Chapter 10: Processes of Perception and Analysis

Section 9: Statistical Analysis

History [of statistics]

Some computations of odds for games of chance were already made in antiquity. Beginning around the 1200s increasingly elaborate results based on the combinatorial enumeration of possibilities were obtained by mystics and mathematicians, with systematically correct methods being developed in the mid-1600s and early 1700s. The idea of making inferences from sampled data arose in the mid-1600s in connection with estimating populations and developing precursors of life insurance. The method of averaging to correct for what were assumed to be random errors of observation began to be used, primarily in astronomy, in the mid-1700s, while least squares fitting and the notion of probability distributions became established around 1800. Probabilistic models based on random variations between individuals began to be used in biology in the mid-1800s, and many of the classical methods now used for statistical analysis were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the context of agricultural research. In physics fundamentally probabilistic models were central to the introduction of statistical mechanics in the late 1800s and quantum mechanics in the early 1900s. Beginning as early as the 1700s, the foundations of statistical analysis have been vigorously debated, with a succession of fairly specific approaches being claimed as the only ones capable of drawing unbiased conclusions from data. The practical use of statistical analysis began to increase rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly among biological and social scientists, as computers became more widespread. All too often, however, inadequate amounts of data have ended up being subjected to elaborate statistical analyses whose results are then blindly assumed to represent definitive scientific conclusions. In the 1980s, at least in some fields, traditional statistical analysis began to become less popular, being replaced by more direct examination of data presented graphically by computer. In addition, in the 1990s, particularly in the context of consumer electronics devices, there has been an increasing emphasis on using statistical analysis to make decisions from data, and methods such as fuzzy logic and neural networks have become popular.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]