This website uses cookies.

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services.

Welcome to History of Data Science. Discover the stories of heroes who transformed our daily lives!

BROUGHT TO YOU BY Dataiku Dataiku

xperiences-ico The Graphic Novel
Filter
Date
Families
Karl Pearson: Creator of Correlation
Mathematics / Statistics

Karl Pearson: Creator of Correlation

4 min read
06_03_2021
Karl Pearson is widely viewed as the founder of modern statistics. In addition to discovering numerous statistical concepts, he pushed to create statistics as a distinct discipline, founding the first ever university statistics department and the first academic journal focused on the field. Unfortunately, like many intellectuals at the time, his attempts to study human populations led him to embrace genocidal politics.

The articles on historyofdatascience.com represent a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs and historical periods. Their selection on this website is solely based on their contributions to the field of data science.
The views and opinions of people presented and expressed on this website are their own and do not necessarily reflect the values of Dataiku as a company nor do they constitute an endorsement by Dataiku.
If you are concerned by anything on this website, please contact us at alan.turing@dataiku.com

A Renaissance man

Pearson was born in 1857 into a middle class Quaker family in London. Beginning with his days as a student, Pearson voraciously pursued knowledge in every field, including literature, mathematics, philosophy, and the natural sciences.

“I rush from science to philosophy, and from philosophy to our old friends the poets; and then, over-wearied by too much idealism, I fancy I become practical in returning to science,” he wrote in his first book, The New Werther, a work of fiction written in the form of letters by a young man in Germany in search of a new philosophy.

Pearson was a devoted skeptic of many of the institutions governing British society during his life. He was an atheist who vehemently criticized Christianity as well as a socialist and anti-monarchist who refused recognitions from the British Crown, including a knighthood.

A vision for statistics

Although Pearson contributed to a number of fields, his most notable work came in statistics. He was the first to introduce the probability value, or p-value, which has since become a core tool of testing hypotheses in statistical studies in a wide variety of fields.

Just as important, Pearson developed novel tools for visualizing statistical studies. He is credited with crafting the first histogram. It’s a strikingly simple concept but one that makes it much, much easier for somebody to understand the significance of data.

Pearson also played a big role in developing statistical hypothesis testing and statistical decision theory, both of which are major components of modern statistical research. In 1911, Pearson founded a statistics department at the University College, London, the first such department in academia.

A devout racist

Like many intellectuals of the time, Pearson was a firm believer in discredited racial science. He believed not only in a hierarchy of races throughout the world, but also that it was preferable to eliminate or displace “inferior” races than for them to coexist alongside the “superior” race.

He also worried, like his mentor Francis Galton, that people in the professional classes in Britain weren’t reproducing as rapidly as those of “lower stock” and believed this could lead to genetic decline. In 1925, he decried the prospect of Jewish immigration to Britain, describing Jews as “inferior physically and mentally.”

Pearson died in 1936, just as Nazi Germany began to implement a genocide largely premised on eugenics ideology.