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Math Graphics Medicine Software

Florence Nightingale, Statistical Graphics Pioneer 204

Posted by kdawson
from the graphical-display-of-quantitative-information dept.
Science News has a fascinating look at an under-appreciated corner of the career of Florence Nightingale — as an innovator in the use of statistical graphics to argue for social change. Nightingale returned from the Crimean War a heroine in the eyes of the British citizenry, for the soldiers' lives she had saved. But she came to appreciate that the way to save far more lives was to reform attitudes in the military about sanitation. Under the tutelage of William Farr, who had just invented the field of medical statistics, she compiled overwhelming evidence (in the form of an 830-page report) of the need for change. "As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria's eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts. Statistics had been presented using graphics only a few times previously, and perhaps never to persuade people of the need for social change."
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Florence Nightingale, Statistical Graphics Pioneer

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  • oh god (Score:5, Informative)

    by BigBadBus (653823) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:04PM (#25938857) Homepage
    For Christ's sake, spell her name right.
    • Re:oh god (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shanen (462549) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:09PM (#25938911) Homepage Journal

      This is /., remember? You're asking far too much to expect the so-called editors to use a spelling checker. Which came first, /. or the toilet?

      (I'm just extra annoyed since I've been a professional technical editor and rewriter for some years. Now after the nameless morons get through playing their moderation games I'll probably be seriously pissed--but that's the primary reaction I ever have to /. these days. I'm convinced that /. is just another interesting idea run into the ground.)

      • Re:oh god (Score:5, Funny)

        by xs650 (741277) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @11:01PM (#25939709)
        "(I'm just extra annoyed since I've been a professional technical editor and rewriter for some years. "

        It's only fair that you be extra annoyed. As a technical editor and rewriter for many years you have undoubtedly pissed off many people yourself.
        • by shanen (462549)

          No, it seems the professional researchers I work with highly value constructive criticism before they send papers to the referees. We're basically on the same team, but specialists in different areas. My pitch is that it's a LCD thing. First-class research with a third-class description does not get averaged to second class.

          However, /. is not to be confused with a prestigious international conference.

          I used to visit /. because a reasonable percentage of the +5 funny posts actually were funny. A smaller (but

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by bXTr (123510)

        Now after the nameless morons get through playing their moderation games I'll probably be seriously pissed--but that's the primary reaction I ever have to /. these days. I'm convinced that /. is just another interesting idea run into the ground.

        Yet, you still come here and even contribute. You probably support government censorship of TV, radio and video game content. "Please, someone, pass some legislation so I don't have to think for myself and change channels or buy a different video game!"

        Seriously, f

      • by ookabooka (731013)

        Which came first, /. or the toilet?

        Ugh. . neither came first, they both came from a single thing that slowly evolved into that system. Perhaps something like the droppings of a dog who had recently eaten some poor kid's science report. Or a soiled diaper made from newspaper.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bmo (77928)

      No kidding.

      I don't know what's up with the fundament haberdashery lately, but this is inexcusable.

      Calling the slashdot editors "editors" is like calling the janitor "sanitary engineer"

      No, wait, I'm being unfair to the janitors. At least they do their jobs.

      --
      BMO

      • by FlyingGuy (989135)

        kdawson is not known for accuracy, grammar, correct spelling, timeliness or any other attribute one might associate with someone using the title of "editor".

    • Tagged "oheditors"

    • The Crime War has been just another boondoggle.
      They should concentrate on defeating the Czars, not appointing them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rubato (883366)

      Never mind the editors: what kind of imbecile spells the name wrong not once but three times when he includes a quotation which contains the correct spelling?

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      It's a sign of the time that people seem to misspell "e" and "i" all the time.

