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A Panorama of Statistics by Peter Petocz, Eric Sowey

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22 History of ideas: statistical personalities and the personalities of statisticians

How much do you know about the historical development of today’s theory and practice of statistics?

The modern field of statistics is the cumulative intellectual achievement of hundreds of gifted thinkers over at least the past 400 years and, particularly, since about 1860. To learn about the history of ideas in statistics is to discover the names of those gifted statistical personalities. The scholarly literature of statistics may concentrate on the ideas and give the names only passing regard, but we should not take this as a signal that the names are unimportant. The names are important – not in themselves but, rather, for who they were, these energetic and creative builders of modern statistics. Knowing something of the personalities of these statisticians, we can hope for insights on ‘how they did it’.

In this hope, we statisticians are certainly not unique. It has long been popular to seek, in the personalities and life‐paths of the gifted, clues to their remarkable achievements – whether the gifted are thinkers (philosophers, historians, scientists, trainers, etc.) or doers (political leaders, explorers, engineers, athletes, etc.).

Sometimes, this pursuit is disappointing. The lives of the composer Mozart and the painter Rembrandt, for instance, offer few insights on how they created the works of genius that we treasure today. However, there are many other historical personalities ...

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