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Celebrating statisticians: Ronald A. Fisher

JMP users have spoken! On LinkedIn and Facebook, they overwhelmingly chose Ronald A. Fisher as the influential statistician to be profiled first in the JMP Blog as part of our celebration of the International Year of Statistics.

Here's what some voters had to say about Fisher:

  • "Fisher laid the foundations for most of experimental design, analysis of variance and much of statistical inference," said Richard De Veaux, Professor at Williams College.
  • "I think he was a genius who created the foundations for modern statistical science," wrote Fiona Sun, Senior Marketing Analytics Manager at VMware.
  • "Fisher is the true visionary and in my opinion deserves a Nobel Prize," said Manny Uy, Professional Staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
  • The first Monday of each month, we'll have a post on one of a dozen statisticians. The 12 statisticians were selected by John Sall, co-founder and Executive VP of SAS and chief architect of JMP.

    So we begin with Fisher! There's plenty to say about him -- indeed whole books -- but here's a sampling of information about him, largely from Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia of Statistical Sciences (2006). Let me know your favorite facts about Fisher in comments.

    Occupations: Mathematician, statistician, evolutionary biologist, geneticist.

    Birth/Death: 17 February 1890 – 29 July 1962. He was born in England and died of colon cancer in Australia.

    Contributions to Statistics: Fisher’s exact test, Fisher’s equation, principles of design of experiments, ANOVA, Fisher's fundamental theorem, Maximum likelihood, Fisher information, Fisher–Kolmogorov equation, Fisher's geometric model, coining the term "null hypothesis," Fiducial inference, Fisher's principle, Fisherian runaway, F-distribution.

    Awards/Recognition: Fellow of the Royal Society (1929), Royal Medal (1938), Guy Medal in Gold (1947), Copley Medal (1956), Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II (1952), Darwin-Wallace Medal (1958). He received honorary doctorates from a number of institutions, including Iowa State University (where he had been a visiting professor), Harvard University and the Indian Statistical Institute.

    Interesting Facts: Fisher had poor eyesight, which made reading difficult; so he learned through listening to others read aloud to him. He started out studying mathematics (and excelling at it) but began to focus on statistics because of his interest in evolutionary theory. After marriage, he became a subsistence farmer. Fisher helped form the Cambridge University Eugenics Society in 1911. He was the father-in-law of George E.P. Box.

    Notable Quotes: “To consult the statistician after an experiment is finished is often merely to ask him to conduct a post mortem examination. He can perhaps say what the experiment died of.” Presidential Address to the First Indian Statistical Congress (1938).

    “In relation to any experiment we may speak of this hypothesis as the 'null hypothesis,' and it should be noted that the null hypothesis is never proved or established, but is possibly disproved, in the course of experimentation. Every experiment may be said to exist only in order to give the facts a chance of disproving the null hypothesis.” The Design of Experiments, Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, p. 18 (1935).

    “We have the duty of formulating, of summarizing, and of communicating our conclusions, in intelligible form, in recognition of the right of other free minds to utilize them in making their own decisions.” “Statistical methods and scientific induction.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, B, 17, 69-78 (1955).

    “I am a well-known statistician and a fairly well-known geneticist, but I have never been consulted on any appointment to a University post in statistics or genetics outside my own Department.” Quoted by A.W.F. Edwards (1990), R.A. Fisher, Twice Professor of Genetics: London and Cambridge, and, “A Fairly Well-Known Geneticist” Biometrics 46, 897-904 (1957).

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    Richard Giambrone wrote:

    For each of the monthly entries, it would be helpful if you could post a short suggested reading list of papers and books by and about the statistician of the month. Thanks.


    Arati Korwar wrote:

    Do any readers have a suggested reading list of Fisher's writings they'd like to offer?


    Celebrating statisticians: Florence Nightingale wrote:

    [...] month we have chosen Florence Nightingale as an influential statistician to celebrate for the International Year of Statistics. While Florence Nightingale is most [...]


    jeremy wrote:

    lets all celebrate the great genius eugenicist?


    The role of statistics in the top public health achievements of the 20th century - The DO Loop wrote:

    [...] between statistician Jerome Cornfield (and colleagues) at the National Institutes of Health and Sir Ronald Fisher, a heavy smoker who was a brilliant statistician but a bully toward those who disagreed with him. [...]


    shariq mir wrote:

    rightly known as the father of modern statistical theory


    Jasmine wrote:

    George Box was Fisher's son-in-law?? wow- this is news! :)