The Gospel of Statistics and Its Prophet: The Legacy of W. E. Deming

Jean-Guy Prévost

Resumo


William Edwards Deming (1900-1993) is probably one of the most outstanding statisticians of the 20th century. A theoretical physicist by formation, he became interested in problems of industrial quality control during the 1930s. He then involved himself in the development of sampling techniques with the U.S. Bureau of the Census during WWII. After 1945, he was a regular visitor to Japan where he was active in the country’s industrial recovery. Deming became a cult figure in the field of management by the 1980s.

This paper will examine the interplay between, on the one hand, some of Deming’s properly statistical ideas and, on the other hand, his more practical views about statistical ethics and quality. It will also document how these views have circulated, with special reference to the generalization of statistical codes of practice and quality concerns among official statistical bureaus during the last quarter of a century. Moving from industry to government to industry to government, Deming’s ideas and praxis are a significant instance of how statistics, as a set of concepts and activities, have shaped institutions as well as manners of thinking and behaving.

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