseph C. Witt, See Bibliographical Item on Page 367, Also See Quote Page 307, John Wiley & Sons, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1985 August, The American Statistician, Volume 39, Number 3, Article: The Key Role of Statisticians in the Transformation of North American Industry, Author: Brian L. Joiner, Start Page 224, Quote Page 226, Published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the American Statistical Association. (JSTOR) link
  5. 1986, The Deming Management Method by Mary Walton, Chapter 20: Doing It with Data, Quote Page 26, A Perigee Book: The Berkley Publishing Group, A Division of Penguin Group, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  6. 1987 August 3, The Des Moines Register, Section: Letters to the Editor, Letter from Robert V. Hogg (President-elect, American Statistical Association), Quote Page 7A, Column 3,Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1988 January, The College Mathematics Journal, Volume 19, Number 1, Article: Mathematics Is Only One Tool That Statisticians Use, Author: Ronald D. Snee (Engineering Department, E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company), Start Page 30, Quote Page 31, Publisher: Mathematical Association of America. (JSTOR) link
  8. 1994 May, The American Statistician, Volume 48, Number 2, Article: Embracing the “Wider View” of Statistics, Author: C. J. Wild, Start Page 163, Quote Page 167 and 168, Publisher: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the American Statistical Association. (JSTOR) link