Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Old Statistics?

Two different approaches to Statistics from about the same time in history came across my desk today. Ron Dirkse sent me the following clip from Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi":

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

And on the "statpics" blog, Robert W. Jernigan, Professor of Statistics at American University, posted some notes on the First Published Random Walk. Turns out it was by John Venn in 1888, only fourteen years after the first copyrite date of "Life on the Mississippi." And the randomizing device??? The digits of Pi... too bad I didn't get this a day earlier.. 6/28 could be called 2 Pi day.
Here is the image from Venn's classic "The Logic of Chance" :

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