Talk:Ronald Fisher

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Former good article nominee Ronald Fisher was a good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
June 23, 2006 Good article nominee Not listed
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More statistical significance than portrayed here?[edit]

Does his role in creating Maximum Likelihood Estimation etc warrant more then a paragraph in his early years? 18:06, 1 June 2007 (UTC)

If he "almost almost single-handedly created the foundations for modern statistical science" then why isn't more said about how he laid these foundations, or when in his career, or who his major colleagues were as statisticians? It is transparently clear that this page has been composed by geneticists rather than statisticians, but statistics is a very important discipline that is relied upon widely in many empirical scientific fields, and Fisher's statistical contributions merit much more material on this page.Health Researcher 22:40, 8 September 2007 (UTC)

I agree. We should add more on that. To be continued..... Michael Hardy 00:26, 9 September 2007 (UTC)
bump - I will try and do something here in the next few months... but many statisticians should be able to chip in. Must also be material to be gotten in Anova and a whole series of other pages based on his work, as well as that of people like Pearson...

Fisher and Eugenics[edit]

I am just interested to know why any discussion about eugenics are not included in the biography or discussion of his book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. I think it is necessary to give a balanced view of the man, and the development of statistical genetics. I have always been interested in how 'hard' ideas like statistical genetics or evolution get (ab)used in developing social theories like eugenics or social darwinism. Would there be much protest if I tried an attempt to include one or two lines about this in his biography? --Frank.visser 10:31, 16 Jul 2004 (UTC)

No, this is an encyclopedia, and as long as it remained encyclopedi and followed the principle of NPOV, there should be no problem. Although Fisher was a genius, he was not a nice man. I think there is a whole chapter in a book about Fisher somewhere, I think the bio needs expanding to. In summary, be bold in editing pages, we can always revert and have a discussion as appropriate. THe present eugenics article is (IMHO) rubbish at the moment too. Dunc_Harris| 12:22, 16 Jul 2004 (UTC)
Cool, I will dig up some sources and background information. I will try to keep it non-judgmental. He was a man of his times, and his views reflected the mores of a large part of (upper class) society.

--Frank.visser 14:17, 16 Jul 2004 (UTC)

I'd be intersted in the source of the following statement: "Between 1929 and 1934 the Eugenics Society also campaigned hard for a law permitting sterilization on eugenic grounds. They believed that it should be entirely voluntary, and a right, not a punishment." --Chris Locke

it is in the middle of p 197 of Box's R. A. Fisher, The Life of a Scientist. DonSiano 02:10, 6 December 2005 (UTC)
Fisher was more into positive eugenics than negative eugenics, i.e. he thought that those of good birth should have lots of children (needless to say, he followed this through!) but without the nasty reigning in of the breeding of the unwashed masses. But others notably Leonard Darwin were in favour of negative eugenics. — Dunc| 10:04, 5 December 2005 (UTC)

"Extraordinarily talented"[edit]

As of the 19:17, 4 Nov 2004 revision, the first sentence calls Fisher "extraordinarily talented". In a neutral encyclopedia, I object to that description.

Vespristiano 23:12, 9 Nov 2004 (UTC)

in this encyclopedia, do you think it is not neutral to write "Albert Einstein was extraordinarily talented"? Tomi 16:10, 10 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I think a sentence should be added that he was extremely biggoted too, in view of his eugenics pedigree. 07:28, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
Hes been said to be "extraordinarily talented" by his peers, not by Wiki editors alone. The Dawkins quote backs up that opinion held in the field. Fisher being biggoted in your opinion is subjective and not relavent in a neutral Wiki. If that opinion is to be posted it should be backed up by citations of his peers, making it an objective statement. Analysing eugentics does not make one a bigot, especially with opt-in eugentics. :::--Mikespenard 22:35, 3 June 2006 (UTC)
Fisher's racism, repeated statements that the European race is superior to others, is well-documented elsewhere. (I would guess that Stephen Jay Gould might have written about Fisher.) I don't believe that he was personally racist in dealings with C. R. Rao (his student, and a genius from India), so Fisher obviously was more sophisticated than most racists in understanding the difference between population means/medians and individuals.  Kiefer.Wolfowitz 09:04, 29 April 2011 (UTC)

Fisher as a consultant for British Tobacco Industries  ?[edit]

Is it correct that Fisher has worked as a consultant for the British Tobacco Industries. ?

Pleased give references.

