Arthur Lyon Bowley


Arthur Lyon Bowley

Arthur Lyon Bowley (Bristol, England November 6, 1869 - January 21, 1957) was an English statistician and economist who worked on economic statistics and pioneered the use of sampling techniques in social surveys.

Bowley's father, James William Lyon Bowley, was a minister in the Church of England. He died in 1870 when Arthur was under two, leaving Arthur's mother as mother or stepmother to seven children. Arthur was educated at a well-known school, Christ's Hospital. After a successful career there he won a major scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge to study mathematics. He graduated as Tenth Wrangler.

At Cambridge Bowley had a short course of study with the economist Alfred Marshall who had also been a Cambridge wrangler. Under Marshall's influence Bowley became an economic statistician. His "Account of England's Foreign Trade" won the Cobden Essay Prize and was published as a book. Marshall watched over Bowley’s career, recommending him for jobs and offering him advice. Most notoriously Marshall told him the "Elements of Statistics" contained “too much mathematics.”

After leaving Cambridge Bowley taught mathematics at St John's School in Leatherhead from 1893 to 1899. Meanwhile he was publishing in economic statistics; his first article for the journal of the Royal Statistical Society) appeared in 1895. In that year the London School of Economics opened. Bowley was appointed as a part-time lecturer and he would be connected with the School until he retired in 1936. He can be considered one of the School's intellectual fathers. However he continued to teach elsewhere; for more than a decade he taught at University College, Reading (now the University of Reading). He was the Newmarch lecturer at University College, London (1897-98 and 1927-28). At the LSE he became Reader in 1908, and Professor in 1915. In 1919 he was appointed to a newly established Chair of Statistics, probably the first of its kind in Britain. In Bowley's time, however, the LSE statistics group was very small: E. C. Rhodes arrived in 1924 and R. G. D. Allen in 1928

Bowley produced a stream of studies of British economic statistics, beginning in the 1890s with work on trade and on wages and income, and proceeding to studies of national income in the 1920s and –30s. Specially noteworthy was his collaboration with Josiah Stamp on a comparison of the UK national income in 1911 and 1924. (Official national income statistics date only from the Second World War.) From around 1910 Bowley worked on social statistics as well. In aim, the work was a continuation of such surveys of social conditions as Charles Booth’s "Life and Labour of the People in London" (1889-1903) and Seebohm Rowntree's "Poverty, A Study of Town Life" (1901). The methodological innovation was the use of sampling techniques. Bowley gave a detailed exposition of his approach to sampling in a 62 page paper published in 1926. The culmination of Bowley's work on social surveys was the monumental "New Survey of London Life and Labour." Even in the 1930s his research could take a new direction, as when he collaborated with his junior colleague R. G. D. Allen on an econometric study of family expenditure.

The "Elements of Statistics" is generally regarded as the first English-language statistics text-book. It described the techniques of descriptive statistics that would be useful for economists and social sciences, and in the early editions contained rather little statistical theory. That changed in the enlarged 4th edition of 1920. In statistical theory Bowley was no innovator but drew on the writings of Karl Pearson, Udny Yule and, most importantly, F. Y. Edgeworth. Bowley paid tribute to the master by trying to make his contributions accessible but his 1928 book is possibly more impenetrable than the original. In the 1930s Bowley played the reactionary, informing Fisher that "Professor Edgeworth had written a great deal on a kindred subject" and slapping Neyman down with "I am not at all sure that the 'confidence' [in confidence interval] is not a 'confidence trick.'"

Bowley's teaching presaged several of the EDA ideas later popularised by John Tukey, including stemplots, decile boxplots, the seven-figure summary and trimean.

Bowley's "Mathematical Groundwork of Economics" was a notable attempt to provide the practising economist (rather than the beginner) with the main ideas and techniques of mathematical economics; it was the first book in English of its kind. One of its successes was to bring the Edgeworth box to the attention of economists generally. Bowley was so successful that this is often referred to as the "Edgeworth-Bowley box".

