• "Making Sense of Figures": Statistics, Computing and Information Technologies in Agriculture and Biology in Britain, 1920s-1960s
  • Parolini, Giuditta <1978>


  • M-STO/05 Storia della scienza e delle tecniche


  • Throughout the twentieth century statistical methods have increasingly become part of experimental research. In particular, statistics has made quantification processes meaningful in the soft sciences, which had traditionally relied on activities such as collecting and describing diversity rather than timing variation. The thesis explores this change in relation to agriculture and biology, focusing on analysis of variance and experimental design, the statistical methods developed by the mathematician and geneticist Ronald Aylmer Fisher during the 1920s. The role that Fisher’s methods acquired as tools of scientific research, side by side with the laboratory equipment and the field practices adopted by research workers, is here investigated bottom-up, beginning with the computing instruments and the information technologies that were the tools of the trade for statisticians. Four case studies show under several perspectives the interaction of statistics, computing and information technologies, giving on the one hand an overview of the main tools – mechanical calculators, statistical tables, punched and index cards, standardised forms, digital computers – adopted in the period, and on the other pointing out how these tools complemented each other and were instrumental for the development and dissemination of analysis of variance and experimental design. The period considered is the half-century from the early 1920s to the late 1960s, the institutions investigated are Rothamsted Experimental Station and the Galton Laboratory, and the statisticians examined are Ronald Fisher and Frank Yates.


  • 2013-05-03


  • Doctoral Thesis
  • PeerReviewed


  • application/pdf



Parolini, Giuditta (2013) "Making Sense of Figures": Statistics, Computing and Information Technologies in Agriculture and Biology in Britain, 1920s-1960s, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Science, technology, and humanities , 25 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/5289.