Fisher (who is dead) advocated that correlation does not imply causation in the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. In this he was later proved wrong, and despite the fact that he was paid (I think), I think it was sincerely held view which we now have the benefit of hindsight to look at. — Dunc| 19:58, 25 December 2005 (UTC)

i think this should be mentioned in the main article, when someone is receiving a hand off from a tobaco co their "scientific" findings should be questioned and his objectivity is obviously compromised. I dislike the canonical tone of this article a lot, this is a major error in judgement and i don't know why the article should mention only the successes and not ther errors and faults. 07:30, 26 March 2006 (UTC)

More info on the roots of modern Darwinism[edit]

The opening paragraph gives a Dawkins quote that he is the greatest of Darwins successors, but little is given to explain why. There should be more text explaining how Fishers ideas in The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection are the roots of modern evolutionary perspective i.e. gene selectionism and game theory applied to biology. With links to Hamilton, Dawkins and M.J.Smith. (I can provide quotes and citations if need be.)It should also be pointed out he was the first to frame the process of NS in mathematical terms, which solidified Mendelism, correcting Darwins mistakes on what was the driving force behind evolution(mutation or selection; Darwin believed in blending inheritance, which caused him to give presidence to mutation). I feel there is a lack of text on his relationship with Leonard Darwin as well. --Mikespenard 22:37, 3 June 2006 (UTC)

I agree with this. Fisher was one of the three great founders of theoretical population genetics, often said to be the greatest of the three (Wright and Haldane being the others) and always agreed to be at least tied with Wright for first place. I understand we're dealing with the great figure of modern mathematical statistics here, but the population genetics and quantitative genetics work is surely worth more than three sentences! By the way, his book is great but much of his contribution was in papers, not just the book -- let's not fall into a Great Books fallacy here in which all great contributions are as books, not papers. I will try to add something on his contributions to population genetics. Felsenst

GA failed[edit]

Easy to modify reasons given are :

  • Lead section should be expanded.
The record shows it was expanded only by extending the quotation which I have trimmed back today.--P64 (talk) 19:28, 4 May 2011 (UTC)
  • References should be added to.
  • Image of Fisher is a concern since it doesn't give Fair use rationale.

Lincher 16:04, 23 June 2006 (UTC)

Fisher's personality[edit]

I never met Fisher but have heard many times that although yes, he could be very loyal to people who he formed a good opinion of (as the article says), if he formed a bad opinion of you, you were in for a very hard time -- he could be very difficult, to put it mildly. He and Sewall Wright had a decades-long bitter dispute, and were not on speaking terms. And his dispute with Wright was not his only one. Here is what John Aldrich's page "A guide to RA Fisher" says: "Enemies: In his obituary piece in The Times Barnard wrote 'his devotion to scientific truth being literally passionate, he was an implacable enemy of those whom who judged guilty of propagating error." There were serious breaches with Karl Pearson, Sewall Wright and Jerzy Neyman amongst others.' The same obituary piece precedes this (according to the MacTutor biography of Fisher) with "But he also was the victim, as he himself recognised, of an uncontrollable temper;" I think there should be some way of making his tendency to fall into bitter dispute with other major figures clearer. Felsenst

Why I am not an admirer of the man Fisher. Joan Box-Fisher introduced her father's personality (sic) with the anechdote of him crushing a mouse in his bare hands, throwing it out the window, and then yelling at the assistant (whose trouble understanding Fisher precipitated the outburst)! There are plenty of other stories about Fisher's abusive behavior, and it's easy enough to find venemous quotes from Fisher.Kiefer.Wolfowitz (talk) 20:46, 20 June 2009 (UTC)


The following infobox has been removed from the Fisher page. Please discuss arguments for or against inclusion to reach a concensus. Here is what it looked like for reference:

bunix 13:04, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

Firstly, it is really badly executed. Have you read the article because his achievements two achievements listed are scratching the surface?
Secondly, do you think you are really going to fit all of Fisher's achievements, pupils, children, etc in the box?
Thirdly, Wikipedia has a very simple (really an overly simple) database structure. It is not suited to carrying information like this. In other words, KISS principle. — Dunc| 13:28, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

Hi Dunc, Thank you for your comments. (1) Yes I am well aware of his acheivements and use many of them in a professional context. As wiki is collaborative, I deliberately didn't put all his achievements etc in the box. I leave that up to the evolutionary process of successive editors...that way a consensus of the important essence will emerge. (2) Does he have more than two students? I would be interested in hearing the source of your information. If he has more, then the idea is to only list the important ones. (3) Please explain why the database structure is more complicated than the many of the other infoboxes on the wikipedia, such as: [1]. Also if you can point me to a wiki policy or info page that discusses its database structure and what the prefered wiki way is, I would like to read up on it. Best regards. bunix 14:35, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

