February 16, 2013

Happy International Galton Day

To complement the growing annual celebration of International Darwin Day on Charles Darwin's birthday of February 12, I'm introducing International Galton Day on Francis Galton's birthday of February 16.

Galton was of course a Victorian polymath whose inventions include the silent dog whistle, the weather map you see on TV every evening, and the practical use of fingerprints in crime-fighting. (Others had the notion before Galton of using fingerprints in detection, but had been stymied by how to retrieve matching fingerprints from filing cases full of them.)

Galton was also a giant in the history of statistics. U. of Chicago professor Stephen M. Stigler published in 2010 in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society
Darwin, Galton and the Statistical Enlightenment 
On September 10th, 1885, Francis Galton ushered in a new era of Statistical Enlightenment with an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Aberdeen. In the process of solving a puzzle that had lain dormant in Darwin's Origin of Species, Galton introduced multivariate analysis and paved the way towards modern Bayesian statistics. The background to this work is recounted, including the recognition of a failed attempt by Galton in 1877 as providing the first use of a rejection sampling algorithm for the simulation of a posterior distribution, and the first appearance of a proper Bayesian analysis for the normal distribution.

Stigler periodically gives a talk entitled “The Five Most Consequential Ideas in the History of Statistics.” From the Harvard Gazette:
On Monday (Sept. 29), [Stigler] stayed in town to address about 50 students and professors in a crowded third-floor classroom in the Science Center. Stigler’s talk, in professional terms, was inflammatory: “The Five Most Consequential Ideas in the History of Statistics.”... 
The first idea was to combine observations in order to arrive at a simple mean. This “ species of averaging,” said Stigler, found expression in 1635, through the work of English curate and astronomer Henry Gellibrand. 
... The “root-N rule” is the second consequential idea, said Stigler. That’s the notion, first articulated in 1730, that the accuracy of your conclusions increases relative to the rate you accumulate observations. Specifically, to double that accuracy, you have to increase the number of observations fourfold. 
Third on the list is the idea of “the hypothesis test,” the statistical notion that mathematical tests can determine the probability of an outcome. This idea (though not the sophisticated math now associated with it) was in place by 1248, said Stigler, when the London Mint began periodically to test its product for composition and weight. 
The fourth and fifth consequential ideas in statistics both had the same source, said Stigler — an 1869 book by Victorian polymath Francis Galton. “Hereditary Genius” was a mathematical examination of how talent is inheritable. 
Galton discovered through a study of biographical compilations that a “level of eminence” within populations is steady over time and over various disciplines (law, medicine). Of the one in 4,000 people who made it into such a compilation, one-tenth had a close relative on the same list. 
This led to what Stigler called the fourth consequential idea: the innovative notion that statistics can be evaluated in terms of internal measurements of variability — the percentiles of bell curves (in statistics terms, “normal distribution”) that in 1869 Galton started to employ as scales for talent. 
The fifth idea was based upon an empirical finding. In a series of studies between 1869 and 1889, Galton was the first to observe the phenomenon of regression toward the mean. 
Essentially, the idea posits that in most realistic situations over time — Galton studied familial height variations, for example — the most extreme observed values tend to “regress” toward the center, or mean. 
If he could extend his list of consequential ideas in statistics, Stigler said he would include random sampling, statistical design, the graphical display of data, chi-squared distribution, and modern computation and simulation.


hbd chick said...

happy galton day to you and yours! (^_^)

Portlander said...

So why is it called Gaussian Distribution? Seems Galtonian Distribution would be more apt. Did Francis coin the name as a gracious bow of respect to Carl?

Anon87 said...

OT: GOP has demographic issues, but the Dems could start to have coalition issues.

Obama may find convincing African Americans that amnesty means jobs for them a tough sell

Anonymous said...

So why is it called Gaussian Distribution?

Wikipedia is your friend

Garrison Five said...

Forget selling Galton day to the Darwin groupies; instead, sell it to the statisticians and work it into the Universities that way.

jody said...

steve is big on polymaths.

but what about polyglots?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anon 87

You are attempting to be reasonable. We have warned you that this will only make you unhappy in the long run. Not having jobs will make absolutely no difference in Obama's support among African-Americans.

However, any black skeptics out there might want to print up bumper stickers that say "Well, Barack Has A Job."

Anonymous said...


Jewish media/academia at work.

bs king said...

I am truly excited to see what Hallmark will come up with for this one.

Craig C. said...

" Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anon 87

You are attempting to be reasonable. We have warned you that this will only make you unhappy in the long run. Not having jobs will make absolutely no difference in Obama's support among African-Americans.

However, any black skeptics out there might want to print up bumper stickers that say "Well, Barack Has A Job.""

-Good point. However, while it may not matter to them, it will matter to us. 'Idle hands are the devil's work', especially if they are African American hands- black youths without jobs tend to get into gangs, drug dealing, violence, robbery, etc. If there is an uptick in black unemployment, expect an uptick in black crime as well.

Anon87 said...

I was thinking more along the lines of the Democratic party and it's various constituents. It's still mostly a white man's Congress, but the Dems are becoming more diverse. Nationally they can rally around a candidate to hand out the federal goodies (for now), but at the smaller, local level it will be a female vs. black vs. hispanic vs. gay vs. combination candidate for the Democrats. And that could get ugly and divisive.

While smaller than it used to be, if the GOP can rally the mostly white base, a unified local electorate could clean up. Still may have to concede the White House though. The media can always rally around a single Deomcratic candidate, but they don't have the attention span for all the local elections.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Allow me to at least give lip service to the bad side of statistics. In particular, the dubious (pernicious?) use of statistics to promote truth, as some kind of natural and physical laws.

Here'a really simple example in the political realm, which Obama used more or less verbatim in his SOTU address. The numbers(***) there are almost certainly correlation and not causation, but it is obviously depicted as the latter.

(*** good luck tracing those number back to a source, btw. You can start here)

And don't get me started on "climate science."

Anonymous said...

Compared with Charles: Birthday difference of 4 days, albeit 13 yrs. apart, both were bored with medical education, both took the normal degree at Cambridge instead of trying for honors, both interested in biology, both went on long trips to the Southern Hemisphere. Curious why Galton didn't show more productivity until older, I read he was a child prodigy like J.S. Mill, both were reading texts in Ancient Greek and Latin at the age where most kids are just learning the basics in their native tongue. Like Mill, Galton also suffered a nervous breakdown in early adulthood. You would think things like the weather map and fingerprint analysis would endear him the modern intellectual, but no one today talks about him about him because Eugenics is considered to be anti-egalitarian and therefore can't be forgiven.

Anonymous said...

Happy International Galton Day! The probability that I am always a day late and a dollar short on these things is pretty high.

Hum, Happy Galton Day doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. Perhaps it's worth stealing a march on the HHolidayers and introducing a standard greeting, say, "Happy Galton!". Maybe "Have a Galton Day!" Or maybe "G*&^%n, that was a bad movie! My expectations were ruined!"

Glaivester said...

I will celebrate just by posting a message, any message. My icon is celebration of the man enough.

Anonymous said...

I feel much dumber having read this. So many questions. I don,t speak that language.