Ronald Aylmer Fisher

Sir Ronald A Fisher, FRS (17 February 1890 – 29 July 1962) was an English statistician, biologist and geneticist who used statistical procedures in designing scientific experiments in biological sciences and genetics.


R A Fisher and P C Mahalanobis in ISI

He was Professor of Genetics, University of Cambridge, UK and also one of the founders of population genetics. Fisher was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1929 and was awarded the Royal Medal of the Society in 1938, the Darwin Medal in 1948 and the Copley Medal in 1955 by the Royal Society. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1934, the International Society of Haematology in 1948, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States in 1948. Various institutions awarded him honorary degrees including Harvard University (1936), University of Calcutta (1938), University of London (1946), University of Glasgow (1947), University of Adelaide (1959), University of Leeds (1961) and the Indian Statistical Institute (1962). He was knighted in 1952.

R A Fisher visited Indian Statistical Institute eight times. He made his first visit to India in the winter of 1937-38, at the initiative of P C Mahalanobis. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, wrote to R A Fisher, inviting him to come during December 1937 and January 1938 in Calcutta University. Fisher accepted this and asked for an honorarium of £ 200 and all other expenses. The first session of the Indian Statistical Conference was held in Calcutta in January, 1938 with Prof. R A Fisher as General President. He went to Santiniketan on 17 January 1938 at the invitation of Rabindranath Tagore. Fisher visited ISI second time in January 1945 and stayed here till 24 February 1945. He visited ISI again during the winter of 1951-52 and attended the International Statistical Conference held in Calcutta. Fisher came for the fourth time in December 1954. P C Mahalanobis arranged for Fisher a visit to Dhaka at the invitation of Prof. Q M Hussain. He also went to Madras ISI and Bombay ISI. In 1956, Fisher came to India along with his daughter Joan. He acted as the Chairman of the NSS Review Committee and attended the Indian Science Congress in January 1957. Fisher’s next visit was in January 1959. The travel expenses were paid for by the UNTAA. Fisher’s seventh visit took place in January 1961, when apart from visiting the ISI, he also visited the Poona University. On this trip he was accompanied by another daughter, June Posey. Fisher’s last visit to the Institute took place in February 1962.

During his several visits Fisher met with the Viceroy and other British dignitaries and lent the weight of his prestige to spread appreciation of statistics in the service of India. He conducted a large number of seminar meetings on statistical research and delivered lectures in the Institute. He helped ISI to work with large scale random sampling for estimating yield and acreage of crops. In 1954-55 he delivered series of lectures on Logic of statistical inference at ISI. He was in Lahore Branch of the ISI and visited the Irrigation Research Laboratory with a view to advising the Govt. of the Punjab in regard to the difficult problem of the rising of water level in irrigated areas. Fisher acted as moderator for the first Statistician’s Diploma examination in 1937.

Fisher was a close friend and collaborator of P C Mahalanobis. It was he who proposed the name of Mahalanobis for the Fellowship of the Royal Society. He also proposed Mahalanobis for the Weldon Medal. Fisher had compared the Institute to the ‘banyan tree’ in reference to its activities which in spite of their diversity had an underlying unity of purpose – the promotion of research and of knowledge. R A Fisher delivered the First Convocation Speech of the Institute held on 12 February 1962. He also delivered the Anniversary Speech on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Statistical Institute. Fisher supported the journal Sankhya by contributing his writings to its publication. He termed the new concept of statistics ‘as a key technology of our age’. The inaugural ceremony of the new building (presently known as R A Fisher Bhavan) of the Institute at Baranagar was performed by R A Fisher on 17 December 1951.