It seems a resolution has been reached on my Talk page with a message from Dunc. So in view of this, I am now putting the box back as of now, given there were no comments from anyone else.bunix 15:19, 31 August 2006 (UTC)
I have been told recently (August 2011) at a conference that Donald Michie has been a doctoral student of Fischer. Unfortunately I cannot confirm this from a published source. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:19, 2 September 2011 (UTC)

Erdos Number[edit]

I propose that we delete the part stating his Erdos number, as it is not particularly relevant to a biography, except perhaps Erdos' biography. If we follow this as an example, we would have to state all the scientist's Erdos numbers, which is a bit pointless Delmet 00:56, 9 October 2006 (UTC)

I second the motion. For statisticians, it would be more sensible to define a Fisher number. I believe that Archimedes and Gauss did not co-author any papers with Erdős, and who remembers them now? EdJohnston 23:44, 21 November 2006 (UTC)
Delete all Erdos numbers for people who died before the concept was invented. --Salix alba (talk) 00:25, 22 November 2006 (UTC)

'Pull quotes' seem out of place at beginning of article[edit]

In this diff [2] an editor added the cquote template for these two opening quotes. While this seems a bit more readable than the previous version, the giant blue quote marks are a reminder that this template is most often recommended for 'pull-quotes' that are used by publishers in sidebars, or whatever the correct term is. This aspect has recently been criticized [3] and in fact, the whole cquote template was proposed for deletion in December. If no better solution can be found, I'd prefer to see blockquote tags instead. EdJohnston 16:02, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Population genetics material needs reworking[edit]

I have expanded the paragraph on his contributions to theoretical population genetics a bit. But as his contributions to that field were spread over many decades, it is a bit unsatisfactory to have it all in the section on his Early Professional Years. Also, the whole section on his book, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection gives the misleading impression that his contributions to genetics and evolution were mostly through that book. As he wrote many classic papers in the area, this is seems to be a case of the Great Books Fallacy (that scientists publish mostly by writing books). As his work divides into two great themes -- statistics and genetics -- wouldn't it be better to separate these rather than interlace them uncomfortably by describing his contributions in temporal order? Felsenst 14:29, 7 February 2007 (UTC)

Cambridge appointment[edit]

I've deleted the following: "A renewal of Fisher's appointment at Cambridge was not offered by the University in the summer of 1950, much to Fisher's dismay. He now realized he could expect little in the way of support, but", because it seems to imply he lost his position at Cambridge. He didn't, remaining there until retiring in 1957. Yates and Mather (Yates, F. and K. Mather. 1963. Ronald Aylmer Fisher 1890-1962. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society of London 9:91-120) note he held the Chair until retirement, and that he was also President and Life Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. MayerG 01:47, 23 April 2007 (UTC)

Fisher's Educational Credentials[edit]

He only held a BA from Cambridge in astronomy. Why has the article evaded this fact?

Fisher held no degree in biology.

Ray Martinez 21:06, 18 September 2007 (UTC)



Hello everyone!

I had recently read parts of E. T. Jaynes' Probability Theory: The Logic of Science, where an amazingly zealous criticism against Fisher was made (along with equally zealous praising that went to Harold Jeffreys). I just wondered if his criticism was worth adding to the article about Fisher. (It's not that I'm interested in Jaynes' opinions, but I just thought it would be interesting for the reader to see the detractions noted in the article about a renowned man like Fisher). -- 20:23, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

Yes, Fisher is frequently (ah, but what do I mean by "frequently"?) the target of criticism by the Bayesians, and this warrants at least brief "Criticism" section that links to the appropriate pages. earwicker (talk) 09:39, 29 April 2009 (UTC)


Frank Ramsey called Fisher's so-called "method" of assuming independent sampling from an "infinite population" (sic.) a "stupid fiction" in his essay on Truth and Probability.  Kiefer.Wolfowitz 08:54, 29 April 2011 (UTC)


Rudolph Carnap explained to another logician "But Fisher is just wrong, don't you see that?", I believe. Does anybody know a source for an extended discussion? 08:54, 29 April 2011 (UTC)

Ian Hacking[edit]

Among philosophers, only Ian Hacking seems to have taken Fisher as a serious philosopher of probability or statistical inference. (Perhaps Teddy Seidenfeld has written more about Fisher than "know your enemy" studies?) Hacking long ago dropped Fisher for Peirce as his hero. It would be interesting to discover Hacking's account of his change.  Kiefer.Wolfowitz 08:54, 29 April 2011 (UTC)

Peirce of the United States or Pierce of the United Kingdom? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:05, 10 October 2012 (UTC)

Why that quote in the intro?[edit]

Anyone else think the Dawkins quote is out of place in the introduction.

interjection: This comment and the first reply really concern whether that long quotation may be out of place anywhere in the article. Such heavy reliance on quotation is out of place in the lead regardless of its content. ...