      So soon et siims to mii that iviryoni es goeng to swap thim around.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sodul (833177)

      The sad thing is that it is spelled correctly twice in the quote from the article. An other sad thing is that the misspelling has been on slashdot for over 8hs, and you posted about it within 2 minutes. You would assume that the kdawson would at least check the chatter of the articles a bit and correct the typos since he posted 3 more stories in the hours after this one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Linker3000 (626634)

        I always consider I'm onto a loser when I begin a sentence with:

        "You'd think that..."

        or

        "You would assume..." ...especially when people are involved.

    • Have you ever read any Shakespiar? That's how they used to spell it in those days. And they used to write on bits of leather, with feathers. Imagine that!
  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:05PM (#25938871)

    So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts.

    So, in other words, she invented PowerPoint.

    • It appears they are finaly getting around to last years issues.
      http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10278643 [economist.com]
      >

  • Better graph (Score:5, Informative)

    by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:10PM (#25938913)
    I searched around for a more readable graph and found one here [uh.edu], at the bottom of the page.
  • Pie charts or the headsman.
  • by Forrest Kyle (955623) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:34PM (#25939093) Homepage
    So if it wasn't for Ms. Nightingale, I would never have understood the deleterious effect my cat was having on my homework performance, as it might never have been properly explained. [xkcd.com]
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @09:44PM (#25939173)

    If she'd been a man presenting this, she'd have made the equivalent of surgeon general in her career. -_- No joke--Despite the blessing of Queen Victoria herself, she was denied a chairman position that oversaw general health affairs in the military. I doubt there's an academic statistics book currently in circulation that gives her any credit for this. Even this--a zine read by only a tiny, tiny fraction of the people who go to school every year and rely on her innovation. Hell, the entire field of field medicine was in disrepute at that time in history -- who needs medicine? Most nurses spent at least part of their time in the kitchen, which was viewed as more important. She made it important. It's been two centuries since then and she's still only a footnote. Today, graphical statistics are used in every trained discipline from engineering to medicine to management, but nobody knows this woman's name. They should -- they owe her a lot.

    • by asifyoucare (302582) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:00PM (#25939277)

      GirlInTraining wrote If she'd been a man presenting this, she'd have made the equivalent of surgeon general in her career.

      Maybe; from the little I know she seemed very capable. But conversely, if she was a man nobody would feel the need to write an article about it.

      • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:08PM (#25939339)

        But conversely, if she was a man nobody would feel the need to write an article about it.

        Of course they would: great people are great people, and their accomplishments stand by themselves. The difference is, if she were a man, her (uh, his) sex wouldn't be worthy of note.

      • by Krishnoid (984597) *
        Looking up this entry [slashdot.org] in Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and her entry [wikipedia.org], it looks like you're right!
      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:21PM (#25939445)

        Maybe; from the little I know she seemed very capable. But conversely, if she was a man nobody would feel the need to write an article about it.

        You're absolutely right, nobody would feel they had to. When a woman is acknowledged it's out of pity or some emotive source. When a man is acknowledged it's because of his (objective) accomplishments. Two hundred years and you've just underscored how very little things have changed. When people no longer have to go out of their way to find and honor the contributions of women, when their names simply added to the book without a second thought -- then we'll have progress.

        Thank you for showing us just how deeply sexism pervades our society, even amongst the most technical and literate of the population (like here, on slashdot).

        • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:26PM (#25939485)

          ... even amongst the most technical and literate of the population (like here, on slashdot).

          Ah ha ... now there's where you went wrong.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          When a woman is acknowledged it's out of pity or some emotive source. When a man is acknowledged it's because of his (objective) accomplishments.

          Conversely, when a woman *is* acknowledged for her objective accomplishments, it's invariably accompanied by some mention about the tribulations she endured because of her sex, and how she didn't get "the recognition she deserved." It happens with such extreme regularity that it has become trite, and frankly speaking, counterproductive.

