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The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,387 ratings  ·  181 reviews
An insightful, revealing history of the magical mathematics that transformed our world.

At a summer tea party in Cambridge, England, a guest states that tea poured into milk tastes different from milk poured into tea. Her notion is shouted down by the scientific minds of the group. But one man, Ronald Fisher, proposes to scientifically test the hypothesis. There is no bett
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Holt Paperbacks (first published April 1st 2001)
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Jul 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
First, my old review from reading it back in 2007 before my MS in Statistics. Below that, my newer review from re-reading it in 2013 before my PhD.

I loved the overviews of fascinating philosophical problems surrounding the use of statistics. (For example, hypothesis testing is used pretty much everywhere but even the mathematicians who came up with it had doubts about its validity and usefulness in most situations... What does a 95% confidence interval REALLY mean, in terms of real lif
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I think this should be required reading for every young statistician. All the other majors seem to have some sort of History of [insert program name here], but I don't remember one from when I was working on my major (in statistics). I felt this book was exactly what it claimed to be--a description of how statistics revolutionized science in the 20th century. Some people seem to think that this book is supposed to describe statistical methods like an introductory textbook. If you want that, you ...more
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, 2012
I really wanted to like this book. I love science history books, and while I am not a technical person, I appreciate the "Physics for Poets" level description that are a feature of many science history books. My problem with this book, and ultimately why I gave up is precisely due to the author's inability to handle the technical details. He says that he wife reminded him not to be too detailed, and ultimately he wasn't detailed enough. He described major changes in statistics, but it was hard t ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Abbey by: Rebecca
This was so interesting! It was so cool to hear about the actual people behind all of the names my stats training taught me - Pearson, Fisher, Tukey, Box, Cox, and more. It also served to show how young this field of statistics is in some ways, but how classic it is in others.

This book does suffer from the law of misonomy that Salisbury mentions often - “the lady tasting tea” is in about three lines. I’m not sure what the reasoning was there, and it threw me for a bit early on.

The author claims
Nathaniel Hardman
Mar 01, 2009 rated it liked it
The first three chapters were the best. He started out with some really good stuff that was both biographically interesting and statistically informative. But is seemed like he lost steam. That said, there were still some good chapters and interesting anecdotes, and I generally enjoyed the book. I had to read about two-thirds for a class, and I finished the rest of it after the class was over, so that says something.
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of statistics. (Doug says that's an oxymoron.)
George Goodall
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
It's a book about statistics... but it doesn't actually talk about how to do stats. Instead, it's about the evolution of the practice of statistics told by someone who was in the front lines of its evolultion. Each chapter is dedicated to a person or development so that we see the field evolve over time. It's really a fantastic meditation on what we can do -- and should do -- with stats and what we can't.

My favorite part relates to the lowly p-vale. Where on earth did this thing come from? Sals
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was very interesting to read about the people behind the known statistical methods! Also, the author has a nice writing style, it does not feel dry. Sometimes, he even builds up the expectation for the next chapter so I just wanted to know what happened...
Xiao Xiao
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excursion through history of statistics in the 20th century. It's interesting to learn how the ideas related to each other, as well as a little about the statisticians' personal lives.
Michael Bailey
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Amazing book on the history of statistics and experimentation. a must read for all.
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The most popular image of Statistics we have is from Mark Twain’s re-tweet of the quote attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.". With the advent of computers and vast amount of storage, ever more data is available for crunching by scientists. Consequently, we have ever more conclusions based on data, not all of them unbiased. Politicians, environmentalists, businesses and scientists have all been guilty of selectively choosing data to ...more
Aug 07, 2008 rated it liked it
The full title here is The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century. This book by David Salsburg is pretty much what the title suggests: part history of the rise of statistical methods in scientific research and part biography about the people responsible for it. This probably isn't a book for anyone not already versed in inferential statistics and related subjects. It won't, for example, teach you much about statistics, so you'll be pretty lost or at best ...more
Malcolm Muscat Rodo
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I truly appreciate what the author of this book set out to do as it is not an easy thing. Collecting all the works and achievements of vastly different authors of many backgrounds and summarize their contribution to the Statistical Revolution in a cohesive narrative? Not easy.
But in a weird way, he managed.

Prior to purchasing this book I was made aware that this book might not be for everyone. As a statistics graduate, I enjoyed it because I could understand what he was saying (even though the
Bernard M.
Oct 12, 2019 rated it liked it

I saw the book as divided into the early chapters where he covers the formative history of modern statistics, focusing on Karl Pearson and Fischer, the middle chapters, in which he gives a series of biographical sketches of important contributors to statistics and finally the last chapter in which he discusses the philosophical implications and problems of statistics. I enjoyed the first and last part of the book, but I really wonder whether the short biographical sketches would interest anyone
Jul 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I love what David Salsburg attempts to do here: explain the basic concepts of statistics by guiding the reader through the history of its development as a discipline. Too often we learn concepts and methods that are popular today without understanding why we use them or how they developed. But however much I appreciate Salsburg's approach, I cannot recommend his book. It is inconsistently paced, lacking in any real explanations of the statistics, and peppered with "when I met [so-and-so famous p ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: maths
Very interesting book! The first book on statistics I read in Chinese (translation), and the translation is almost flawless. Totally changed my view on statistics as a whole. Should have read it much earlier. The author gives a very thorough and yet reader-friendly account of the general development of statistics in the 20th century and how its fundamental ideas and philosophy revolutionised nearly every branch of science.

