[ToC]

 

DEAD PRUSSIANS

Ben Merriman

The Poisson distribution is a statistical description of events that occur infrequently and independently. The first major characterization of the Poisson distribution was set forth in 1898 by Ladislaus Bortkiewicz, who spent most of his career in Prussia, though he was a Pole of Russian birth. One suspects that his attitude toward his adopted country was ambivalent; though instances of the Poisson distribution abound in all domains of science, Bortkiewicz's book, Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen, uses the violent deaths of Prussians as his sole examples:

Soldiers kicked to death by horses: 196
Suicides (children): 60
Suicides (women): 389
Laborers killed in workplace accidents: 447
Total Poisson-distributed dead Prussians: 1,092

In statistics, as in other things, progress may come at a human cost.

 


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"Dead Prussians" is one of a series of essays based on historical material in science and law. The full text of Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen can be found [here]