Queen Victoria was on the throne, Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States of America and on this day 150 years ago the world's first underground railway transit system opened to the public in London. But neither Queen Victoria nor President Lincoln ever took a ride on it.
In 1863 the London Underground (55% of it is now actually above ground), or the Tube as it’s now commonly known, opened from Paddington in west London and stretched nearly four miles east to Farringdon in central London. That stretch of line is still in operation today, and the total stretch of track has been extended by a further 245 miles across London, mostly north of the River Thames where geology favours tunnel-building.
We read about statistics every day, be it the predicted winner of a football league, the association between the weather and mortality, or a newly discovered link between an inanimate object and cancer. Statistics are everywhere. And perhaps even more so this year, as 2013 has been hailed as the International Year of Statistics. Despite all this attention for numbers, we generally don't know a lot about the people hiding behind their computers churning them out. With media attention for people like Nate Silver and Hans Rosling, some are now able to name at least one statistician, but, stepping it up a level, could you name a female statistician?
Happy International Women's Day! If last week's article proved anything, it's that there are lot of extraordinary statisticians who also happen to be women out there (keep those names coming!). So what better way to celebrate today than with the first lady of statistics?
‘Essentially all models are wrong, but some are useful’. That quotation comes from George Box, one of the great statistical minds of the 20th century. He died last week, at the age of 93. British born, but with his most influential years spent in America, he was genial, humorous and modest, but nevertheless one of the most important statisticians of the last 60 years; yet he always called himself an accidental statistician.
In a recent article, I mentioned the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest, the aim of which is to compose an opening to the worst novel ever written. Inspired by this I organized an annual painting competition, the aim of which is to produce the worst picture ever painted. I named the contest after Pavel Jerdanowitch, the founder of the Disumbrationist School of art . The visitors to my website determine the outcome of the contest. Each visitor sees five pictures randomly selected by the script from all of the contest entries and chooses the worst of them. The ratio of the number of times a given picture was selected the worst to the total number of times the picture was shown, I call a picture’s badness. The loser of the contest is the picture with the maximum badness. For example, Figure 1 shows the loser of the 2007 Pavel Jerdanowitch Painting Contest, which has the badness of 0.48.
Ars Conjectandi is not a book that non-statisticians will have heard of, nor one that many statisticians will have heard of either. The title means ‘The Art of Conjecturing’ – which in turn means roughly ‘What You Can Work Out From the Evidence.’ But it is worth statisticians celebrating it, because it is the book that gave an adequate mathematical foundation to their discipline, and it was published 300 years ago this year.
More people will have heard of its author. Jacob Bernouilli was one of a huge mathematical family of Bernoullis. In physics, aircraft engineers base everything they do on Bernoulli’s principle. It explains how aircraft wings give lift, is the basis of fluid dynamics, and was discovered by Jacob’s nephew Daniel Bernoulli.
There are a lot of scary things to face when doing a PhD: supervisor's ideas of 'normal' working hours, reviewers whose sole aim in life is to reject as many papers as possible, or the experimental equipment that only works when the right amount of Blu-Tack is in the right place and you karate chop the on-button. But possibly the scariest of all is the journalist.
This is why sense about science has set up their Standing up for Science media workshop: a one day workshop, specifically for early career scientists that gives a bit of insight into how science gets translated into news. It's a great workshop that combines a session of scientists talking about successful (and less successful) experiences with journalists, with a session of journalists talking about what they actually do during their busy days. But most of all, it gets us early career scientists away from our lab benches for a day to talk about why we think it is so scary in the first place.