Monday, May 08, 2006

Most models are wrong, but some are useful

That's a paraphrase of an observation by George Box. The actual statement by Professor Box is longer and rather convoluted. Its common misquotations are actually more eloquent and rather profound.

I have used the most common phrasing, "All models are wrong, but some are useful", as a signature in my online conversations during the past couple of years.

It occurred to me that the statement itself is a sort of model, and that it should be subject to its own wisdom. An absolute assertion such as "All models" begs for a counterexample, which is exactly the sort of nitpicking that Box tried to discredit. And since it's already a misquote, I think it's within the spirit of the statement to phrase it as:

Most models are wrong, but some are useful.

I've found that statement describes a very, very useful way to think about our world. I use it daily to figure out how to fit together disparate puzzle piece ideas.

Thanks, Professor Box, for contributing such a useful model to our often puzzling world.

1 comment:

GreenSmile said...

I was probably thinkg about models in a very different way when i first posted about them...and looking back at that post, I see I have begun to repeat myself only with footnotes this time around.

and yes, I have lived to regret "all" or gone back and changed it to "most" many times.