New Names For Statistical Methods

December 16, 2012

(This article was originally published at Normal Deviate, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Statisticians and Computer Scientists have done a pretty poor job of thinking of names for procedures. Names are important. No one is going to use a method called “the Stalin-Mussolini Matrix Completion Algorithm.” But who would pass up the opportunity to use the “Schwarzenegger-Shatner Statistic.” So, I have decided to offer some suggestions for re-naming some of our procedures. I am open to further suggestions.

Bayesian Inference. Bayes did use his famous theorem to do a calculation. But it was really Laplace who systematically used Bayes’ theorem for inference.
New Name: Laplacian Inference.

Bayesian Nets. A Bayes nets is just a directed acyclic graph endowed with probability distribution. This has nothing to do with Bayesian — oops, I mean Laplacian — inference. According to Wikipedia, it was Judea Pearl who came up with the name.
New Name: Pearl Graph.

The Bayes Classification Rule. Give {(X,Y)}, with {Y\in \{0,1\}}, the optimal classifier is to guess that {Y=1} when {P(Y=1|X=x)\geq 1/2} and to guess that {Y=0} when {P(Y=1|X=x)< 1/2}. This is often called the Bayes rule. This is confusing for many reasons. Since this rule is a sort of gold standard how about:
New Name: The Golden Rule.

Unbiased Estimator. Talk about a name that promises more than it delivers.
New Name: Mean Centered Estimator.

Credible Set. This is a set with a specified posterior probability content such as: here is a 95 percent credible set. Might as well make it sound more exciting.
New Name: Incredible Set.

Confidence Interval. I am tempted to suggest “Uniform Frequency Coverage Set” but that’s clumsy. However it does yield a good acronym if you permute the letter a bit.
New Name: Coverage Set.

The Bootstrap. If I remember correctly, Brad Efron considered several names and John Tukey suggested “the shotgun.” Brad, you should have listened to Tukey.
New Name: The Shotgun.

Causal Inference. For some reason, whenever I try to type “causal” I end up typing “casual.” Anyway, the mere mention of causation upsets some people. Some people call causal inference “the analysis of treatment effects” but that’s boring. I suggest we go with the opposite of casual:
New Name: Formal Inference.

The Central Limit Theorem. Boring! For historical reasons I suggest:
de Moivre’s Theorem.

The Law of Large Numbers. Another boring name. Again, to respect history I suggest:
New Name: Bernoulli’s Theorem.

Minimum Variance Unbiased Estimator. Let’s just eliminate this one.

The lasso. Nice try Rob, but most people don’t even know what it stands for. How about this:
New Name: the Taser. (Tibshirani’s Awesome Sparse Estimator for regression).

Stigler’s law of eponymy. If you don’t know what this is, check it out on Wikipedia. The you’ll understand why it name should be:
New Name: Stigler’s law of eponymy.

Neural nets. Let’s call them what they are.
(Not so) New name: Nonlinear regression.

p-values. I hope you’ll agree that this is a less than inspiring name. The best I can come up with is:
New Name: Fisher Statistic.

Support Vector Machines. This might get the award for the worst name ever. Sounds like some industrial device in a factory. Since we already like the acronym VC, I suggest:
New Name: Vapnik Classifier.

U-statistic. I think this one is obvious.
New Name: iStatistic.

Kernels. In statistics, this refers to a type of local smoothing, such as kernel density estimation and Nadaraya-Watson kernel regression. Some people use “Parzen Window” which sounds like something you buy when remodeling your house. But in Machine Learning it is used to refer to Mercer kernels with play a part in Reproducing Kernel Hilbert Spaces. We don’t really need new names we just need to clarify how we use the terms:
New Usage: Smoothing Kernels for density estimators etc. Mercer kernels for kernels that generate a RKHS.

Reproducing Kernel Hilbert Space. Saying this phrase is exhausting. The acronym RKHS is not much better. If we used history as a guide we’d say Aronszajn-Bergman space but that’s just as clumsy. How about:
New Name: Mercer Space.

0. No constant is used more than 0. Since no one else has ever names it, this is my chance for a place in history.
New Name: Wasserman’s Constant.

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