A look at lecturing: Do we talk about the history of science?

History is important: it explains us how we got to the place were we are and interferes more with our future than many would admit. This is true in life, but also in science. In lecturing we usually teach concepts and methodologies, many developed in the last five centuries and they are all developed with a background. This background tells us a lot about why these methodologies gained its importance they nowadays have and only when we understand them we understand why they are so highlighted compared to other methodologies, which we do not necessarily teach nowadays. Nevertheless, usually we keep the mentioning of this background quite brief and when at all, some words about it can be found in books. But is it the right way?

In my current course I teach the basics of statistics and so I took some time to look at the backgrounds. Everybody knows the big names, from Gauss to Kolgomorov, from Poisson to Fisher. Distributions and methodologies are named after these persons, and hardly any of them is just created by one scientist. But there are not only the glamorous stories like for example Poisson, who worked with Lagrange, Laplace and Fourier in Paris in the 19th century. There is also the collaboration close to Darwin, consisting mainly of Galton, Pearson, Fisher and Gosset (yes the one with the student t). They all build the foundation of our science, but were also involved in Eugenics, a topic which is highly sensitive in Germany. Methodologies, like correlations and regression can be used for many things, positive and negative. They all have their strength and weaknesses and it is important to illustrate this to students. Referring to the history and former applications of the teached methodologies can be one way to do it.


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