Repost: Ronald Fisher is one of the few scientists with a legit claim to most influential scientist ever
17 Feb 2014Editor’s Note: Ronald This is a repost of the post “R.A. Fisher is the most influential scientist ever” with a picture of my pilgrimage to his gravesite in Adelaide, Australia.
You can now see profiles of famous scientists on Google Scholar citations. Here are links to a few of them (via Ben L.). Von Neumann, Einstein, Newton, Feynman
But their impact on science pales in comparison (with the possible exception of Newton) to the impact of one statistician: R.A. Fisher. Many of the concepts he developed are so common and are considered so standard, that he is never cited/credited. Here are some examples of things he invented along with a conservative number of citations they would have received calculated via Google Scholar*.
 Pvalues  3 million citations
 Analysis of variance (ANOVA)  1.57 million citations
 Maximum likelihood estimation  1.54 million citations
 Fisher’s linear discriminant 62,400 citations
 Randomization/permutation tests 37,940 citations
 Genetic linkage analysis 298,000 citations
 Fisher information 57,000 citations
 Fisher’s exact test 237,000 citations
A couple of notes:
 These are seriously conservative estimates, since I only searched for a few variants on some key words
 These numbers are BIG, there isn’t another scientist in the ballpark. The guy who wrote the “most highly cited paper” got 228,441 citations on GS. His next most cited paper? 3,000 citations. Fisher has at least 5 papers with more citations than his best one.
 This page says Bert Vogelstein has the most citations of any person over the last 30 years. If you add up the number of citations to his top 8 papers on GS, you get 57,418. About as many as to the Fisher information matrix.
I think this really speaks to a couple of things. One is that Fisher invented some of the most critical concepts in statistics. The other is the breadth of impact of statistical ideas across a range of disciplines. In any case, I would be hard pressed to think of another scientist who has influenced a greater range or depth of scientists with their work.
Update: I recently when to Adelaide to give a couple of talks on Bioinformatics, Statistics and MOOCs. My host Gary informed me that Fisher was buried in Adelaide. I went to the cathedral to see the memorial and took this picture. I couldn’t get my face in the picture because the plaque was on the ground. You’ll have to trust me that these are my shoes.

Calculations of citations #####################
 As described in a previous post
 # of GS results for “Analysis of Variance” + # for “ANOVA”  “Analysis of Variance”
 # of GS results for “maximum likelihood”
 # of GS results for “linear discriminant”
 # of GS results for “permutation test” + # for ”permutation tests”  “permutation test”
 # of GS results for “linkage analysis”
 # of GS results for “fisher information” + # for “information matrix”  “fisher information”
 # of GS results for “fisher’s exact test” + # for “fisher exact test”  “fisher’s exact test”