Pearson, Karl 1857-1936 (Loki)

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PEARSON, Karl 1857-1936 (Loki)

PERSONAL: Given name originally Carl; born March 27, 1857, in London, England; died of cardiac failure April 27, 1936, in Coldharbour (one source says London), Surrey, England; son of William (a lawyer) and Fanny (Smith) Pearson; married Maria Sharpe, 1890 (died, 1928); married Margaret V. Child, 1929; children: (first marriage) Egon, Sigrid, Helga. Education: King's College, Cambridge, B.S. (with honors), 1879, LL.D., 1881, M.S., 1882.

CAREER: University College, London, London, England, Goldsmid Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics, 1884-91, Gresham College Professor of Geometry, 1891-1911, Galton Professor of Eugenics, 1911-33, head of Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics, 1906; writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: Rudolf Virchow Medal, Anthropological Society of Berlin, 1933; honorary degree, University of London, 1934.


(Under pseudonym Loki) The New Werther (novel), 1880.

The Trinity (play), 1882.

The Ethic of Freethought: A Selection of Essays and Lectures, Fisher Unwin (London, England), 1888.

(Editor, with Richard Charles Rowe) William Kingdom Clifford, The Common Sense of the Exact Sciences, Appleton (New York, NY), 1888.

The Grammar of Science, Walter Scott, 1892.

The Chances of Death, and Other Studies in Evolution, Edward Arnold (New York, NY), 1897.

(With Alice Elizabeth Lee) Tables of F and H Functions, Offices of the Association (London, England), 1899.

National Life from the Standpoint of Science (speech), A. & C. Black (London, England), 1901.

(With L. W. Atcherley) On the Graphics of Metal Arches, Dulau (London, England), 1905.

On Torsional Vibrations in Axles and Shafting, Dulau (London, England), 1905.

On the General Theory of Skew Correlation and Nonlinear Regression, Dulau (London, England), 1905.

A Mathematical Theory of Random Migration, Dulau (London, England), 1906.

Treasury of Human Inheritance, Dulau (London, England), 1909.

(With Amy Barrington) A Preliminary Study of Extreme Alcoholism in Adults, Dulau (London, England), 1910.

(With David Heron and Gustav A. Jaederholm) Mendelism and the Problem of Mental Defect, Dulau (London, England), 1913.

(Editor) Tables for Statisticians and Biometricians, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1914.

On the Handicapping of the First Born (lecture), Dulau (London, England), 1914.

The Life, Letters, and Labours of Francis Galton (biography), Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), Volume 1, 1914, Volume 2, 1924, Volume 3, 1930.

The Relative Strength of Nurture and Nature, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1915.

(With Andrew W. Young and Ethel M. Elderton) On the Torsion Resulting from Flexure in Prisms with Cross Sections of Uni-axial Symmetry Only, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1918.

The Function of Science in the Modern State, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1919.

On the Construction of Tables and on Interpolation, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1920.

(Editor) Tables of the Incomplete Gamma Function, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (London, England), 1922.

On the Relationship of Health to the Psychical and Physical Characters in School Children, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1923.

(Editor) Tables of the Incomplete Beta Function, Office of Biometrika, (London, England), 1934.

(Editor) Tables of the Incomplete Y Function, Office of Biometrika (London, England), 1934.

Early Statistical Papers, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1948.

E. S. Pearson, editor, The History of Statistics in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries against the Changing Background of Intellectual, Scientific, and Religious Thought (lectures), Griffin (London, England), 1978.

Contributor to periodicals, including Nature, Proceedings of the Royal Society and Philosophical Transactionsof the Royal Society. Founding editor, Annals of Eugenics, 1925-33; editor, Biometrika, 1901-35.

SIDELIGHTS: Karl Pearson is considered a pioneer in the development of statistics as a science. In Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present, he is credited with "developing ways to analyze and represent scientific observations," achievements considered "the groundwork for the development of the field of statistics . . . and its use in medicine, engineering, anthropology, and psychology."

Pearson received his education at King's College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself in mathematics and jurisprudence. During the course of his education in Cambridge, Pearson regularly traveled to Germany, where he indulged his passions for philosophy and socialism. During this period, Pearson produced his first published books, including a novel, The New Werther, which he wrote under the pseudonym Loki, and a passion play, The Trinity. The novel was later described by George Levine, writing in Victorian Studies, as "curious."

In 1888 Pearson returned to England and became Goldsmid Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics at University College, London. That same year, he also published The Ethic of Freethought: A Selection of Essays and Lectures and teamed with Richard Charles Rowe in editing William Kingdom Clifford's The Common Sense of the Exact Sciences.

By the early 1890s, Pearson had already begun exploring the nature of correlation between events, and through the application of mathematical concepts he undertook the development of a statistical method for evaluating the likelihood of correlation. He devised graphs representing the likelihood of correlation, and developed the concept of standard deviation as a means for measuring variance. He also determined randomness through application of the chi-square test, which is described in World of Scientific Discovery as Pearson's "most significant finding." Ian Hacking, writing in Science, found the chi-square test useful "for hypotheses and data where observations naturally fall into discrete categories that statisticians call cells," and Boris Mirkin, in an American Statistician essay, acknowledged chi-squared as "most popular among the contingency coefficients."

Pearson continued to teach at University College until 1933, when he retired after twenty-two years as Galton Professor of Eugenics. Three years later, he died from cardiac failure. His posthumous publications include Early Statistical Papers, which appeared in 1948, and The History of Statistics in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries against the Changing Background of Intellectual, Scientific, and Religious Thought, which followed thirty years later.



Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

World of Scientific Inquiry, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


American Statistician, May, 2001, Boris Mirkin, "Eleven Ways to Look at the Chi-aquared Coefficient for Contingency Tables."

History of Science, March, 1999, M. Eileen Magnello, "Rival Forms of Laboratory Work in Karl Pearson's Career at University College, London."

Science, November, 1984, Ian Hacking, "Trial by Number: Karl Pearson's Chi-square Test."

Victorian Studies, autumn, 2000, George Levine, "Two Ways Not to Be a Solipsist: Art and Science, Pater and Pearson."*

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Pearson, Karl 1857-1936 (Loki)

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