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Willful Ignorance: The Mismeasure of Uncertainty by Herbert Weisberg

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CHAPTER 10 THE DECISION FACTORY

It is a beautiful early spring morning on the outskirts of London in 1919.1 The 29-year-old Ronald Fisher, deep in contemplation, walks briskly along the two-mile route from his home to the local post office. There, he intends to mail a letter that will alter his life for good or ill. A small cloud of smoke emanates from the pipe that has become almost a permanent fixture in his mouth. For the last few weeks, he has suffered an agony of uncertainty, but he is now firmly resolved. The path he has chosen is unconventional, but offers the best chance to accomplish something truly significant.

So far, his working life has been one of utter frustration, despite the great promise of his undergraduate years at Cambridge, and the unquestioned brilliance he displayed there in studies of mathematics, astronomy, and biology. He is especially bitter about being forced to sit out the recently concluded Great War, rejected from military service because of his extreme nearsightedness. Professionally he has tried his hand at teaching mathematics in secondary school and performing statistical analyses for an investment house. He considers himself an abject failure in both of these endeavors.

As the post office comes into view, Fisher hesitates slightly and ruminates for the hundredth time on the opportunity he is walking away from. Karl Pearson has offered him the post of chief statistician at the Galton Laboratory. There he would be at the forefront of research ...

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