Who is the datasaur?

My name is Andy Zehner.

I’ve been analyzing data for more than 30 years and am now working for the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Effectiveness at Purdue University. I call myself the datasaur because I tend to use pretty hoary old methods that are nonetheless effective, appropriate, and useful.

I grew up on a farm and have worked at various times on a road construction gang, as a radio DJ and news reporter, a bicycle messenger, English teacher, missionary and contract researcher/writer. I’ve lived most of my life in Indiana, but spent two or more years in each of northern Virginia, suburban Maryland, the rain forests of Liberia in West Africa, and high in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.

As much as I enjoyed physical travel throughout the globe, I’ve also enjoyed mental travel in the company of philosophers and great thinkers. I would mention CS Lewis and GK Chesterton as good men of the last century who wrote sensibly about how people ought to think about God and each other. I appreciate most of the historic philosophers but would put Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Burke and Kierkegaard on my top shelf. (Metaphorically speaking. In fact, the stuff on the top shelf tends to be what I don’t look at often.)

Axel Oxenstierna, a Swedish diplomat and statesman in the mid 17th century,  wrote in a letter to his son, “An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur?” which translates to, “Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”

He makes two points, I think. First, that rulers aren’t always very smart, and rarely does the kind of person who craves power hold back from doubt of his ability to rule well. But second, I think Oxenstierna was saying that no great deal of wisdom is needed.

Indeed, the great fact of human civilization is that most people in most places at most times get up every day and more or less do their jobs. We are taught that affluence or poverty, risk or security, rise or decline, contentment or distress, are always the consequence of what powerful actors do. The Egyptian pharaohs made this claim, and so do politicians today. But except in rare cases like Easter Island during its demise or Nazi Germany, rulers at most add or take away a small part of  what would happen anyway. I have lived in two very corrupt and inefficient societies (Liberia and Kyrgyzstan), where the government was certainly a detriment. And yet the people there ate food, wore clothes and lived in houses just as we do in a free and flourishing America. I have lived in a city that was run by a very good mayor (Indianapolis in the 1980s under William H. Hudnut III), and yet crime, inclement weather and other uncertainties caused anxiety there as it did in those two countries on the verge or revolutions. The consistent factor is that people muddle through in all circumstances.


My wife and I live in an old farmhouse in rural Indiana with a diminishing share of our original four daughters (three are up and gone) and too many cats and dogs. (Not my idea.)

I play a tobacco sunburst Fender Stratocaster through a Line 6 Spider IV amplifier. (Which means I don’t care much about equipment. The Line 6 is a cheapie!)