Elements of biometrics
  • Biostatistics (a contraction of biology and statistics; sometimes referred to as biometry or biometrics) is the application of statistics to a wide range of topics in biology.
  • The science of biostatistics encompasses the design of biological experiments, especially in medicine and agriculture; the collection, summarization, and analysis of data from those experiments; and the interpretation of, and inference from, the results.
Biometrics and the history of biological thought
  • Biostatistical reasoning and modeling were of critical importance to the foundation theories of modern biology.
  • In the early 1900s, after the rediscovery of Mendel's work, the conceptual gaps in understanding between genetics and evolutionary Darwinism led to vigorous debate between biometricians such as Walter Weldon and Karl Pearson and Mendelians such as Charles Davenport, William Bateson and Wilhelm Johannsen.
  • By the 1930s statisticians and models built on statistical reasoning had helped to resolve these differences and to produce the neo-Darwinian modern evolutionary synthesis.
  • The leading figures in the establishment of this synthesis all relied on statistics and developed its use in biology.
  1. Sir Ronald A. Fisher developed several basic statistical methods in support of his work The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
  2. Sewall G. Wright used statistics in the development of modern population genetics
  3. J. B. S Haldane's book, The Causes of Evolution, reestablished natural selection as the premier mechanism of evolution by explaining it in terms of the mathematical consequences of Mendelian genetics.
  • These individuals and the work of other biostatisticians, mathematical biologists, and statistically inclined geneticists helped to bring together evolutionary biology and genetics into a consistent, coherent whole that could begin to be quantitatively modeled.
  • In parallel to this overall development, the pioneering work of D'Arcy Thompson in On Growth and Form also helped to add quantitative discipline to biological study.
  • Despite the fundamental importance and frequent necessity of statistical reasoning, there may nonetheless have been a tendency among biologists to distrust or deprecate results which are not qualitatively apparent.
  • One anecdote describes Thomas Hunt Morgan banning the Friden calculator from his department at Caltech, saying "Well, I am like a guy who is prospecting for gold along the banks of the Sacramento River in 1849. With a little intelligence, I can reach down and pick up big nuggets of gold.
  • And as long as I can do that, I'm not going to let any people in my department waste scarce resources in placer mining. Educators are now adjusting their curricula to focus on more quantitative concepts and tools.

Last modified: Monday, 2 April 2012, 10:55 PM