Classics in the History of Psychology

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

ISSN 1492-3173

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By Ronald A. Fisher (1925)

Posted March 2000


The increasing specialisation in biological inquiry has made it impossible for any one author to deal adequately with current advances in knowledge. It has become a matter of considerable difficulty for a research student to gain a correct idea of the present state of knowledge of a subject in which he himself is interested. To meet this situation the text-book is being supplemented by the monograph.

The aim of the present series is to provide authoritative accounts of what has been done in some of the diverse branches of biological investigation, and at the same time to give to those who have contributed notably to the development of a particular field of inquiry an opportunity of presenting the results of their researches, scattered throughout the scientific journals, in a more extended form, showing their relation to what has already been done and to problems that remain to be solved.

The present generation is witnessing " a return to practice of older days when animal physiology [p. vi] was not yet divorced from morphology." Conspicuous progress is now being seen in the field of general physiology, of experimental biology, and in the application of biological principles to economic problems. In this series, therefore, it is intended that biological research, both pure and applied, shall be represented.

F.A.E. Crew, Edinburgh
D. Ward Cutler, Rothamsted [p. vii]


For several years the author has been working in somewhat intimate co-operation with a number of biological research departments; the present book is in every sense the product of this circumstance. Daily contact with the statistical problems which present themselves to the laboratory worker has stimulated the purely mathematical researches upon which are based the methods here presented. Little experience is sufficient to show that the traditional machinery of statistical processes is wholly unsuited to the needs of practical research. Not only does it take a cannon to shoot a sparrow, but it misses the sparrow! The elaborate mechanism built on the theory of infinitely large samples is not accurate enough for simple laboratory data. Only by systematically tackling small sample problems on their merits does it seem possible to apply accurate tests to practical data. Such at least has been the aim of this book.

I owe more than I can say to Mr. W. S. Gosset, Mr. E. Somerfield, and Miss W. A. Mackenzie, who [p. viii] have read the proofs and made many valuable suggestions. Many small but none the less troublesome errors have been removed; I shall be grateful to readers who will notify me of any further errors and ambiguities they may detect.

February 1925