Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Theodore M. Porter

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691208428

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691208428.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM PRINCETON SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.princeton.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Princeton University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PRSO for personal use.date: 24 July 2021

The Errors of Art and Nature

The Errors of Art and Nature

(p.97) Chapter Four The Errors of Art and Nature
The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900

Theodore M. Porter

Princeton University Press

This chapter analyzes the law of facility of errors. All the early applications of the error law could be understood in terms of a binomial converging to an exponential, as in Abrahan De Moivre's original derivation. All but Joseph Fourier's law of heat, which was never explicitly tied to mathematical probability except by analogy, were compatible with the classical interpretation of probability. Just as probability was a measure of uncertainty, this exponential function governed the chances of error. It was not really an attribute of nature, but only a measure of human ignorance—of the imperfection of measurement techniques or the inaccuracy of inference from phenomena that occur in finite numbers to their underlying causes. Moreover, the mathematical operations used in conjunction with it had a single purpose: to reduce the error to the narrowest bounds possible. With Adolphe Quetelet, all that began to change, and a wider conception of statistical mathematics became possible. When Quetelet announced in 1844 that the astronomer's error law applied also to the distribution of human features such as height and girth, he did more than add one more set of objects to the domain of this probability function; he also began to break down its exclusive association with error.

Keywords:   error law, Abrahan De Moivre, Joseph Fourier, mathematical probability, measurement techniques, mathematical operations, Adolphe Quetelet, statistical mathematics, human features

Princeton Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.