The first half of the book, the more exiting part, centres on a couple of
Dennis Littrell
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Statistics humanized and triumphant

The title refers to the story about the English lady who believed she could tell by tasting whether the milk had been added to the tea or the tea added to the milk. We find out here that apparently she could. At least in the small sample of cases recorded, she "identified every single one of the cups correctly." (p. 8)

The question--and this is the question that statisticians are forever trying to answer--is, was the result significant? Or how much faith should
Roy W. Latham
Sep 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, you have to have an unusual interest in statistics to enjoy this book, and it wouldn't hurt to have taken a course or two in the subject. I learned that nearly all of statistical analysis was developed in the 20th century, with much of work done by math genius R.A. Fisher in England. Fisher published an obscure handbook of formulas in the thirties, but figuring out just what Fisher had done and making it general knowledge continued into the 60s. The great bulk of modern science depends upo ...more
Feb 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed "The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century" by David Salsburg. It was very entertaining and educational at the same time. The book recants the relatively short history of statistics highlighting many of the influential and colorful figures. I enjoyed learning about how key discoveries, such as the Student's T test, were made and under what circumstances. This book made me realize how much I take for granted the modern data-driven mi ...more
Abe Kazemzadeh
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who want to get interested into statistics
Shelves: read-nonfiction
This book is good to get a broad overview of 20th century statistics. I think I learn good when I know the people behind the ideas, so this book is a very good intro to the people of statistics. It makes statistics a lot more interesting than just reading equations. Also, it gives a better idea of the problems that statistics aims to solve. Stigler's book, Statistics on the Table, is a book I read after this one. It's more detailed and has a different writing style... I like both.
Jennifer Chin
Aug 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Even though I knew nothing about stats going in, I was able to understand (albeit at a very basic level) the concepts introduced. Throughout I started having little epiphanies about how statistics influences my (and most people's) every day lives.

I also feel a little more prepared for my stats class this semester in that I have a real sense of why statistics is important, and how it makes data meaningful for decision-making.
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
Odd, not that great. Problem is, Salsburg can't decide whether he's writing a history, a collection of biographies, anecdotes, or explaining modern statistics (early, frequentist, and Bayesian) to a layman, and so it winds up being nothing in particular.
If you want statistics history, I'm sure there are better starting points (McGrayne's _Theory That Would Not Die_ being one that comes to mind).
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely enjoyed reading this book. I highly recommend this book for all who teach stats as well as for all who have an interest in stats. It was interesting to learn about the personal lives of many statisticians in addition to their major contributions to the field. The reading was extremely accessible and engaging. Wish I would have read this much sooner. I'll be able to share more interesting information when teaching stats in the future.
Sep 07, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a flawed book, poorly structured and struggling to explain concepts that underlie the statistical revolution in science. It would be better if there were a few equations or at least graphs to help with understanding. However, book is easy to read and full of interesting biographical anecdotes about men and women who created modern statistics. It can be recommended to those who know the discipline well and want to learn more about its founders.
Aug 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fagbøker
I read it along my Statistics class. Nice to get some "why" from this book in addition to the "how" from the lectures. I was completely unaware of the statistical revolution before reading this book.
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves science, history of science, uses data, or loves statistics. Wonderful stories and the title tells it all...
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: statistics
very readable and non-technical book on history of statistics.

Pete Wung
Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was not a book I had envisioned as being something that I would read, let alone grow to love. My experience with statistics had been limited to some courses I took in graduate school and then exposed to when I was on my first job, we were all exposed to statistical process control (SPC) and six sigma. My background in statistics only went so far as knowing some of the SPC tools. As I grew more mature I began to appreciate the usefulness of statistics but I had a hard time connecting the SPC ...more
Zeyuan Hu
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cs
I know this book since the junior year of college when my PhD roommate carries this book around as a way to take a break from intense research. The title looks interesting to me and one day, I ask him what good about this book. He answers with big smile: “This book is all about gossip in statistics”. I know back that time he is also taking a statistics course in sociology.

Four years after that conversation, this book never appears in my life again. However, for no reason, his comment about this
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
In a way, a peculiar mix. Philosophy of statistics meets biographies of numerous statisticians. I really enjoyed the philosophical part, where the limitations of statistics approach are described, and many concepts and what we know about them are challenged.

What I did not enjoy are all those biographies of statisticians who did great careers as statisticians in 19th century USA, but did not really re-think too many, if any statistical concepts. The part that described all those enthusiastic pro
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