          They've done studies which have found that signs such as "Please leave things where they are. This nature area is being destroyed by a large number of people taking souvenirs

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            I saw a recent blog post which was lamenting the fact that, when asked to name a women scientist, most college students name Marie Curie, with a smattering of Barbara McClintock, ignoring all the other women scientist. No one in the comments stopped to consider that when asked to name a male scientist, most would have responded Albert Einstein, with perhaps a smattering of Richard Feynman, ignoring all the other male scientists. Yet somehow gender was thought to play a major role in those other female scientists being marginalized in this example.

            Hmmm. That may be a leap. Being a female scientist in and of itself causes a certain level of marginalization. That doesn't mean it can't be overcome (as with any stereotype). Discrimination is usually pervasive but subtle. Gender discrimination effects those who are truly talented less than those who are average because it's harder to ignore real talent. But for the mediocre -- the lab assistant, the post-doc, the grunts of the community, discrimination looms large in their world.

            And to answer to another p

        • Thank you for showing us just how deeply sexism pervades our society, even amongst the most technical and literate of the population (like here, on slashdot).

          Thanks honey.

        • by Ardeaem (625311)

          You're absolutely right, nobody would feel they had to. When a woman is acknowledged it's out of pity or some emotive source. When a man is acknowledged it's because of his (objective) accomplishments.

          If I tell you I walked 10km, you might say, "that's no objective achievement!" But then I say, I walked 10km to the peak of Mount Everest, with several people trying to keep me from doing so, then THAT'S an objective achievement. Even if I weren't the first to get to the top of Mount Everest.

          The point is, c

      • by famebait (450028)

        Only shows how little you know.

        Her work was not just capable, it was revolutionary, and it is noted not because she was a woman but because it was groundbreaking in several fields central to modern civilization, largely founding one of them. It would have attracted attention in any case. And it did.

        What the parent to your post quite rightly claimed was merely that such accomplishments, in that time, were it by a man, would normally bring with it not just recognition but a high position and significant power

    • No offence, but graphical representation and statistics was used from Archimedes days by your so-hated by feminists "men". This is how our brains work.
      And no, Ada Byron wasn't the first programmer.
      Sorry to burst your shiny little bubbles, girl.

      • No offence, but graphical representation and statistics was used from Archimedes days by your so-hated by feminists "men". This is how our brains work.

        Sure, but that's irrelevant. It was her application of those techniques, her recognition of the need, and her perseverance in the face of considerable resistance that are admirable. She was a remarkable individual, whether you agree with girlintraining's estimation or not.

        • I agree, but calling her "First human to use graphical representation of data" (Pioneer) is completely bullshit. The same bullshit as calling Ada Lovelace (Byron) to be the first programmer.
          I'm just sick of feminists claiming positions they do not deserve. Just use your brains to get the titles you need. No corner-cutting, no vagina using, no feminist propaganda, no tricks, just raw thinking power.

          • No corner-cutting, no vagina using, no feminist propaganda, no tricks

            Well. Some would say that's just working from your strengths.

            • >> No corner-cutting, no vagina using, no feminist propaganda, no tricks

              Well. Some would say that's just working from your strengths.

              Hey, did you hear the story about the person who was born with both sex organs? Apparently, they had a penis and a brain.

              • That would be funny if the brain was a sex organ.

                • That would be funny if the brain was a sex organ.

                  Well if you had one you might have a different opinion.

                  • by hedwards (940851)

                    You do of course realize that you're at least as bad as the, presumably, male posters you're arguing with, right?

                    I've got a tremendous amount of respect for women, but really women do a piss poor job of treating men with any sort of meaningful respect. I've been fortunate enough in recent years to deal with a higher class of women, but really being liberated isn't any reason for being rude.

                    It isn't a feature of liberation to behave in a similarly boorish manner to the men that are being shouted down for beh

          • Dude, you so need to get laid.

      • So, when you say "our brains" in relation to graphical representation and statistics are you talking about humanity, or are you one of those sexists who mean "mens" brains? I think theres some distinction needed.