Bowley received many honours. In 1922 he became Fellow of the British Academy and in 1950 he was knighted. He served on the council of the Royal Economic Society and was president of the of the Econometric Society 1938-9. The Royal Statistical Society awarded him its Guy Medal in Gold in 1935 and he served as its president 1938-40.

According to Allen and George, "In personality Bowley was somewhat shy and retiring. He did not readily make friends and his close friendship with Edwin Cannan over many years was an almost unique experience." They recall an anecdote about an occasion when Bowley and Cannan were cycling with Edgeworth. When Edgeworth wanted to discuss a mathematical question Cannan said, “Bowley, let us go a little faster, Edgeworth cannot talk mathematics at more than eight miles an hour.”

His daughter Marian Bowley also made an academic career in economics.

Main publications of A. L. Bowley

{1345)
* "A Short Account of England's Foreign Trade in the Nineteenth Century", 1893.
* "Wages and Income in the United Kingdom Since 1860", 1900.
* "Elements of Statistics", 1901. (4th edition in 1920)
* "An Elementary Manual of Statistics", 1909.
* "Livelihood and Poverty: a study in the economic conditions of working-class households", with A.R. Bennett-Hurst, 1915.
* "The Division of the Product of Industry", 1919
* "The Mathematical Groundwork of Economics", 1924.
* "Has Poverty Diminished? " with M.Hogg, 1925.
* Measurement of Precision attained in Sampling, "Bulletin de l'Institut International de Statistique,"(1926) 22, Suppl. to Book 1, 1-62. [http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k61602s Gallica (after p. 451)]
* "The National Income 1924" with J. Stamp, 1927.
* Bilateral Monopoly, 1928, "Economic Journal. "
* "F. Y. Edgeworth's Contributions to Mathematical Statistics", 1928.
* "New Survey of London Life and Labour", 1930-35.
* "Family Expenditure" with R.G.D. Allen, 1935.
* "Three Studies in National Income", 1939.

There is an extensive bibliography in Allen and George (1957).

Discussions

*Allen, R.D.G. and George R. F. (1957) Obituary of Professor Sir Arthur Bowley. "Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, A, " 102, 236-241.
* W F Maunder Sir Arthur Lyon Bowley (1869-1957) in " Studies in the History of Statistics Probability," (ed. E S Pearson and M G Kendall) 1970. London: Griffin.
*Darnell, A. (1981) A.L. Bowley, 1969-1957, pp. 140-174 in "Pioneers of Modern Economics in Britain, " (ed. D.P. O'Brien and J.R. Presley) 1981. London: Macmillan.
* Bowley, Arthur Lyon, pp. 277-9 in "Leading Personalities in Statistical Sciences from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, " (ed. N. L. Johnson and S. Kotz) 1997. New York: Wiley. Originally published in "Encyclopedia of Statistical Science. "

External links

* [http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/horizons/H32_web.pdf Horizons March 2005: Stats in History--Arthurian Legend]
* [http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/LSEHistory/bowley.htm Bowley at the LSE.]
* [http://library-2.lse.ac.uk/archives/handlists/Bowley/Bowley.html Bowley Papers at the British Library of Political and Economic Science]
* [http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/bowley.htm New School: Arthur Lyon Bowley]

The New School entry has a photograph. There is another at
* [http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/people/bowley.gifBowley] on the [http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/people/welcome.htm Portraits of Statisticians] page.

In the 4th edition of the "Elements" (1920) Bowley gave a lot more space to statistical theory. The following excerpt illustrates his approach
* [http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/bowley.pdf Bowley's Pearsonian approach to chi-squared] on the [http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/lifework.htm Life and Work of Statisticians] page.This was written just before Bowley got involved in the controversy between Fisher and Pearson on chi-squared. In the fifth edition (1926) Bowley added a reference to his own contribution.

For Bowley's contribution to sampling theory put in historical perspective see
* [http://lib.stat.cmu.edu/~fienberg/DonnerReports/FirstCensus.pdf Part D: A Review of Statistical Sampling from Laplace to Neyman]


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