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Staff (Retired)
Sall: Outliers can be diamonds, not dirt

Historically, statistics have been used to prove things that are already known, rather than to find new things. “But statistics can also lead to discoveries if you have the right attitude – one that is open to discovery,” John Sall told participants at the Innovators’ Summit this morning.

For instance, British scientists discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica in 1985, using balloons that they floated into the atmosphere to measure ozone levels. But American scientists could have made the discovery much earlier with a satellite that had been orbiting the globe since 1978, taking ozone measurements as it traveled. Every time the satellite passed over Antarctica, the ozone readings were so low that the American scientists discounted them.

“They didn’t believe the data,” Sall explained. “The attitude was, this is an outlier, and outliers are dirt. The right attitude would be, outliers can also be diamonds.”

Sall, Executive Vice President of SAS and the lead developer of JMP software, also demonstrated how JMP helps lead to discoveries, showing dynamic models of hurricane patterns in the United States and SAT scores by state using JMP 7 technology. “It’s not our job just to crank through statistics, but also to learn new things,” he said.

Discovery is the theme at the Innovators’ Summit, now in its third and final day. Other presenters today will include statistics experts Dick DeVeaux, PhD, a professor at Williams College, as well as representatives of McDonald’s, PNC Financial Services, Capital One and Emergent BioSolutions, which makes the only anthrax vaccine in the U.S. approved by the FDA. For the complete agenda, click here.

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