Download PDF The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

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The Lady Tasting Tea is not a book of dry facts and figures, but the history of great individuals who dared to look at the world in a new way. Highly readable, well-written prose that avoids mathematical symbols and intricacies. Get the book for your own educational pleasure, or give it to someone you want to delight. Feinstein, M. He writes with both experience and insight, and with a happy lack of technical barriers between the reader and his subject. Particularly well told is the story of Ronald Fisher, the double genius who founded both mathematical statistics and mathematical genetics.

If scientists were judged by their influence on science then Fisher would rank with Einstein and Pauling at the top of the modern ladder. A charming collection of vignettes about those who created and sustained twentieth century statistics. Such characters as Cornfield, Deming, Lindeberg, Tukey, Wilcoxon, and Wilks are introduced as interesting personalities and contributors to their craft. The Lady Tasting Tea will stand as a terrific read for all whose interest in statistics extends beyond the equations and envelopes the personalities, the problems, and the paradigms in the century when it all began.

Salsburg has an encyclopedic command of the anecdotes about statisticians. Salsburg, readers delight in. The pleasures of the book emerge easily. Salsburg describes the careers, contributions, and foibles of people whose names are common eponyms in biomedical articles: Pearson correlation coefficient, Fisher exact test, Student t test. The book is a popular history, not a scholarly treatise.

The result is a lively succession of anecdotes filled with humor, academic rivalry, and adventure. To make the general reader comfortable, there are no mathematical symbols, formulae, or tables. Salsburg has concentrated on relating interesting stories. There are stories of statisticians who fled to Western Europe or the United States to escape poverty, fascism, or communism.

The tales of success by women in the field are especially enjoyable. One of the best is about the lady in the book's title. At an afternoon tea in Cambridge in the late s, she claimed that she could taste the difference between tea into which milk had been poured and tea that had been poured into milk.

Ronald Aylmer Fisher, the statistician who invented the randomized controlled trial in agricultural research devised a randomized trial of the woman's contention on the spot. Fisher later related this experiment in a book but never gave the results of the taste tests; Salsburg reveals the answer. The book does a fine job of telling about the fierce rivalries between the giants of statistics in the early part of the century. Karl Pearson who changed his first initial from C to K, in admiration of Karl Marx was the dominant figure in the field when the 20th century began.

The brilliant R. Fisher, an upstart from an agricultural research station, eventually overshadowed [Karl] Pearson and took pleasure in diminishing Pearson's accomplishments. In Fisher's later years, he devoted energy to attacking the work of Egon Pearson, the statistician who was Karl's son. The scope of the book includes statistics in economics and other areas. But Salsburg's own background is in the medical uses of statistics, and this is reflected in the book's content.

Medical readers may especially enjoy the chapter about Fisher's attacks on the theory that smoking caused lung cancer. In addition to relating many short biographies, Salsburg covers several themes. He does a nice job of describing the growth of statistics as an academic discipline. He explains well how scientific thinking has been influenced by theories about measurement error. He makes the reader aware that there are important debates about the use and meaning of P values and hypothesis tests. In addition, the book gently introduces readers to many concepts, methods, and terms, for example, maximum likelihood and bootstrap methods.

I recommend this book to physicians in training who would like to know about the people who invented the statistical methods that are now taught to medical students and research fellows. I recommend it to any reader who enjoys reading about the history of science. Not Exactly. Kees van Deemter. Why the Mind Is Not a Computer. Raymond Tallis.

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