Where did statistical software come from?

31 Jul 2017

Sarah C Gadd, John Tazare

A hugely important part of studying the epidemiology of diseases is being able to use statistics appropriately. Members of the Electronic Health Records group often write code in statistical programming languages in order to process and analyse data, but we rarely discuss how these programs came to exist. A number of developments in computer science were led by a desire to carry out statistical analyses – particularly least squares regression which, upon review of one of Charles Babbage’s computing machines in 1879 (completed and submitted by his son), the Royal Society identified as something that could be made more practical by computers. Below is a (non-exhaustive) summary of some of the highlights in the evolution of statistical computing. For those who might want to read more about the history of statistics, the ASA maintain a Pinterest board on the topic!

Useful links:

R:
https://www.r-project.org/
https://cran.r-project.org/manuals.html
Stata:
http://www.stata.com/links/
https://stats.idre.ucla.edu/stata/modules/
http://blog.stata.com/
SAS:
https://support.sas.com/en/support-home.html
https://stats.idre.ucla.edu/sas/modules/

Bibliography

BECKER, R. A. 1994. A Brief History of S. Computational statistics: papers collected on the occasion of the 25th Conference on Statistical Computing at Schloss Reisensburg. Physica-Verlag.

BOOTH, A. D. & BRITTEN, K. V. H. 1947. General Considerations in the Design of an All-Purpose Electronic Digital Computer, Princeton, New Jersey, Institute for Advanced Study.

CAMPBELL-KELLY, M., ASPRAY, W., ENSMENGER, N. & YOST, J. R. 2013. Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Avalon Publishing.

DIXON, W. J. 1969. BMD Biomedical Computer Programs for Data Description and Statistical Analyses. Journal of Marketing Research, 6, 93-97.

GILOI, W. K. 1997. Konrad Zuse’s Plankalkül: The First High-Level, “non von Neumann” Programming Language. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 19, 17-24.

GRIER, D. A. 1991. Statistics and the Introduction of Digital Computers. CHANCE, 4, 30-36.

GRIER, D. A. 2006. The origins of statistical computing [Online]. Available: http://magazine.amstat.org/blog/2006/09/01/origins-of-statistical-computing/ [Accessed 27/7/2017.

RANDELL, B. 1982. Colossus: Godfather of the Computer. In: RANDELL, B. (ed.) The Origins of Digital Computers: Selected Papers. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

ROJAS, R. 1998. How to make Zuse’s Z3 a universal computer. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 20, 51-4.

SINT, P. P. 1994. Remarks on the History of Computational Statistics in Europe. Computational statistics: papers collected on the occasion of the 25th Conference on Statistical Computing at Schloss Reisensburg. Physica-Verlag.

VICTOR, N. 1994. The Roots of Computational Statistics in Germany. Computational statistics: papers collected on the occasion of the 25th Conference on Statistical Computing at Schloss Reisensburg. Physica-Verlag.

WILLIAMS, F. C., KILBURN, T. & TOOTILL, G. C. 1951. Universal high-speed digital computers: a small-scale experimental machine. Proceedings of the IEE – Part II: Power Engineering, 98, 13-28.