Penn State

Harriet Black Nembhard - professor of industrial engineering, Penn State University Park

Book Title: R. A. Fisher: The Life of a Scientist

Author: Joan Fisher Box

Book Description:

Sir Ronald Fisher was a pioneer in the methods of statistical design of experiments, one of the pillars of quality engineering which is my own area of work. Fisher was born in 1890 in London and trained in that region at highly prestigious schools. This biography of his life and many contributions to science was written by one of his daughters, Joan Fisher Box, who holds degrees in English literature and the history of science. Through this book, we see Fisher’s vigorous thinking, intense dialogs with colleagues, and genius with intricate theoretical puzzles. I also came to see Fisher as a distant academic cousin, for the book records some of the interactions he had with my advisor’s advisor’s advisor, and how the methods they developed and debated trace all the way through to my own research.


We also see a very personal side of this giant: he was a devoted husband and father of two sons and six daughters, an attentive advisor to many students, and global citizen. I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Box in 2001 when she graciously accepted my invitation to guest lecture for my course on quality improvement. She shared some of the stories from this book about her famous father. It is clear that Fisher’s personal and professional lives were intertwined: he worked from home, took his family with him for academic meetings, and often invited colleagues to his house.


Fisher’s life as a scientist was remarkable and inspirational. It was rich with human connection and unending curiosity. It gives an example to which we can all aspire.


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