10. The historical chronology of Statistics
Updated: Jan 7
This video gives some detailed information about the history of statistics from 450 AD to 2012. The history of statistics is outlined from 450 BC to 2012 with 67 main milestones.
The information presented in this video is based on the study of American Statistical Association and Royal Statistical Society.
450 BC Hippias of Elis uses the average value of the length of a king’s reign (the mean) to work out the date of the first Olympic Games, some 300 years before his time.
431 BC Attackers besieging Plataea in the Peloponnesian war calculate the height of the wall by counting the number of bricks. The count was repeated several times by different soldiers. The most frequent value (the mode) was taken to be the most likely. Multiplying it by the height of one brick allowed them to calculate the length of the ladders needed to scale the walls.
400 BC In the Indian epic the Mahabharata, King Rtuparna estimates the number of fruit and leaves (2095 fruit and 50 000 000 leaves) on two great branches of a vibhitaka tree by counting the number on a single twig, then multiplying by the number of twigs. The estimate is found to be very close to the actual number. This is the first recorded example of sampling – “but this knowledge is kept secret”, says the account.
AD 2 Chinese census under the Han dynasty finds 57.67 million people in 12.36 million households – the first census from which data survives, and still considered by scholars to have been accurate.
AD 7 Census by Quirinus, governor of the Roman province of Judea, is mentioned in Luke’s Gospel as causing Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem to be taxed.
840 Islamic mathematician Al-Kindi uses frequency analysis – the most common symbols in a coded message will stand for the most common letters – to break secret codes. Al-Kindi also introduces Arabic numerals to Europe.
950 The earliest known graph, in a commentary on a book by Cicero, shows the movements of the planets through the zodiac. It is apparently intended for use in monastery schools.
1069 Domesday Book: survey for William the Conqueror of farms, villages and livestock in his new kingdom – the start of official statistics in England.
1150 Trial of the Pyx, an annual test of the purity of coins from the Royal Mint, begins. Coins are drawn at random, in fixed proportions to the number minted. It continues to this day.
1188 Gerald of Wales completed the first population census of Wales.
1303 A Chinese diagram entitled “The Old Method Chart of the Seven Multiplying Squares” shows the binomial coefficients up to the eighth power-the numbers that are fundamental to the mathematics of probability, and that appeared five hundred years later in the west as Pascal’s triangle.
1346 Giovanni Villani’s Nuova Cronica gives statistical information on the population and trade of Florence.
1560 Gerolamo Cardano calculates probabilities of different dice throws for gamblers.
1570 Astronomer Tycho Brahe uses the arithmetic mean to reduce errors in his estimates of the locations of stars and planets.
1644 Michael van Langren draws the first known graph of statistical data that shows the size of possible errors. It is of different estimates of the distance between Toledo and Rome.
1654 Pascal and Fermat correspond about dividing stakes in gambling games and together create the mathematical theory of probability.
1657 Huygens’s "On Reasoning in Games of Chance" is the first book on probability theory. He also invented the pendulum clock.
1663 John Graunt uses parish records to estimate the population of London.
1693 Edmund Halley prepares the first mortality tables statistically relating death rates to age – the foundation of life insurance. Edmund Halley also drew a stylised map of the path of a solar eclipse over England – one of the first data visualisation maps.
1713 Jacob Bernoulli’s Ars conjectandi derives the law of large numbers – the more often you repeat an experiment, the more accurately you can predict the result.
1728 Voltaire and his mathematician friend de la Condamine spot that a Paris bond lottery is offering more in prize money than the total cost of the tickets; they corner the market and win themselves a fortune.
1749 Gottfried Achenwall coins the word “statistics” (in German, Statistik); he means the information you need to run a nation state.
1757 Casanova becomes a trustee of, and may have had a hand in devising, the French national lottery.
1761 The Rev. Thomas Bayes proves Bayes’ theorem – the cornerstone of conditional probability and the testing of beliefs and hypotheses.
1786 William Playfair introduces graphs and bar charts to show economic data.
1789 Gilbert White and other clergymen-naturalists keep records of temperatures, dates of first snowdrops and cuckoos, etc; the data is later useful for study of climate change.
1790 First US census, taken by men on horseback directed by Thomas Jefferson, counts 3.9 million Americans.
1791 First use of the word “statistics” in English, by Sir John Sinclair in his Statistical Account of Scotland.
1805 Adrien-Marie Legendre introduces the method of least squares for fitting a curve to a given set of observations.
1808 Gauss, with contributions from Laplace, derives the normal distribution – the bell-shaped curve fundamental to the study of variation and error.
1833 The British Association for the Advancement of Science sets up a statistics section. Thomas Malthus, who analysed population growth, and Charles Babbage are members. It later becomes the Royal Statistical Society.
1839 The American Statistical Association is formed. Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie and President Martin Van Buren will become members.
1840 William Farr sets up the official system for recording causes of death in England and Wales. This allows epidemics to be tracked and diseases compared – the start of medical statistics.