        Also saying "no offense" is kind of negated by saying "Sorry to burst your shiny little bubbles, girl". No offense, but "No offense" isn't a Get to Act Like an Ass Free Card.
    • by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:27PM (#25939493) Journal
      Actually, all statistics books I've read that have a section on history mention her graphs, and Charles Joseph Minard's graph of Napoleons losses in Russia. Most people I've meet and discussed statistics with have heard this before, and I was taught it like the first week of class, so save me the bleeding heart rant about social injustice.

      So she didn't get to a high station because she was a woman in a society thats over 100 years dead, that really sucks for her, but only marginally relevant today.
      • o she didn't get to a high station because she was a woman in a society thats over 100 years dead, that really sucks for her, but only marginally relevant today.

        Today a black President, tomorrow ...

        • Today a black President, tomorrow ...

          I'm assuming you were going to end that sentence with 'a woman President.'. I just feel the need to point out that, in every way that matters for a leader, there's a much bigger difference genders than between races.

      • by ErkDemon (1202789) on Monday December 01, 2008 @08:44AM (#25943079) Homepage
        Yeah, there's a classic little book by Darrell Huff called "How To Lie With Statistics", and it credits FN with being a pioneer in the art of the misleading graph. :)

        FN wanted the Crimean statistics to look as horrifying as possible.

        The little Huff book is excellent, and very well known (and inexpensive!), so I think that most people who've read a bit about statistics probably already know the Florence Nightingale story.

    • by Blue Stone (582566) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:58PM (#25939685) Homepage Journal

      >She made it important. It's been two centuries since then and she's still only a footnote.

      I don't know about that. She was possibly one of only three important people in the history of medicine that I learned about when I was a child here in the UK. And my impression was that she was somewhat sainted (despite any lack of formal 'establishment' status); regarded as a genuine heroine to be lauded by all.

      (The others were Alexander Fleming and Louis Pasteur).

    • by Xiroth (917768) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @11:36PM (#25939895)

      While I completely agree that she was not given the prestiege due her while she was alive, I think you underestimate her fame in the time since. There have been [wikipedia.org] monuments erected in her honour, museums named after her, and books, television shows, and no fewer than 4 films about her, and I think she could reasonably accurate be described as a household name today (who hasn't at least heard the name?). Most of them concentrate on her contribution to our understanding of sanitation (in which she was truly revolutionary) and nursing, but I do not think that she could reasonably be described as lacking in recognition in the modern era.

    • All I ever knew about her was that she was the "lady with the lamp" with all of her good deeds summed up by the description of her caring attitude and the succor she brought. This new (to me) information gives a lot more texture and certainly makes me want to learn more about her.
    • by ErkDemon (1202789)
      Florence Nightingale was famous (still is), and got a good career out of it. If she didn't get to be surgeon general ... well, can most people recite the names of surgeon generals from the period without looking them up? FN was bigger than that.

      Florence Nightingale wasn't overlooked, she was regarded as a popular hero of the time, and when I was a kid, she was on the back of the UK Ten Pound Note! If anything, her fame probably unfairly eclipsed that of a number of other people who also deserve to be reme

  • The Lady Tasting Tea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...by David Salsburg mentioned Florence Nightingale (jeez, who proofreads Slashdot contributions?):

    ...the real Florence Nightingale was a woman with missions. She was also a self-educated statistician.

    One of Nightingale's missions was to force the British army to maintain field hospitals and supply nursing and medical care to soldiers in the field. To support her position, she plowed through piles of data from the army files. In them, she showed how most of the deaths in the Bri

  • Credit? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jeheto (1414993) on Sunday November 30, 2008 @10:13PM (#25939371)
    Nightingale didn't get the credit she deserved, but I don't think that credit is really what matters here. Yes, she did it, but shouldn't we look at the results rather than the person who caused them? I do not know much about Nightingale, but most people who choose to work in the medical field back then did it out of selflessness. You didn't become a doctor because you wanted glory, you became a doctor because you wanted to help people.
    • Who says she didn't get the credit she deserved? Wikipedia calls her arguably the most famous Victorian after Queen Victoria!

