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Of rabbits and cannons

When does it make sense to shoot a rabbit with a cannon?

I was reminded of this question recently when I happened to come across this exchange in the comments section from a couple years ago, in the context of the finding patterns in the frequencies of births on different days:

Rahul: Yes, inverting a million element matrix for this sort of problem does have the feel of killing mice with cannon.

Andrew: In many areas of research, you start with the cannon. Once the mouse is dead and you can look at it carefully from all angles, you can design an effective mousetrap. Red State Blue State went the same way: we found the big pattern only after fitting a multilevel model, but once we knew what we were looking for, it was possible to see it in the raw data.


  1. David Pollock says:

    This is funny, but the problem with shooting rabbits (or mice) with cannons is that you are expending a great deal of energy and still reasonably likely to miss.

  2. Jonathan Silverman says:

    Having recently watched “Gangs of New York” (and apologizing for somewhat off topic comment — on topic for dead rabbits but not statistics and causality) couldn’t read this without thinking of Daniel Day-Lewis’s brilliant monologue re murder of “poor little rabbit.”

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