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Title: The interpretation of observational errors in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
Author: Tilling, Laura
ISNI:       0000 0001 3533 5060
Awarding Body: Imperial College London (University of London)
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 1973
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In 1809 Gauss published a probabilistic analysis of the method of least squares, a method which he claimed to have been using as a simple algorithm for a decade or more. Laplace, in part as a result of dissatisfaction with Gauss's approach, and in part because of his own long-standing interest in probability theory, developed and considerably modified the method, collecting his conclusions in his masterly Theorie Analytique des Probabilites of 1812. His book became the basis for the study of error theory in subsequent years. Prior to Gauss's work a number of attempts at error analysis were made. Cotes, Mayer, Euler, Boscovich, Lambert, Laplace and Legendre developed simple ad hoc algorithms for treating discrepant observations; Simpson, Lagrange, Daniel Bernoulli and again Laplace investigated the probabilistic implications of error theory. In this thesis I examine the work of these men in the light of the various characteristics of eighteenth century science which might have led them to investigate the nature of errors: the enthusiasm of the experimental philosophers for mathematising nature, together with their insistence on the supremacy of empirical results; the increasingly stringent demands for precision made by the astronomers; and the rapid growth of probability theory as a branch of mathematics.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available