Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nightingale’s Tea Leaves

It gave me inordinate pleasure when Brigitte handed me a story in the New York Times today about Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). Nightingale was an early user of statistics, and even graphed them as pie charts, in her professional work. She is quoted as having said: “To understand God’s thought, we must study statistics.”  A link to a mortality chart that she produced is here. In 1859 she became the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society. Her own interests in statistics were inspired by the work of an older contemporary, Adolph Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician who first introduced the use of statistics into sociology.

That quote of hers will be read with pleasure by those of us who’ve worked or still work for Editorial Code and Data, Inc. And the appearance of this story now is, as Brigitte puts it, a meaningful coincide. Nightingale, already becoming known as a promoter of the nursing profession, came into her own during the Crimean War (1853-1856) when she led a large group of nurses (53) to the Crimea to tend to the wounded. As rumors of war hover over Crimea again, it is well to remember Nightingale who’d found a way of reading God’s thoughts—probably long before she became a statistician.

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