A radical idea: Retiring standard deviation

Barb ClearyNassim Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Enginnering at New York University School of Engineering, suggests that the notion of standard deviation should be retired, or at least eliminated in statistical investigations.

“The notion of standard deviation has confused hordes of scientists; it is time to retire it from common use and replace it with the more effective one of mean deviation. Standard deviation, STD, should be left to mathematicians, physicists and mathematical statisticians deriving limit theorems. There is no scientific reason to use it in statistical investigations in the age of the computer, as it does more harm than good—particularly with the growing class of people in social science mechanistically applying statistical tools to scientific problems.” http://www.edge.org/response-detail/25401

While standard deviation is part of the fundamental thinking of statisticians, can the term be replaced with something more useful? He allows that the term should be left to mathematicians, physicists and mathematical statisticians.

What is your reaction to this possibility? Does it do “more harm than good” in statistical investigations? While Taleb addresses his comments to social science in particular, it’s clear that his assertions apply to a broad range of statistical research.

Let us hear your responses to Professor Taleb’s suggestion.