Influential Statisticians

Most quantitative social scientists, myself included, master particular statistical techniques, but have limited understanding of the breadth or history of statistical practice.  Academic specialization is necessary, but sometimes we could learn a lot by taking a broader view.  I found it interesting to learn a little more about some of the most influential statisticians and their contributions in this article by Daniel Wright: “Ten Statisticians and their Impacts for Psychologists.”

Though I enjoyed Wright’s piece, one thing I felt was missing was a connection to philosophy and sociology of science.  What are the goals of empirical research in the social sciences?  How have the methods these statisticians invented changed social science, and science more generally?

I recommend Seth Roberts’ comments here and Andrew Gelman’s comments here.

Wright, D. (2009). Ten Statisticians and Their Impacts for Psychologists Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4 (6), 587-597 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01167.x

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2 Responses to Influential Statisticians

  1. Brian Pitt says:

    Good Post Mike,

    Isn’t the goal of research in social science to narrow the gap between “appearance” and “reality?” I do not mean to get all “Marxian,” but is there another goal social scientists should be pursuing?

  2. Michael Bishop says:

    Brian, I certainly agree that the goal of social scientific research is improving our understanding of the world. But there are different types of understanding, and different aspects of the world to understand. To relate this back to the article, advances in statistics were a necessary factor in sociology becoming more quantitative over the last century. Even setting aside the qual to quant shift, on a more fine grained level, particular statistical innovations must have affected the type of quantitative work that was done, both in terms of method, and in terms of substantive topic. e.g. the increased prominence of research on status attainment in the 1970’s.

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