William Sealy Gosset
William Sealy Gosset (aka Student) in 1908 (age 32).
|Born||13 June 1876|
Canterbury, Kent, England
|Died||16 October 1937 (aged 61)|
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
|Alma mater||New College, Oxford|
|Known for||Student's t-distribution|
Born in Canterbury, England to Agnes Sealy Vidal and Colonel Frederic Gosset, Gosset attended Winchester College before studying chemistry and mathematics at New College, Oxford. Upon graduating in 1899, he joined the brewery of Arthur Guinness & Son in Dublin, Ireland.
As an employee of Guinness, Gosset applied his statistical knowledge - both in the brewery and on the farm - to the selection of the best yielding varieties of barley. Gosset acquired that knowledge by study, by trial and error, and by spending two terms in 1906-1907 in the biometrical laboratory of Karl Pearson. Gosset and Pearson had a good relationship. Pearson helped Gosset with the mathematics of his papers, including the 1908 papers, but had little appreciation of their importance. The papers addressed the brewer's concern with small samples; biometricians like Pearson, on the other hand, typically had hundreds of observations and saw no urgency in developing small-sample methods.
Another researcher at Guinness had previously published a paper containing trade secrets of the Guinness brewery. To prevent further disclosure of confidential information, Guinness prohibited its employees from publishing any papers regardless of the contained information. However, after pleading with the brewery and explaining that his mathematical and philosophical conclusions were of no possible practical use to competing brewers, he was allowed to publish them, but under a pseudonym ("Student"), to avoid difficulties with the rest of the staff. Thus his most noteworthy achievement is now called Student's, rather than Gosset's, t-distribution.
Gosset had almost all his papers including The probable error of a mean published in Pearson's journal Biometrika under the pseudonym Student. It was, however, not Pearson but Ronald A. Fisher who appreciated the importance of Gosset's small-sample work, after Gosset had written to him to say I am sending you a copy of Student's Tables as you are the only man that's ever likely to use them!. Fisher believed that Gosset had effected a "logical revolution". Fisher introduced a new form of Student's statistic, denoted t, in terms of which Gosset's statistic was . The t-form was adopted because it fit in with Fisher's theory of degrees of freedom. Fisher was also responsible for applications of the t-distribution to regression analysis.
Although introduced by others, Studentized residuals are named in Student's honour because, like the problem that led to Student's t-distribution, the idea of adjusting for estimated standard deviations is central to that concept.
Gosset's interest in the cultivation of barley led him to speculate that the design of experiments should aim not only at improving the average yield but also at breeding varieties whose yield was insensitive to variation in soil and climate (that is, "robust"). This principle only appeared in the later thought of Ronald Fisher, and then in the work of Genichi Taguchi during the 1950s.
In 1935, at the age of 59, Gosset left Dublin to take up the position of Head Brewer, in charge of the scientific side of production, at a new Guinness brewery at Park Royal in northwestern London. He died two years later, aged 61, in Beaconsfield, England, of a heart attack.
Gosset was a friend of both Pearson and Fisher, a noteworthy achievement, for each had a massive ego and a loathing for the other. He was a modest man who once cut short an admirer with this comment: "Fisher would have discovered it all anyway."