RFF#84 – The “Fisher’s Exact Test” was devised for the “lady tasting tea” experiment

Today I learned an interesting fact about one of the statistical procedures I often use, and I couldn’t resist sharing it because it’s a very random fact that happens to involve food (or more specially, beverages).

As the story goes, Ronald Aylmer Fischer–the famous statistician, biologist, geneticist and eugenicist–created the Exact Test to verify the validity of a claim made by  Dr. Muriel Bristol, a fellow biologist. Apparently, she claimed that she could detect whether the tea or the milk was added to her cup first.

Doubting this ability, Fischer designed an experiment where she would consume eight cups of tea, with four poured each way, and would be asked to predict which was which. At the time, there were no methods to analyze this “categorical data” as we call it. Hence, as a result of this experiment, he devised the Exact Test.

This story probably isn’t as interesting for the non-stats geeks out there. Nevertheless, I still think this story can be appreciated by all because it is a classic example of how the inspiration behind great discoveries can often be quite peculiar.

I learned about this fact from: “The Mathematics of a Lady Tasting Tea”





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