      When I was growing up, the two historic people everyone knew from UK banknotes were Isaac Newton and Florence Nightingale.

      How much more credit would it be possible for one person to get?

  • I'm just going to comment on the graph itself [uh.edu], without connection to the person:

    Presenting this kind of data - abolute numbers and their breakdown into individual contributors,
    for consecutive, identical intervals of time - in a polar graph as some kind of piechart is a very bad idea.

    Piecharts are good to represent relative parts of a whole, by segmenting a circle. That's it. As soon as a radial
    component is included (as is the case here - it even is the main component), they become at least misleading,
    • This poster is right on the money. If you click through to TFA (*gasp*), at the bottom they have a link to a flash widget allowing you to switch between (digitally recreated versions of) the Nightingale's Rose graphs, and a simple bar chart showing the same data.

      The bar chart is ridiculously easier to read and still makes the same point about causes of death just as strongly - even more so, because it's actually understandable.

      If only I had mod points.

    • It's good that you feel the need to discuss this graph. It sucks that you didn't bother to read two English sentences that go along with them.

      The Areas of the blue, red, & black wedges are each measured from the centre as the common vertex.

      The blue wedges measured from the centre of the circle represent area for area the deaths from Preventable or Mitigable Zymotic diseases, the red wedges measured from the centre the deaths from wounds, & the black wedges measured from the centre the deaths from all other causes.

      I think it would insult your intelligence (although not your attention span) if I were to comment further on these perfectly lucid sentences.

  • Inventor?!?!? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Monday December 01, 2008 @01:50AM (#25940519) Journal

    From even the summery:

    """
    Statistics had been presented using graphics only a few times previously
    """

    So, she didn't invent them then, now did she. One of the first, fine. One of the ones to popularise its use, fine. But, invent, hardly.

  • Proves that good intentions may cause unexpected harm. Here development ultimately lead to Death by Powerpoint casualties.

    Full circle. She couldn't win.

    Bert

  • by influenza (138942) on Monday December 01, 2008 @02:25AM (#25940629)

    History is full of women who's contributions have been forgotten. Another one is Lucy [iww.org] Parsons [wikipedia.org]. Her and her husband were anarchist labour leaders in Chicago where they helped organize the events known as the Haymarket Riots which gave the rest of the world May Day.

    The Chicago police called her "more dangerous than a thousand rioters" and she was a major influence on labor politics until she died in a house fire in 1942 that also consumed most of her many writings.

    In 1905 she wrote this piece for The Liberator, published October 22:

    FAMOUS WOMEN OF HISTORY: Florence Nightingale

    Amid the general consternation, the minister of war wrote a letter to Miss Nightingale, stating that he considered her the only person in Great Britain capable of bringing order out of confusion, and imploring her to organize and direct the reform of the military hospitals; and this letter was crossed by one from Miss Nightingale, volunteering to place her strength and ability at the service of her nation. Good trained nurses were almost unknown quantities in those days; yet, nothing daunted, Florence Nightingale sailed from England with thirty of the best nurses that she could muster within the week from her letter. In required a good deal of tact to overcome the prejudices and jealousies among the physicians and surgeons at the "womanly prominence" and the conciliate the general disapproval of medical and military officials. For these were the days when it was considered that "the proper place for the woman is at home."

    Overcoming professional jealousy, she set herself to the task of cleansing the Augean hospitals containing over 4,000 patients. These barrack hospitals at Scutari, which had been loaned to the British government by the Sultan of Turkey, were 100 feet above the Bosporus. The day before the arrival of the staff of nurses the wounded from Balaclava had been landed; packed in the overcrowded transports, their wounds had not been dressed for five days, and cholera and fever were reaping their fearful harvest. The poor men outside with cold and starvation were faring far better than the sufferers in the tainted wards of the disordered hospitals.

