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The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 [Paperback]

Sm Stigler

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Book Description

1 July 1990
This magnificent book is the first comprehensive history of statistics from its beginnings around 1700 to its emergence as a distinct and mature discipline around 1900. Stephen M. Stigler shows how statistics arose from the interplay of mathematical concepts and the needs of several applied sciences including astronomy, geodesy, experimental psychology, genetics, and sociology. He addresses many intriguing questions: How did scientists learn to combine measurements made under different conditions? And how were they led to use probability theory to measure the accuracy of the result? Why were statistical methods used successfully in astronomy long before they began to play a significant role in the social sciences? How could the introduction of least squares predate the discovery of regression by more than eighty years? On what grounds can the major works of men such as Bernoulli, De Moivre, Bayes, Quetelet, and Lexis be considered partial failures, while those of Laplace, Galton, Edgeworth, Pearson, and Yule are counted as successes? How did Galton's probability machine (the quincunx) provide him with the key to the major advance of the last half of the nineteenth century? Stigler's emphasis is upon how, when, and where the methods of probability theory were developed for measuring uncertainty in experimental and observational science, for reducing uncertainty, and as a conceptual framework for quantative studies in the social sciences. He describes with care the scientific context in which the different methods evolved and identifies the problems (conceptual or mathematical) that retarded the growth of mathematical statistics and the conceptual developments that permitted major breakthroughs. Statisticians, historians of science, and social and behavioral scientists will gain from this book a deeper understanding of the use of statistical methods and a better grasp of the promise and limitations of such techniques. The product of ten years of research, The History of Statistics will appeal to all who are interested in the humanistic study of science.

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The book is a pleasure to read: the prose sparkles; the protagonists are vividly drawn; the illustrations are handsome and illuminating; the insights plentiful and sharp. This will remain the definitive work on the early development of mathematical statistics for some time to come. -- Lorraine J. Daston Journal of Modern History An exceptionally searching, almost loving, study of the relevant inspirations and aberrations of its principal characters James Bernoulli, de Moivre, Bayes, Laplace, Gauss, Quetelet, Lexis, Galton, Edgeworth, and Pearson, not neglecting a grand supporting cast...The definitive record of an intellectual Golden Age, an overoptimistic climb to a height not to be maintained. -- M. Stone Science One is tempted to say that the history of statistics in the nineteenth century will be associated with the name Stigler. -- Morris Kline New York Times Book Review In this tour de force of careful scholarship, Stephen Stigler has laid bare the people, ideas, and events underlying the development of statistics...He has written an important and wonderful book...Sometimes Stigler's prose is so evocative it is almost poetic. -- Howard Wainer Contemporary Psychology

About the Author

Stephen M. Stigler is Professor of Statistics at the University of Chicago.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The difinitive work on the development of ststistics 19 Jan 2000
By Chris McKinstry - Published on Amazon.com
This book is THE definitive work on the early development of statistics. Obviously written by a man in love with his subject. Bernoulli, de Moivre, Bayes, Laplace, Gauss, Quetelet, Lexis, Galton, Edgeworth and Pearson all but come alive. I particularly enjoyed the reproductions of first sources included that you would otherwise have to travel to Paris to see.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great perspective on a key period in the development of statistical science 6 Feb 2008
By Michael R. Chernick - Published on Amazon.com
Stigler is unrivaled as a statistician who researches the history of statistics. This covers the famous mathematicians and statisticians who developed the foundation on which probability and statistics blossomed in the 20th Century. He is thorough and accurate and his writing is always clear and interesting. After reading this try Salsburg's "Lady Tasting Tea" to see how Fisher, Cramer, Neyman and Pearson and Kolmogorov and others formally developed probabilty and mathematical statistics as important disciplines in the 20th Century.

Always enjoyable and enlightening, Stigler brings an unparalleled degree of scholarship to the essays.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent content, turgid prose 4 July 2003
By Diego Banducci - Published on Amazon.com
Professor Stigler is an academic, and writes like one. He is obviously knowledgeable; this book will appeal to professional statisticians.

For intelligent laymen with a general interest in the history of statistics, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein and The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century by David Salsburg will be equally informative and far more enjoyable. Both authors are as knowledgeable as Professor Stigler, but write more clearly.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great background for students 6 Jan 2008
By William Addington - Published on Amazon.com
I love history of mathematics books like this one that have the guts to delve into the actual mathematics involved while retaining a narrative thread. I use it with my children to illustrate why mathematics is important. What problems were people trying to solve? How solutions were arrived at in steps over time rather than as deus ex machina. This is much more effective than presenting mathematics as most schools, out of context as a series of recipes. The book is divided into three main parts:

The Development of Mathematical Statistics in Astronomy and Geodesy before 1827

The Struggle to Extend a Calculus of Probabilities to the Social Sciences

A Breakthorugh in Studies of Heredity
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Coverage of the History of Statistics Before 1900 1 May 2010
By Suppiluliuma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding book. As a Statistics student, I can't imagine reading anything better on this subject. The math in the book is in-depth enough such that I can relate historical developments of various statistical theory and technique to what I have done (and, for that matter, that which I have yet to do) and it was possible to reproduce some of the calculations on my own (which was quite enjoyable). Overall, this is an excellent book--I can't recommend it enough.
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