Florence Nightingale was a statistician!

As of the 23rd May 2022 this website is archived and will receive no further updates.

understandinguncertainty.org was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

Many of the animations were produced using Flash and will no longer work.

Florence Nightingale is well known for her selfless nursing of the sick, and her pioneering reform of healthcare. Less well known is that she was also an accomplished statistician! We take a look at some of her finest work.

Florence Nightingale was one of the first to work with polar area charts, or coxcombs, as they are often called. These graphs are similar to pie charts. The difference is that in a pie chart the wedges each have the same radius, but their angles differ, whereas in a coxcomb, the wedges each have the same angle, but their radii differ. Nightingale used coxcombs to highlight the huge numbers of soldiers who died from diseases during the Crimean War. We examine Florence Nightingale's graphics in a series of articles; the first of which is Nightingale's 'Coxcombs'

Others are currently discussing the work of Florence Nightingale!

See Florence Nightingale - The Woman and Her Legend for a biography of Nightingale. (BBC Radio 4 show, Monday 10 November to Friday 15 November, 9.45am to 10am.)

See Florence Nightingale and polar area diagrams for a detailed account of Nightingale, statistics, and coxcombs.

See Nightingale's roses in Actionscript 3 for a fantastic blog on animating coxcombs.

See Worth a thousand words for an inspiring article on Nightingale's coxcombs and other fine graphics.

See Florence Nightingale's statistical diagrams for an explanation of why Nightingale's diagrams are referred to as coxcombs, even though she never intended them to be described as such!

See War and Medicine for news of an exhibition by the Wellcome Trust on the evolving relationship between war and medicine. The exhibition runs from 22 November 2008 to 15 February 2009.

Levels: