E.S. PEARSON: Statistical Concepts in Their Relation to Reality

by E.S. PEARSON (1955)

SUMMARY: This paper contains a reply to some criticisms made by Sir Ronald Fisher in his recent article on “Scientific Methods and Scientific Induction”.

Controversies in the field of mathematical statistics seem largely to have arisen because statisticians have been unable to agree upon how theory is to provide, in terms of probability statements, the numerical measures most helpful to those who have to draw conclusions from observational data.  We are concerned here with the ways in which mathematical theory may be put, as it were, into gear with the common processes of rational thought, and there seems no reason to suppose that there is one best way in which this can be done.  If, therefore, Sir Ronald Fisher recapitulates and enlarges on his views upon statistical methods and scientific induction we can all only be grateful, but when he takes this opportunity to criticize the work of others through misapprehension of their views as he has done in his recent contribution to this Journal (Fisher 1955), it is impossible to leave him altogether unanswered.

In the first place it seems unfortunate that much of Fisher’s criticism of Neyman and Pearson’s approach to the testing of statistical hypotheses should be built upon a “penetrating observation” ascribed to Professor G.A. Barnard, the assumption involved in which happens to be historically incorrect.  There was no question of a difference in point of view having “originated” when Neyman “reinterpreted” Fisher’s early work on tests of significance “in terms of that technological and commercial apparatus which is known as an acceptance procedure”.  There was no sudden descent upon British soil of Russian ideas regarding the function of science in relation to technology and to five-year plans.  It was really much simpler–or worse.  The original heresy, as we shall see, was a Pearson one!


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3 thoughts on “E.S. PEARSON: Statistical Concepts in Their Relation to Reality

  1. I love Pearson’s reference to his “heresy” here, and find it amusing that he denies what Barnard apparently told Fisher. When I met Barnard (he had read a draft of a paper I’d written on E.S. Pearson, and I was asking him what he thought of it), one of the first things he told me was that he was responsible for telling Fisher that the behavioristic business was Neyman’s. But here Pearson is talking about a different heresy—introducing the alternative.

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