I'm all for quotes, but "X scientist says good things about this person," seems odd, to say the least. Yeah, he's popular, but wouldn't be better if we got a quote from a respected science magazine or something? It's add a lot to the article. I'd change it but... It has Dawkins' name on it and I fear that someone will revert it rather quickly because of the... er... favortism of that specific individual around these articles (in all honesty, he's popular, but that means little to me and probably less to readers; they'd probably prefer to see a cite from an established article and not a single scientist, whoever the person quoted might be). Or maybe I'm just overthinking it. (talk) 08:57, 15 January 2010 (UTC)

It is fine in a tribute to an author to make a laudatory remark, but usually encyclopedias are more restrained. For example, I removed several personal tributes to Jacques Drèze because they were un-encyclopediac. The statement that Fisher "almost single handedly created mathematical statistics" is hyperbole (and lifted from Hald's yellow pot-boiler, which inexplicably contradicts the account of Laplace, Edgeworth, etc., in his second scholarly history). Harold Hotelling was a fan of Fisher's and sometimes promoted him by saying that (pre-Neyman) Fisher emphasized the sampling distribution, which is fair, by comparison.  Kiefer.Wolfowitz 08:47, 29 April 2011 (UTC)
I have deleted from the lead the long quotation of Dawkins that already appeared in the footnote, where it remains. So much quotation was not the right way to respond (years ago) to the Good Article review, which advised that the lead must be expanded. (Above, Talk:Ronald Fisher#GA failed. See also the 'Pull quotes' section.)
The remarks by Dawson are appropriate in scope. The expanded lead should touch most of those bases, thereby at least indicating what Fisher accomplished in some of the many fields --rather than listing the fields (lead sentence) and ranking him in two or three of them. --P64 (talk) 19:23, 4 May 2011 (UTC)

Shannon's Information[edit]

I removed the following sentence "some years before Shannon's notions of information and entropy". Although Fisher's information is connected to Shannon's information and they share the same word "information", they are very different concepts. The removed sentence suggests that Fisher invented Information Theory, which is an overstatement of Fisher's contribution. (talk) 01:25, 5 October 2010 (UTC)

Null hypothesis[edit]

The infobox declares that he is known for "Coining the term 'null hypothesis'" -- yet there is no mention of this (and in particular when he coined it) in the article. Anyone know first use? From the OED it looks like 1935. quota (talk) 06:00, 29 April 2011 (UTC)

I'm guessing [This is no place for guessing.] that the term "null hypothesis" was coined by Neyman and Egon Pearson, to distinguish the null hypothesis from the alternative hypothesis. Testing hypotheses goes back to Francis Bacon and was discussed by Charles Sanders Peirce and Karl Pearson, before Fisher. I would guess that the Wiley books by Hald (not his Springer book) and the Harvard UP books by Stigler are reliable.  Kiefer.Wolfowitz 23:31, 4 May 2011 (UTC)
I think that Anders Hald is most likely correct that Fisher 'coined the term' null hypothesis. He says this in a terse paragraph:

He characterized estimates as discussed above by the properties of consistency, efficiency and sufficiency, and introduced the concept of "information" in the sample and in an estimate. He coined the terms null hypothesis, test of significance, level of significance, and percentage point. In the design of experiments he introduced randomization, factorial design, and interaction as new concepts.

