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Books, Journals, New Media
September 12, 2001

Statistics, HistoryThe Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

Author Affiliations
 

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media

 

Not Available

 

by David Salsburg, 340 pp, with illus, $23.95, ISBN 0-7167-41006-7, New York, NY, WH Freeman, 2001.

JAMA. 2001;286(10):1238-1239. doi:10.1001/jama.286.10.1238-JBK0912-3-1

The discipline of statistics, which barely existed 100 years ago, has made enormous contributions to medical research. Today, virtually every research paper in JAMA uses statistical inventions of the last century, such as randomization, random sampling, hypothesis testing, confidence intervals, and methods that consider the joint influence of many variables on study outcomes.

The Lady Tasting Tea is a delightful introduction to the pioneers of 20th-century statistics. In a breezy style, Salsburg describes the careers, contributions, and foibles of people whose names are common eponyms in biomedical articles: Pearson correlation coefficient, Fisher exact test, Student t test. The book is a popular history, not a scholarly treatise. The result is a lively succession of anecdotes filled with humor, academic rivalry, and adventure. Often the writing has the tone of insider gossip. To make the general reader comfortable, there are no mathematical symbols, formulae, or tables.

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