    -------------

    I got this out of "Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality and Solidarity" [iww.org].

    Off the top of my head, some other woman who have been mostly forgotten include Elizabeth Gurley Flynn [wikipedia.org] (a co-founder of the ACLU), Ada Lovelace [wikipedia.org] (perhaps earliest programmer), Hedy Lamarr [wikipedia.org] (co-invented spread spectrum wireless communications years before it was technologically practical to implement, but better known for being a babe). How many people here know the name Rosalind Franklin [wikipedia.org]? All of these women and many more excelled in male dominated fields.

  • Dr. John Snow (Score:5, Informative)

    by mcubed (556032) on Monday December 01, 2008 @03:34AM (#25941019) Homepage
    Not to take away from Nightingale's achievements, but the most groundbreaking and impactful innovation in graphical representation of disease vectors came from Dr. John Snow, who created a map of SoHo's (London) devastating 1854 cholera outbreak that convincingly made the case that cholera was water born and not the result of miasma. The medical establishment at the time largely dismissed Snow's findings, but the power of the graphical representation convinced the people it needed to in the end and Snow's theories were ultimately vindictated. Unfortunately, Snow didn't live long enough to see his ultimate triumph. Some speculate that his habit of experiementing on himself with ether and chlorophorm may have contributed to his early demise. (Snow was also a pioneering anathesiologist, and even assisted in the birth of Queen Victoria's eight and rather difficult childbirth.) All this is recounted in Steven Johnson's excellent book The Ghost Map (2006). He talks about Nightingale as well, though not about her charts and graphs. Nightingale was, at least through the 1850s a proponent of the eventually discreted miasma theory.
  • well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Monday December 01, 2008 @08:46AM (#25943103) Journal

    "...an innovator in the use of statistical graphics..."
    Really? I'd have said that she was an innovator in the use of statistical graphics to MISLEAD and 'spin' her data to enhance what she wanted to show (so in that sense, I guess she was in fact ahead of her time, the foremother of all crappy powerpoint presentations).

    Why do I malign such a wonderful woman? Because her presentation is misleading and not so terribly well-presented in terms of either accuracy or simplicity.

    1) while the method of graphing the data is perhaps novel in it's way of advancing over time, it's NOT USEFUL. It's finite - once you've determined the proportion each pie piece is of the circumference, that's it. If your pie pieces are going to each be 30 degrees, you get 12 data points, and that's IT...have a 13th point? Sorry, need to start another roundel (or whatever it's called) subsecting the data in ways that are at least hard to interpret and possibly misleading.
    2) circular (area) presentations of linear data should always make the viewer suspicious, and this is no exception. Circular data emphasizes change in disproportional ways, as recognized and explained perfectly by Tufte. For example if you're showing your information as 'circles of relative size' but your data is implemented as the diameter of those circles, a simple doubling of the diameter actually increases the AREA of the circles (what your eye instinctively recognizes) by FOUR. So if you want to mislead people that a small increase really 'feels' quite a bit larger, circular graphs are the ticket. This is precisely what FN did here. Her goal was to show the HUGE number of 'preventable' deaths, and she did this in two ways: first, she chose the circular-presentation which exaggerates increases by ballooning the area disproportionally to the actual numeric increase. Secondly, she even further stacked the graphs, pushing preventables out to the circumference of the circle, further exaggerating the numbers because they were then stacked ATOP the death data, sneakily increasing the radius (and thus the displayed 'area') even if preventables did NOT increase.

    She obviously had the best of intentions, but let's recognize this 'graph' for what it is: a very clever presentation of highly massaged data to induce an administrator to come to the conclusion desired. It's propaganda, nothing more. Well intentioned, but still propaganda.

    So clearly, she's not simply the mother of the Red Cross, but the ancestor of all modern hatable powerpoint quackery to the present day.

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