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The History of Statistics at LSE

Statistics is enduringly and increasingly important for making sense of the enormous amounts of data in today’s world

Beginnings - Statistics at the LSE

The Department of Statistics at LSE has a distinguished history. Its roots can be traced back to the appointment of Sir Arthur Lyon Bowley, an alumnus of the University of Cambridge, at LSE in 1895. He was appointed Chair in Statistics in 1919, probably the first appointment of its kind in Britain.

Presidents of the Royal Statistical Society drawn from the Department include; Arthur Lyon Bowley, Maurice Kendall, Roy D. G. Allen, Henry Wynn, Claus Moser, James Durbin and David J. Bartholomew.

The Department has an international reputation for development of statistical methodology that has grown from its long history of active contributions to research and teaching in statistics for the social sciences.

Before 1895

Two colleges of the University of London have Professors working in Statistics as branches of Mathematics or Economics. Arthur Bowley (1869-1957) was researching wages and giving occasional lectures at the University of London, before the LSE was incorporated.   

Who was Arthur Bowley?
From 1901, Bowley spent more time at LSE, becoming a Reader in 1908 after which he gave lectures in ‘Elementary Statistics’ at the newly formed LSE. Four lecturers in Statistics (including the then Director of LSE), make up ‘The Research Department’. In 1902 Bowley was appointed lecturer at University of London. Other Statistics Professors at this time were Karl Pearson and Francis Ysidrow Edgeworth.   

Bowley publishes ‘Elements of Statistics’ the first text book in English on this subject. Working on stem and leaf diagrams.  

What did students study in Statistics?
The syllabus included probability, moments, expected values, index numbers and historical statistics. Demography and logic were added later. Visiting lecturers included an expert on the Burmese census, the Head of the Meteorological office and the first director of the LSE, William Hewins. In the very early years,  Francis Ysidro Edgeworth lectured in theoretical statistics. In 1903 Statistics Lectures include Demography, Meteorology,’ and large scale official surveys. In 1908, there are ‘23-28’ students following the Statistics courses in the BSc Econ.