In context, Hald's claim seems OK. Fisher should get credit for term-coining, but Hald does not say he invented the concept of significance testing, or the null hypothesis. The *concept* of the null hypothesis probably comes from Neyman and Pearson's 1932 paper, where they introduce the symbol H0. They do not call it the null hypothesis. Fisher *does* call it that in his 1935 book, The Design of Experiments, though he does not acknowledge Neyman and Pearson. The fact that he is commenting on their terminology is made obvious by the fact that he mentions the "error of the so-called "second kind" on the following page. The comments are on page 15 of my edition, which is in a whole section called "The Null Hypothesis" in Chapter 2 of the 8th edition of The Design of Experiments, published in 1966, first edition 1935. By saying "coined the term" Hald is avoiding any comment on whether Fisherian significance testing was the same as the kind of testing recommended by Neyman and Pearson. Certainly Fisher thought they were different. So he manages to scold Neyman and Pearson for their errors while taking over their concept and putting a new name on it, "null hypothesis". Pretty clever. So in my opinion the article does not need to be corrected about "coining" but people should check if it assigns credit for the underlying idea in a balanced way. EdJohnston (talk) 19:49, 5 May 2011 (UTC)
That book by Hald sometimes contradicts Hald's more scholarly book, which has been accused of attributing too much to Laplace (and Thiele) before. Unfortunately, I don't have the scholarly book handy. The last yellow book by Hald attributes too much to Fisher, imho, and in the opinion of Hald (blue).
Fisher's polemical ability was extraordinary. You know the saying that mathematical talent is inherited, it passes from the father to the son in law?! It is clear that Fisher's polemical skills passed on to George E. P. Box! :) Fisher popularized randomization, but Hacking and others have insisted on Peirce's priority, but I've inserted those references in enough articles .... Best regards,  Kiefer.Wolfowitz 20:19, 5 May 2011 (UTC)
It is incredible to be going around in your life not knowing the difference beween "coined the term" and "invented the idea or thing". Incredible!

For another example, Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley of Bell Laboratories invented the transistor, but they did not name it. It is recorded and validated that John R. Pierce, also of Bell Labs, named the thing. See the article on Pierce, and other sources.
In mathematics, Niels Henrik Abel developed the concept of the abelian group, but he did not name it that. Somebody else did. Who did it?
Isaac Newton developed mathematical things in calculus that he called "fluxions" and "fluents", but we don't call them that. Someone else later on named then "derivatives" and "antiderivatives". I would like to know who that was. It couldn't have been the Baron Gottfried von Leibnitz because he was German and he had German (or Latin or Greek) names for them.
Likewise, differential equations and their methods of solution were probably developed by German or Swiss-German mathematicians. Who? Euler? Some of the Bernoullis? However, they had German or Latin names for them, and not the English term "differential equation". Who came up with that name? (talk) 03:26, 10 October 2012 (UTC)

British people so glibly state....[edit]

British people so glibly state, and so often, "When World War II broke out in 1939". I think that it is because of their Eurocentric attitude that they do not know that World War II had already started when the Japanese Empire invaded the Republic of China in 1937 or earlier. They must not recognize the murder of millions of Chinese people during this invasion.
These events were of great concern to the Government of the United States, and President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull spoke out against the Japanese aggression. The U.S. Government was not ready to go to war over those events, but during 1937 - 41, it took other measures against Japan, including setting up embargoes against the export of iron, steel, and petroleum to the Japanese Empire. Also, the U.S. Government decided to export weapons such as fighter planes to the Chinese, but those had to go by cargo ship via Burma. Then in 1942, the Japanese Army overran Burma, including its very important seaport of Rangoon.
During those years, no other country seemed to be willing to do anything to help the Chinese at all: Not the U.K., not the U.S.S.R., not France, not Canada, not Australia... (talk) 03:50, 10 October 2012 (UTC)

Reference for first use of computers in biology[edit]

I have a reference for the bit about the first use of a computer in biology - - but I don't know how to insert it into the article (I don't know Wikipedia markup). — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:37, 30 May 2013 (UTC)

Its fine just to do it as plain text with all the details there. Others can fix it later. You could look at {{cite journal}} or {{citation}} for how to do it properly.--Salix (talk): 14:03, 30 May 2013 (UTC)

Last sentence[edit]

The last sentence says (with several tags), "In 1934, Fisher moved to increase the power of scientists within the Eugenics Society, but was ultimately thwarted by members with an environmentalist point of view, and he, along with many other scientists, resigned." A (poor) source says that the issue causing conflict was contraception. It cites page 97 of the Joan Box biography. I don't have a copy of her book to check. (talk) 18:44, 27 May 2014 (UTC)


The comments here merely confirm my belief we need to separate the strictly biographical from the scientific. the opening is somewhat clearer but the main text focuses far too much on personal detail, given he was a scientist and not an adventurer, whereas our coverage of him as this incredibly significant statistician and biologist tends to got lost but that is what is important. ♫ SqueakBox talk contribs 18:03, 6 July 2015 (UTC)