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Why Playfair?

Wainer, Howard
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Inventions, Playfair, William, Graphics, Statistical Analysis, Statistics


William Playfair (1759-1823) worked as a draftsman for James Watt and was the ne'er-do-well younger brother of the well-known scientist John Playfair (1748-1814). William Playfair is often credited with being the progenitor of modern statistical graphics. Most histories of statistical graphics give him huge credit while simultaneously acknowledging important graphical work that preceded him. A balanced summary of most histories is that he invented many of the currently popular graphical forms, improved the few that already existed, and broadly popularized the idea of graphic depiction of quantitative information. Reprint of publication in Chance, Volume 9, No. 2, 1996, pp. 43-52. Also, printed in ETS Research Division's serial publication: "Visual Revelations."

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