Origin of Statistics and Probability

The original idea of"statistics" was the collection of information about and for the"state". The word statistics derives directly, not from any classical Greek or Latin roots, but from the Italian word for state.

The birth of statistics occurred in mid-17th century. A commoner, named John Graunt, who was a native of London, began reviewing a weekly church publication issued by the local parish clerk that listed the number of births, christenings, and deaths in each parish. These so called Bills of Mortality also listed the causes of death. Graunt who was a shopkeeper organized this data in the form we call descriptive statistics, which was published as Natural and Political Observations Made upon the Bills of Mortality. Shortly thereafter he was elected as a member of Royal Society. Thus, statistics has to borrow some concepts from sociology, such as the concept of population. It has been argued that since statistics usually involves the study of human behavior, it cannot claim the precision of the physical sciences.

Probability has much longer history. Probability is derived from the verb to probe meaning to"find out" what is not too easily accessible or understandable. The word"proof" has the same origin that provides necessary details to understand what is claimed to be true.

Probability originated from the study of games of chance and gambling during the 16th century. Probability theory was a branch of mathematics studied by Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat in the seventeenth century. Currently in 21st century, probabilistic modeling is used to control the flow of traffic through a highway system, a telephone interchange, or a computer processor; find the genetic makeup of individuals or populations; quality control; insurance; investment; and other sectors of business and industry.

New and ever growing diverse fields of human activities are using statistics; however, it seems that this field itself remains obscure to the public. Professor Bradley Efron expressed this fact nicely:

During the 20th Century statistical thinking and methodology have become the scientific framework for literally dozens of fields including education, agriculture, economics, biology, and medicine, and with increasing influence recently on the hard sciences such as astronomy, geology, and physics. In other words, we have grown from a small obscure field into a big obscure field.


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