Sir Ronald Fisher: Biography & Contributions to Statistics

Instructor: Usha Bhakuni

Usha has taught high school level Math and has master's degree in Finance

In this lesson, you will be taken through a biography of British statistician, Sir Ronald Fisher, a timeline of his accomplishments and contributions to statistics. Following this lesson will be a brief quiz.

Who was Sir Ronald Fisher?

Touted as the greatest scientist of his time, Sir Ronald Fisher (1890-1962) was a British statistician and biologist who was known for his contributions to experimental design and population genetics. He is known as the father of modern statistics and experimental design.


Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born into a wealthy family in London, England on 17 February, 1890. He studied at Harrow School in Hampstead. He was among the brightest students of the school. When he turned 15, his father's business went bankrupt and the family had to move to Streatham.

He suffered from extreme shortsightedness. He was not even allowed to study under an electric lamp as it strained his eyes. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as he learned to visualize mathematical problems in his head and solve them mentally. He did not let it put him down in any way.

At the age of 19, he won a scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where he studied mathematics and graduated in 1912 with a first class honors in mathematics. After graduating, he stayed at Cambridge to study postgraduate level physics, including the theory of errors, which increased his interest in statistics.

Fisher was always interested in the field of evolution and genetics. He maintained a strong interest in eugenics, which is the science involving improvement of human species by selective breeding. In 1911, he formed a Eugenics Society in Cambridge University, which attracted a number of prominent members.

He started working as a statistician at an insurance company in 1913. After a brief stint there, he became a high school teacher and continued his research in statistics. In 1919, he started working with Rothamsted Experimental Station in agricultural research. The access to huge amounts of agricultural data here helped him in devising new theories on experiments.

Thus, his early experiences in the University of Cambridge shaped his interest in the field of population genetics. He was known as the best biologist since Charles Darwin. He published 7 books and almost 400 academic research papers in the fields of statistics and genetics.

Fisher suffered from colon cancer and died aged 72 on July 29, 1962, in Adelaide, Australia following a surgery for the same. He was cremated in St. Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide.

Now, we will have a look at his most noteworthy contributions to statistics.

Contributions to Statistics

In 1912, he published his first paper on the method of maximum likelihood estimation, which involves estimating the parameters of a statistical model, given its observations, by maximizing the likelihood of these observations with the parameters. In the same year, he established the principle that the sample mean exists, which is different from the population mean.

In 1918, while researching for his paper on quantitative genetics, he introduced the concept of variance.

In 1919, while working at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, he invented the tools for modern experimental design with the help of data available there.

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