On behalf of the History of Statistics Section, John Aldrich of the University of Southampton organised a session at the RSS Conference. The session was chaired by the section's committee member, Alison Macfarlane.
In 1919 the agricultural station at Rothamsted recruited Ronald Fisher (1890-1962) to analyse historic data on crop yields. For him, it was the beginning of a spectacular career and for Rothamsted, the beginning of a statistics department which became a force in world statistics. The session considered what the appointment did for Fisher and what Rothamsted did, and goes on doing, for statistics.
John Aldrich gave the opening talk on what RA Fisher did for Rothamsted and what Rothamsted did for RA Fisher. Fisher developed methods for analysing Rothamsted’s crop yield and weather data, which went back to 1843 when experimentation began. It didn’t expect him to spend all his time on this and was able to do his own research, which made him well placed to move to UCL in 1933 to inherit Karl Pearson’s professorship.
Gavin Ross spoke about Rothamsted statistics after RA Fisher. This included his own experiences in developing new techniques on Rothamsted’s first two computers the Elliott 401 and Orion. He gave an overview of the extensive developments at the time when Rothamsted had the largest statistics department in the country.
As discussant, Andrew Mead, current head of statistics at Rothamsted, described the ways in which his much smaller team are developing Rothamsted statistics today and their plans for the future.
The session 'A Hundred Years Ago RA Fisher Started at Rothamsted took place on 3 September 2019.