Statistics, the Universe and Everything: A History of an emerging science from the mid seventeenth to the early nineteenth century

Adam Dunn (University of St Andrews, UK)

What would be called modern statistics today can be traced back to the seventeenth century and has come on a long evolution. This talk will focus on the early evolution of statistics - from the 1650s and the first iterations of Political Arithmetic in England, to the early 1840s with the development of the London Statistical Society and the first works of the Belgian statistician Adolph Quetelet. Its aim is to trace the evolution of statistical thought in the political, economic and social/cultural realm, illustrating how modern statistics had begun to form throughout Europe. It will argue that this development was born out a number of different and intersecting trends such as the work of the state and its burgeoning interest in demography, the rise of the individual statistician whose work formed part of a new social and cultural discourse aimed at improving the lives of others, and the development of new economic, social and political forms of quantification that sought to influence those in power. Furthermore, it will explore these trends and contextualise them in wider discussions of the day. Through this it will illuminate how statistics evolved from a descriptive discipline that hid the mathematics behind dense narrative to a more mathematically minded, visual discipline, that sought to use tables, maps, and numbers to illustrate its findings. It is crucial to understand this evolutionary process to understand how statistics has come to take the shape it has, this talk wishes to illuminate part of this process.