Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

She brought about fundamental change in the British military medical system, preventing any such future calamities. To do it, she pioneered a brand-new method for bringing about social change: applied statistics.

he statistics changed Nightingale’s understanding of the problems in Turkey. Lack of sanitation, she realized, had been the principal reason for most of the deaths, not inadequate food and supplies as she had previously thought.

As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria’s eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts. Statistics had been presented using graphics only a few times previously, and perhaps never to persuade people of the need for social change.

Applied statistics is a tool available to all to achieve great improvement. Unfortunately it is still very underused. As George Box says: applied statistics is not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things. The goal of design of experiments is to learn and refine your experiment based on the knowledge you gain and experiment again. It is a process of discovery.

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