teapaper_shea - Erin Shea 1.081 The Lady Tasting Tea Paper...

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Erin Shea 1.081 The Lady Tasting Tea Paper March 15, 2005 The Lady Tasting Tea The Lady Tasting Tea not only takes the reader through the progression of statistics, but also the history of the world during the time period; the brilliant minds associated with the breakthroughs in this mathematical realm; the people of the era affected by the different applications of this progressing science; and, last but not least, the various philosophical questions, answered and unanswered, inextricable from the study of statistics. The story begins in Cambridge, England in the 1920s in the simple setting of a garden tea party. A woman claiming she can tell the difference between tea poured into milk and milk poured into tea introduces this story, and then we jump back into the 1890s, when the statistics revolution grows roots. The story progresses from Pearson’s early work through World War I, The Depression and New Deal, World War II, and the Russian Revolution, and we learn of the different characters (Gosset aka “Student”, Fisher, Neyman), scientific journals and books ( Biometrika , Statistical Methods for Research Workers ), and experiments of importance to the field that come into play. The reader is given example after example of statistical applications during the different time periods, from brewing Guinness in Ireland, to cracking German codes during wartime, to attempting to locate buried landmines in Japan, a failed attempt, which, according to the author, in part led to the atomic bombing. 1
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The statistical portion of the story is entirely qualitative, I do not recall a single number or equation. The author says the book was not written for the mathematically educated (which becomes evident, for example on pg. 69, “Remember high school algebra? If x equals the value in drachmas, then…”), and, indeed, the individual theorems and methods are not enumerated. But I am not convinced I would have understood the mathematical language or the statistical operations the author describes if I did not have some exposure to the subject. The book ends in the present time with some provoking questions about who will be the next great statistician and what will be discovered that could overthrow the current statistical theories. Much to my surprise I enjoyed The Lady Tasting Tea , probably because it had all the qualities of a good book. It did not belabor the statistical history, but included interesting world history, characters, and anecdotes. The book was at times touching, funny, educational, and enthralling. Not only did Salsburg include interesting content, his writing was entertaining and rarely dry, quite impressive in a book subtitled “How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century”. One of my favorite pleasing subtleties of the writing in the book is the footnotes.
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teapaper_shea - Erin Shea 1.081 The Lady Tasting Tea Paper...

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