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Pearson, Karl

mathematics cambridge theory effective

(1857–1936) British statistician: pioneer of statistics applied to biology.

Pearson’s father was a barrister and Karl also qualified in law but never practised; but he did well in Cambridge in mathematics and afterwards studied physics and biology in Germany. At his Cambridge college he successfully rebelled against compulsory chapel attendance and then infuriated the authorities by occasional appearances there. In 1884 he became a professor of mathematics at University College, London and was soon influenced by two colleagues there, and W Weldon (1860–1906) – both enthusiasts for the application of arithmetic to the study of evolution and heredity. In the 1890s Pearson developed statistical methods for a range of biological problems, largely published in a journal he did much to found, Biometrika . His forceful and effective work led him to define standard deviation (an idea already well established) and to break new ground on graphical methods, probability theory, theories of correlation and the theory of random walk. In 1900 he devised the chi-square test, a measure of how well a theoretical probability distribution fits a set of data, that is valuable in showing, for example, whether two hereditary features (eg height and eye colour) are inherited independently; or whether one drug is more effective than another. His productivity was enormous, right up to his death, and his work largely founded 20th-c statistics.

Peele, George (c. 1556–c. 1596) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION [next] [back] Pearl

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