Born in London, England,on February 17th, 1890, Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born into a wealthyfamily that lived in one of the richest and more hospitable parts of London: Hampstead.
The prosperity abruptly ended when Fisher was 14 when his mother died fromperitonitis and his father’s art distribution business closed just a yearlater. This forced his family to relocate to a much smaller home in a poor partof London: Streatham. This event wasn’t a deterrent to Fisher’s education ashis brilliance was rewarded in a scholarship to attended Harrow School. Aftergraduating Fisher went onto Cambridge as an undergraduate in physics.
Hisinterests included biology and eugenics. This influenced Fisher to start the firstEugenics club at Cambridge with other members sharing his beliefs that thesocially strong and well educated should produce more offspring than those oflower social status to improve the social wellbeing of London (Stewart). The1911 census in the United Kingdom showed an inverse relation between fertilityand social standing, as people of lower social class showed higher fertilityrates. Fisher argued this to be problematic as it would lead to matinginfertility of higher classes, leading to other disastrous results for society.Fisher carried these beliefs whole heartedly just as his parents did. Fisherwas the youngest of eight children and lived to have 8 children of his own(Clarke). Fishers professional career in statistics began when hewas brought onto the Rothamsted Research Station in 1919.
His job was to giveadvice to farmers about how to produce the best crops based on data from thepast 67 years. Fisher was able to find correlations between crop yields withdifferent types of fertilizer and rainfall but couldn’t explain the variationsbetween the years which contradicted his inferences. Fisher looked farther backinto the records and found that the 1850’s farmers used hand weeding done byboys until 30 years later when education acts stopped this practice. This findingexplained the surge of slender fox tailed grass. During Rothamsted, Fisher’swork in the field handled numerous data sets, but problems arose when he foundpopulations to be too large to work with and he needed to find a solution.Until it was later refined, what Fisher was about to discover would be a basisof statistical data collecting and experimenting that would change of the worldof statistics for several decades. Fisher introduced randomization intoexperimental design giving the laws of chance an unbiased quantitative estimatedue both to environmental conditions and to the variability of the populationbeing tested. With this, also came the probability of error which were given torandomization experiments after the estimates were made.
One of the mostapplicable places for this was Fisher’s own F(Fisher)-ratio which was used totest small samples of populations for variances. Its use was revolutionary asit applied to groups of unequal sizes (Clarke). Fisher’s findings influencedanother group of scientists at the University of Edinburgh where DesmondPatterson and Robin Thompson developed the REML (residual or restricted maximum likelihood) algorithm.
This algorithmtook variances from data and then generalized them to unbalanced linear mixedmodels (Payne). One of Fisher’s greatest achievements wasn’t as astatistician, but still used statistics as he was a professor of Eugenics atthe University College London (Stewart). At the University, Fisher hadchallenging views to Wiener and Levine’s Rhesus system. Wiener’s Rh system hadthe possibility of more than one antigen and or antibody that would make a new compositionof the blood groups as a result. Fisher thought the blood composition wouldn’tyield to have multiple antibodies and antigens but yield a composition consistingof its own specific antibody and antigen. Fisher used statistics and hisdeveloping notation to experiment with the Rh system to find variances inmolecule compositions when it came to newborns having blood new compositions asgiven from both parents.
These ideas took some time to finalize as most ofFisher’s colleagues found his research to be muddle and confusing (Clarke).Given some time, Fisher put his own spin on the Rh system and developed his ownFisher-Race notation, which is still used today (Stewart)! Given the time toproperly present his findings Fisher’s success in medicine got him a chair onthe genetics committee at Cambridge in 1943. Further research at Cambridgefound his Rh system to be partially true during allelic testing on crossbreeding locus. Later, American research supported Fisher’s findings when itwas found that people who received blood transfusions had developed hemorrhagesin their ulcers because of donors with different Rh antigens attacking thereceivers blood (Clarke).
Fisher’s new ideas and concepts revolutionized howstatisticians collect data and the methodologies along the way (Payne). Hefindings used math and statistics took new approaches to solves problems infields that he wasn’t too knowledgeable in. His practices and methods weresometimes questionable as he wasn’t always the best at presenting his findingsor portraying his ideas. His different way of thinking and slight inability toexplain what he meant to people in different fields sometimes didn’t make himtoo the most likable or friendly people to talk to (Stewart).
He was known as akind person that most people would want to talk too but also a man that had aquick tempter for people that he disagreed with. He was generous andcompassionate with his work and how it was used to help others, even sometimesgiving his findings away without it being credited to himself.