Quotation for the week: Nightingale

A slight cheat, since this is a quotation about Florence Nightingale rather than by her. It’s worth including, though. Like her contemporary Mary Seacole, Nightingale was a complex and sometimes controversial character; what is less well known is that she was also a pioneer of the use of statistics in medicine and public health:

Florence Nightingale believed — and in all the actions of her life acted upon that belief — that the administrator could only be successful if he were guided by statistical knowledge. The legislator — to say nothing of the politician — too often failed for want of this knowledge… to understand God’s thoughts, she held we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose. Thus the study of statistics was for her a religious duty.

Francis Galton, in The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton (1924) by Karl Pearson, Vol. II.

(Both Galton and Pearson were significant figures in the development of mathematical statistics, though both are better remembered, sadly, as proponents of eugenics. Values change; maths, if we’re lucky, survives.)


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