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Ronald Aylmer Fisher

Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890–1962) (Sir Ronald from 1952) studied mathematics at Cambridge. Even before he finished his studies, he had published on statistics. He worked as a statistician at Rothamsted Experimental Station (1919–1933), as professor of eugenics at University College London (1933–1943), as professor of genetics at Cambridge (1943–1957), and in retirement at the CSIRO Division of Mathematical Statistics in Adelaide. His many fundamental and applied contributions to statistics and genetics mark him as one of the greatest statisticians of all time, including original work on tests of significance, distribution theory, theory of estimation, fiducial inference, and design of experiments.

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Francis Galton

Francis Galton (1822–1911) was born in Birmingham, England, into a well-to-do family with many connections: he and Charles Darwin were first cousins. After an unsuccessful foray into medicine, he became independently wealthy at the death of his father. Galton traveled widely in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and he became celebrated as an explorer and geographer. His pioneering work on weather maps helped in the identification of anticyclones, which he named. From about 1865, most of his work was centered on quantitative problems in biology, anthropology, and psychology. In a sense, Galton (re)invented regression, and he certainly named it. Galton also promoted the normal distribution, correlation approaches, and the use of median and selected quantiles as descriptive statistics. He was knighted in 1909.

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Adrien-Marie Legendre

Adrien-Marie Legendre (1752–1833) was born in Paris (or possibly in Toulouse) and educated in mathematics and physics. He worked in number theory, geometry, differential equations, calculus, function theory, applied mathematics, and geodesy. The Legendre polynomials are named for him. His main contribution to statistics is as one of the discoverers of least squares. He died in poverty, having refused to bow to political pressures.

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James Tobin

James Tobin (1918–2002) was an American economist who after education and research at Harvard moved to Yale, where he was on the faculty from 1950 to 1988. He made many outstanding contributions to economics and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981 “for his analysis of financial markets and their relations to expenditure decisions, employment, production and prices.” He appeared thinly disguised as a character in Herman Wouk’s novel The Caine Mutiny (1951) who thwarts the ambition of Willie Keith to be the first in his class at midshipman school: “A mandarin-like midshipman named Tobit, with a domed forehead, measured quiet speech, and a mind like a sponge, was ahead of the field by a spacious percentage.”

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Ernst Hjalmar Waloddi Weibull

Ernst Hjalmar Waloddi Weibull (1887–1979) was a Swedish applied physicist most famous for his work on the statistics of material properties. He worked in Germany and Sweden as an inventor and a consulting engineer, publishing his first paper on the propagation of explosive waves in 1914, thereafter becoming a full professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in 1924. Weibull’s ideas about the statistical distributions of material strength came to the attention of engineers in the late 1930s with the publication of two important papers: “Investigations into strength properties of brittle materials” and “The phenomenon of rupture in soils.”

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