Historical Spotlight: Jacob Wolfowitz

World War II was a crucible of technological innovation, including advances in statistics. Jacob Wolfowitz, born a century ago (1920), looked at the problem of noisy radio transmissions. Coded radio transmissions were critical elements of military command and control, and they were plagued by the…

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Historical Spotlight: Ronald A. Fisher

In 1919, Ronald A. Fisher was appointed as chief statistician at the agricultural research station in Rothamsted, a post created for him. His work there resulted, in 1925, in the publication of his classic Statistical Methods for Research Workers. An important message of his book…

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Historical Spotlight: Alan Turing

80 years ago, in 1939, Alan Turing began work on the code-breaking system that would eventually prove key in helping Britain survive the German submarine threat in the Atlantic. Last month, the Turing Award in computer science prize (sometimes referred to as the "Nobel Prize…

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Darwin’s Legacy in Statistics

Charles Darwin, the most famous grandson of the Enlightenment thinker Erasmus Darwin, published his ground-breaking theory of evolution, “The Origin of Species,”160 years ago. Another grandson of Erasmus, Francis Galton, became one of the founding fathers of statistics (correlation, the “wisdom of the crowd,” regression…

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Good to Great

In 1994, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, former and current Stanford professors, published the best-seller Built to Last that described how "long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise."  It sold over a million copies. Buoyed by that success, Collins and a…

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Space Shuttle Explosion

In 1986, the U.S. space shuttle Challenger exploded several minutes after launch. A later investigation found that the cause of the disaster was O-ring failure, due to cold temperatures. The temperature at launch was 39 degrees, colder than any prior launch. The cold caused the…

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Historical Spotlight – ISOQOL

25 years ago the International Society of Quality of Life Research was founded with a mission to advance the science of quality of life and related patient-centered outcomes in health research, care and policy. While focusing on quality of life (QOL) in healthcare may seem…

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Things are Getting Better

In the visualization below, which line do you think represents the UN's forecast for the number of children in the world in the year 2100? Hans Rosling, in his book Factfulness, presents this chart and notes that in a sample of Norwegian teachers, only 9%…

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Deming’s Funnel Problem

W. Edwards Deming's funnel problem is one of statistics' greatest hits. Deming was a noted statistician who took the statistical process control methods of Shewhart and expanded them into a holistic approach to manufacturing quality. Initially, his ideas were cooly received in the US and…

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The Evolution of Clinical Trials

Boiling oil versus egg yolks One early clinical trial was accidental. In the 16th century, a common treatment for wounded soldiers was to pour boiling oil on their wounds. In 1537, the surgeon Ambroise Pare, attending French soldiers, ran out of oil one evening. He…

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Historical Spotlight: Risk Simulation – Since 1946

Simulation - a Venerable History One of the most consequential and valuable analytical tools in business is simulation, which helps us make decisions in the face of uncertainty, such as these:   An airline knows on average, what proportion of ticketed passengers show up for a…

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100 years of variance

It is 100 years since R A Fischer introduced the concept of "variance" (in his 1918 paper "The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance"). There is much that statistics has given us in the century that followed. Randomized clinical trials, and the means…

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Early Data Scientists

Casting back long before the advent of Deep Learning for the "founding fathers" of data science, at first glance you would rule out antecedents who long predate the computer and data revolutions of the last quarter century. But some consider John Tukey (right), the Princeton statistician…

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Python for Analytics

Python started out as a general purpose language when it was created in 1991 by Guido van Rossum. It was embraced early on by Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page ("Python where we can, C++ where we must" was reputedly their mantra). In 2006,…

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Historical Spotlight: Eugenics – journey to the dark side at the dawn of statistics

April 27 marks the 80th anniversary of the death of Karl Pearson, who contributed to statistics the correlation coefficient, principal components, the (increasingly-maligned) p-value, and much more. Pearson was one of a trio of founding fathers of modern statistics, the others being Francis Galton and…

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