‘‘Describing our whole experience’’: The statistical philosophies of W. F. R. Weldon and Karl Pearson

Authors
Charles H. Pence
Université Catholique de Louvain
Abstract
There are two motivations commonly ascribed to historical actors for taking up statistics: to reduce complicated data to a mean value (e.g., Quetelet), and to take account of diversity (e.g., Galton). Different motivations will, it is assumed, lead to different methodological decisions in the practice of the statistical sciences. Karl Pearson and W. F. R. Weldon are generally seen as following directly in Galton’s footsteps. I argue for two related theses in light of this standard interpretation, based on a reading of several sources in which Weldon, independently of Pearson, reflects on his own motivations. First, while Pearson does approach statistics from this "Galtonian" perspective, he is, consistent with his positivist philosophy of science, utilizing statistics to simplify the highly variable data of biology. Weldon, on the other hand, is brought to statistics by a rich empiricism and a desire to preserve the diversity of biological data. Secondly, we have here a counterexample to the claim that divergence in motivation will lead to a corresponding separation in methodology. Pearson and Weldon, despite embracing biometry for different reasons, settled on precisely the same set of statistical tools for the investigation of evolution.
Keywords biometry  Mendelism  Karl Pearson  positivism  statistics  W. F. R. Weldon
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2011.07.011
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References found in this work BETA

Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism.Elliott Sober - 1980 - Philosophy of Science 47 (3):350-383.
Physics in the Galtonian Sciences of Heredity.Gregory Radick - 2011 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (2):129-138.
Modelling Populations: Pearson and Fisher on Mendelism and Biometry.Margaret Morrison - 2002 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 53 (1):39-68.
Other Histories, Other Biologies.Gregory Radick - 2005 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 56:3-.
The Dimensions of Scientific Controversy: The Biometric—Mendelian Debate.Robert Olby - 1989 - British Journal for the History of Science 22 (3):299-320.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Early History of Chance in Evolution.Charles H. Pence - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 50:48-58.

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