R.A. Fisher

Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher, (17 February 1890 - 29 July 1962) was an extraordinarily talented evolutionary biologist, geneticist and statistician. He has been described by Richard Dawkins as "The greatest of Darwin’s successors," and the historian of statistics Anders Hald said "Fisher was a genius who almost single-handedly created the foundations for modern statistical science."

Contributions to Statistics

Fisher invented the techniques of maximum likelihood and analysis of variance, was a pioneer in the design of experiments, and originated the concepts of sufficiency, ancillarity, and Fisher information, making him a major figure in 20th century statistics. His article "On a distribution yielding the error functions of several well known statistics" presented Karl Pearson's chi-squared and Student's t in the same framework as the normal distribution and his own analysis of variance distribution z. Fisher's book Statistical methods for research workers showed how to use these distributions. His work on the theory of population genetics also made him one of the three great figures of that field, together with Sewall Wright and J. B. S. Haldane, and as such one of the founders of the neodarwinian modern synthesis. See also Fisher's linear discriminator.

Brief Biography

He was born in East Finchley, London (his twin died in infancy) and obtained a B.A. degree in mathematics, from Cambridge University in 1912. In 1911, he was involved in the formation of the Cambridge University Eugenics Society. His studies of errors in astronomical calculations, together with his interests in genetics and natural selection, led to involvement in statistics.

From 1919 he worked at Rothamsted Experimental Station making contributions in statistics and genetics. In 1933 he became a professor of eugenics at University College London moving in 1943 to the Balfour chair of genetics at Cambridge.

He received various awards for his work and was made a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. He had a long running feud with Karl Pearson (he declined a post at the University of London), and later with Pearson's son E.S. Pearson. After retiring from Cambridge he spent some time as a research fellow at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Adelaide, Australia where he died in 1962.

Books by Fisher