Statisticians in World War II

Posted to Statistics  |  Tags:  |  Nathan Yau

The Economist recounts the stories of statisticians who solved problems during wartime. Although they weren’t called that until after.

“Peace finally returned, and the statistical scene in the United Kingdom had been completely transformed,” wrote Barnard and Plackett. “No other method would have produced these changes in only six years.” Dozens of clever young people had been taught a fast-changing new subject—and in many cases done original research. Even routine work was elevated by the urgency and camaraderie of the war effort—and even the fact that they were new to the field. “A lot of the work was statistically boring,” Sir David says now. “But the point is that I didn’t really know anything.”

“After the war the section exploded like a London bomb into missionary statistical occupations all over the country,” wrote Geoffrey Jowett, one of the SR 17 alumni, in 1990. “In convincing others that we had a good product to sell we convinced ourselves.”

See also George E.P. Box’s recollection of accidentally becoming a statistician.

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