1849 Charles Babbage designs his “difference engine”, embodying the ideas of data handling and the modern computer. Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s niece, writes the world’s first computer program for it.
1854 John Snow’s “cholera map” pins down the source of an outbreak as a water pump in Broad Street, London, beginning the modern study of epidemics.
1859 Florence Nightingale uses statistics of Crimean War casualties to influence public opinion and the War Office. She shows casualties month by month on a circular chart she devises, the “Nightingale rose”, forerunner of the pie chart. Florence Nightingale is the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society and the first overseas member of the American Statistical Association.
1868 Minard’s graphic diagram of Napoleon’s March on Moscow shows on one diagram the distance covered, the number of men still alive at each kilometre of the march, and the temperatures they encountered on the way.
1877 Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, describes regression to the mean. At a “Guess the weight of an Ox” contest in Devon he describes the “Wisdom of Crowds” – that the average of many uninformed guesses is close to the correct value.
1886 Philanthropist Charles Booth begins his survey of the London poor, to produce his “poverty map of London”. Areas were coloured black, for the poorest, through to yellow for the upper-middle class and wealthy.
1894 Karl Pearson introduces the term “standard deviation”. If errors are normally distributed, 68% of samples will lie within one standard deviation of the mean. Later he develops chi-squared tests for whether two variables are independent of each other.
1898 Von Bortkiewicz’s data on deaths of soldiers in the Prussian army from horse kicks shows that apparently rare events follow a predictable pattern, the Poisson distribution.
1900 Louis Bachelier shows that fluctuations in stock market prices behave in the same way as the random Brownian motion of molecules – the start of financial mathematics.
1908 William Sealy Gosset, chief brewer for Guinness in Dublin, describes the t-test. It uses a small number of samples to ensure that every brew tastes equally good.
1911 Herman Hollerith, inventor of punch-card devices used to analyse data in US censuses, merges his company to form what will become IBM, pioneers of machines to handle business data and of early computers.
1916 During the First World War car designer Frederick Lanchester develops statistical laws to predict the outcomes of aerial battles: if you double their size land armies are only twice as strong, but air forces are four times as powerful.
1924 Walter Shewhart invents the control chart to aid industrial production and management
1935 George Zipf finds that many phenomena – river lengths, city populations – obey a power law so that the largest is twice the size of the second largest, three times the size of the third, and so on.
1935 R. A. Fisher revolutionises modern statistics. His Design of Experiments gives ways of deciding which results of scientific experiments are significant and which are not.
1937 Jerzy Neyman introduces confidence intervals in statistical testing. His work leads to modern scientific sampling.
1940-45 Alan Turing at Bletchley Park cracks the German wartime Enigma code, using advanced Bayesian statistics and Colossus, the first programmable electronic computer.
1944 The German tank problem: the Allies desperately need to know how many Panther tanks they will face in France on D-Day. Statistical analysis of the serial numbers on gearboxes from captured tanks indicates how many of each are being produced. Statisticians predict 270 a month; reports from intelligence sources predict many fewer. The total turned out to be 276. Statistics had outperformed spies.
1948 Claude Shannon introduces information theory and the “bit” – fundamental to the digital age.
1950 Richard Doll and Bradford Hill establish the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Despite fierce opposition the result is conclusively proved, to huge public health benefit.
1950'ler Genichi Taguchi’s statistical methods to improve the quality of automobile and electronics components revolutionise Japanese industry, which far overtakes western European rivals.
1958 The Kaplan–Meier estimator gives doctors a simple statistical way of judging which treatments work best. It has saved millions of lives.
1972 David Cox’s proportional hazard model and the concept of partial likelihood.
1977 John Tukey introduces the box-plot or box-and-whisker diagram, which shows the quartiles, medians and spread of data in a single image.
1979 Bradley Efron introduces bootstrapping, a simple way to estimate the distribution of almost any sample of data.
1982 Edward Tufte self-publishes The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, setting new standards for graphic visualisation of data.
1988 Margaret Thatcher becomes the first world leader to call for action on climate change.
1993 Programming language “R” is released, now a standard statistical tool.
1997 The term “Big Data” first appears in print.
2002 The amount of information stored digitally surpasses non-digital.
2002 Paul DePodesta uses statistics – “sabermetrics” – to transform the fortunes of the Oakland Athletics baseball team; the film Moneyball tells the story.
2004 Launch of Significance magazine.
2008 Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, says that statistics will be “the sexy profession of the next ten years”.
2012 Nate Silver, statistician, successfully predicts the result in all 50 states in the US Presidential election. He becomes a media star.
2012 The Large Hadron Collider confirms existence of a Higgs boson-like particle with probability of five standard deviations – around one chance in 3.5 million that all they are seeing is coincidence.
As a result, regardless of where you work or what profession you have
If you want to draw conclusions from the data you have,
If you want to understand what the the data tells you or
If you want to listen to the story originated from your data,
Then you should make statistics and its tools and techniques a part of your decision.
The video related to this topic is below.
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