Statistics on the Table

Statistics on the Table: The History of Statistical Concepts and Methods brings together a selection of Stephen M. Stigler’s essays on selected topics in the history of statistics. Although all are written in a witty and engaging style, many are fairly technical and contain equations that will be beyond readers who do not have advanced training in mathematics or statistics.

The book of twenty-two previously published essays is divided into five parts. Part I, entitled “Statistics and Social Science,” contains essays that describe a debate between pioneer statistician Karl Pearson and influential Cambridge economists in the early twentieth century, the development of the concept of “the average man” by early nineteenth century statistician Adolphe Quetelet, the work of nineteenth century British statistician William Stanley Jevons, and the work of nineteenth and twentieth century statistician Francis Ysidro Edgeworth.

The essays presented under the title “Galtonian Ideas” deal with the contributions of the late nineteenth century British scholar Francis Galton. They discuss how Galton developed techniques for using fingerprints in forensic science, his invention of a device for stochastic simulation, and, in the two final essays, Galton’s contributions to the concept of regression to the mean.

In the final sections, “Some Seventeenth Century Explorers” looks at some fairly obscure instances of early statistical thinking; “Questions of Discovery” contains five essays that deal with the question of who discovered some of the major concepts in statistics; and “Questions of Standards” presents three essays that consider the history of the idea of the statistical standard, the pyx, a traditional English technique of establishing a standard of purity in coinage, and the history of the term “normal.”