Stats without Tears
Big Names in Statistics
Updated 16 Oct 2014
Copyright © 2013–2017 by Stan Brown
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If you print, I suggest black-and-white,
“Kip, do you think that table was brought down from on
high by an archangel?”
Robert A. Heinlein, in Have Space Suit—Will Travel
Math and science books tend to spend all their time teaching
you the concepts, but the fact that these concepts were invented by
people gets lost. Here’s a rundown of the people who
invented most of the concepts that you meet in a first course in
statistics. (I’ve made extensive use of
Upton & Cook 2008 [see “Sources Used” at end of book] in
preparing this page.)
Don’t panic! While I think it’s nice if you know
that these people existed, you won’t be quizzed on who invented
You might like to visit
Figures from the History of Probability and Statistics
(Aldrich 2012 [see “Sources Used” at end of book]). Aldrich puts these people,
and lots more, in a time sequence and shows pictures of many of
- Bernoulli, Jacob or Jacques (1654–1705), Swiss
- Member of a famous mathematical family.
Formulated the law of large
numbers in 1689.
Bernoulli trials are named after
him, and he developed the binomial
distribution, though this work was not published till eight years
after his death.
- Bradford Hill, Sir Austin (1897–1991), English
- With Sir Richard Doll, published the first paper linking smoking
and lung cancer,
Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung
(1950). Is best known for the 1965 paper
The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation?
In it, he laid out nine criteria for confirming when A really is a
cause of B and not merely associated. For a short summary of the
criteria, see Wikipedia’s
Bradford Hill criteria
or Steve Simon’s
- Fisher, Sir Ronald Aylmer (1890–1962), English
- Referred to as R. A. Fisher.
Coined the term variance and
assigned it the symbol σ² in 1918.
Developed the ANOVA procedure for
testing equality of three or more means in 1918, and the F
distribution in 1922.
Published the Fisher z distribution (different from the normal
distribution) in 1924 in a paper called
“On a Distribution Yielding the Error Functions of Several
Well-Known Statistics”; among other uses, it determines the
confidence interval for the
correlation coefficient of a population.
Gave the mathematical derivation of Gosset’s
t distribution in 1925.
“Virtually invented the subject of experimental design”
(Upton & Cook) and brought out editions of Statistical
Methods for Research Workers every few years from 1925 until
- Gauss, Johann Carl Friedrich (1777–1855), German
- Hugely prolific mathematician and astronomer.
Said by Isaac Asimov to be the last mathematician to publish papers
Published in 1823 a paper with the resounding title “Theoria
Combinationis Observationum Erroribus Minimis Obnoxiae”, giving
the theory of least squares
As part of this work, he had to find an appropriate probability
distribution for the errors, which we now know as the normal distribution.
- Gosset, William Sealy (1876–1937), English
- In 1908, while working for Guinness, he tested small samples
of the product and realized that existing statistical theory of small
samples was wrong. He then discovered and named the
t distribution, which is followed by
the means of samples where the standard deviation of the population is
unknown. (R. A. Fisher later derived that
distribution mathematically.) Because company policy did not allow
him to publish under his own name, he used the pseudonym
“Student”, and the t distribution is still known as
“Student’s t” because of this.
- Laplace, Pierre-Simon, Marquis de (1749 1827), French
- Mathematician and mathematical physicist.
Ennobled as a count by Napoleon in 1806, then created a marquis by
Louis XVIII in 1817.
Developed the Central Limit
Theorem in Théorie analytique des
- Neyman, Jerzy (1894–1981), Polish American
- Studied under Karl Pearson. With
Egon Pearson, published the 1933 paper that
set out the standard method of testing hypotheses.
- Pearson, Egon Sharpe (1895–1980), English
- Son of Karl Pearson.
With Jerzy Neyman, invented the standard
approach to hypothesis testing, with null and alternative hypotheses.
They published their paper, “On the Problem of the Most Efficient
Tests of Statistical Hypotheses”, in Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society
- Pearson, Karl (1857–1936), English
- Invented the term histogram
in lectures some time before 1895.
Named the standard deviation in
1893, and gave the population standard deviation the symbol σ
correlation coefficient in a paper
published in 1896. Devised the χ²
goodness-of-fit test in 1900.
- Tukey, John Wilder (1915–2000), American
- Coined the word “bit” in 1946 and the word
“software” in 1958. Introduced the
stem-and-leaf plot and the
box-whisker diagram in his book
Exploratory Data Analysis in 1970. Invented the
Honestly Significant Difference test
to be done after an ANOVA. He
wrote this up but circulated it informally from 1953 till it was
finally published in J. W. Tukey’s Collected Works
during the middle 1980s and early 1990s.