HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BIOSTATISTICS!

by Dr. Marcello Pagano


I got many a parking ticket because I parked in that special spot across the street that I thought was legal. The ticket said that I parked on Wigglesworth Street. Paying for those tickets was no fun. Now I do not get them anymore because I have grown up and park in the garage under the Medical School, but my memories became a little fonder when I discovered that Edward Wigglesworth was the author of the earliest American life tables, "A Table Sewing the Probability of the Duration, and Decrement, and the Expectation of Life in the States of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, formed from Sixty-two Bills of Mortality on the Files of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the year 1789."

I should not have been surprised because biostatistics has a long history in Massachusetts. Lemuel Shattuck, another street, but this time on campus, inspired the founding of the American Statistical Society (later changed to Association) in Boston in 1839. This, the first professional society in the US, was formed primarily to promote the proper pursuit of vital statistics. Shattuck did not rest there, but pushed for a sanitary survey of Massachusetts. This came to pass in 1849, and led to the blueprint for the founding of the Massachusetts Department of Health (the first depart- ment of health in the nation) and the recognition of the importance of public health.

So we discover proudly that an early force behind the founding of the School of Public Health was one of the early statisticians in this country. The School itself was founded in 1922 as part of the Harvard Medical School. One of the departments in the School was the Department of Vital Statistics. When in 1946 the Harvard School of Public Health became independent of the Medical School, the Department of Biostatistics was born, and the name vital statistics was laid to rest.

This means that next year we are going to be fifty years old!

We are planning on celebrating our anniversary, and welcome any suggestions and offers of help. We shall get in touch with all alumni and friends of the Department since we hope to have everyone involved.

Last modified $Date: 1995/09/15 13:38:57 $ by Ribika Moses moses@hsph.harvard.edu