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Math

Florence Nightingale, Statistical Graphics Pioneer 204

Science News has a fascinating look at an under-appreciated corner of the career of Florence Nightingale — as an innovator in the use of statistical graphics to argue for social change. Nightingale returned from the Crimean War a heroine in the eyes of the British citizenry, for the soldiers' lives she had saved. But she came to appreciate that the way to save far more lives was to reform attitudes in the military about sanitation. Under the tutelage of William Farr, who had just invented the field of medical statistics, she compiled overwhelming evidence (in the form of an 830-page report) of the need for change. "As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria's eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts. Statistics had been presented using graphics only a few times previously, and perhaps never to persuade people of the need for social change."

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