Fisher Memorial Trust

Charity Commission charity number 313536

Window at Gonville & Caius College Cambridge

(Photograph by Denise Till)

The Fisher Memorial Trust was set up to promote interest in the life and work of the great statistician, evolutionary biologist and geneticist, Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962) and to maintain his scientific legacy by encouraging discussion of the scientific fields in which he was active.

Policy on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The Fisher Memorial Trust believes that genetics and statistics are sciences that can deliver great benefits to all. As a matter of social justice, it is desirable that the widest possible access to studying and contributing to the developments of these sciences should be available, irrespective of ethnicity, culture, creed or gender. The Trust also believes that the wider the access, the greater the rate of development of these sciences will be, and the greater the benefit to humanity

The 41st Fisher Memorial Lecture

The Fisher Memorial Trust are delighted that Professor William Rosenberger of George Mason University will give the 41st Fisher Memorial Lecture on 1 March 2024 at the CRUK Cambridge Institute, Li K Shing Centre, Robinson Way, Cambridge, CB2 0RE starting at 12 noon. Further details are given here 41st Fisher Lecture by Prof. William Rosenberger .

From Fisher to CARA: The Evolution of Randomization and Randomization-Based Inference

William Fisher Rosenberger, Distinguished University Professor, George Mason University

R. A. Fisher was a devoted Darwinian, and, like Darwin, created science out of nothing. The list is long, but one thinks of likelihood-based estimation, analysis of variance, principles of experimental design, and randomization as standing the tests of time. Such accomplishments “from scratch” (or nearly so) can amaze the fine statisticians who made meaningful incremental contributions to work begun by others, the few “greats” among us who invented something important, and the unusually perceptive introductory statistics student, alike. Fisher thought of randomization in the context of agricultural experiments, but it has impacted most profoundly the science of medicine. Bradford Hill brought randomization to clinical trials. The concept of randomization-based inference, now resurrected in causal inference, was largely forgotten as design and analysis became segregated, perhaps due to analysis software packages.

This talk will attempt to give the historical context of randomization and randomization-based inference from Fisher to the present day, including newer concepts such as response-adaptive, covariate-adaptive, and covariate-adjusted response-adaptive (CARA) randomization. It will be challenging to condense a year of material into one hour, but a devoted Fisherian should be able to be efficient and sufficient.

40th Fisher Lecture

Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962)

RA Fisher was one of the outstanding scientists of the 20th century. An account of his work can be found in this brief scientific biography. A longer acount, including discussion of his involvement in eugenics, is given in The Outstanding Scientist, R.A. Fisher: His Views on Eugenics and Race.

An Obituary of Fisher is available here Sankhya Obituary by kind permission of the Indian Statistical Insitute (ISI). The 1990 Centenary Fisher Lecture delivered at the Indian Statistical Institute on 30 December 1990 by Partha Majumder is avalable here Centenary Lecture by kind permission of Current Science and the Fisher Memorial Trust 1990 memorial Fisher lecture by Walter Bodmer is available here Genetic sequences. An account by Anthony Edwards of Fisher's eugenic theories can be found here The thoughtful eugenist 2020 There is discussion by Brian Charlesworth of the Eugenics Society 1933 view of eugenics in Nazi Germany here R.A. Fisher, The Eugenics Society, and the Nazis in 1933

Recent News

An Interview with former Fisher Memorial Trust member and 18th Fisher Memorial Lecturer, Professor Anthony Edwards is available on the Gonville & Caius website. Anthony was Fisher's last undergraduate student at Cambridge. See RONALD A. FISHER A Conversation with Anthony Edwards at Gonville & Caius College

An article by the 40th Fisher Lecturer, Professor Kanti Mardia, relating to the subject of his lecture and entitled Fisher's Pioneering work on Discriminant Analysis and its Impact on AI is now available as a preprint.

Committee members

Society Representative Position
Biometric Society Prof Rosemary Bailey
Biometric Society Dr Heather Battey***
Biometric Society Mr Andrew Mead Secretary
Genetics Society Prof Brian Charlesworth****, FRSChairman
Genetics Society Prof Ian Tomlinson, FRS**
Royal Society Sir Walter Bodmer, FRS
Royal Statistical Society Prof Stephen Senn
Royal Statistical Society Prof Christina Yap *

* Dr Andrew Sutherland until the end of 2020. Professor Christina Yap from 27 May 2022
** Replaced Professor Adam Eyre-Walker in 2021
*** Professor Vern Farewell until May 2021
**** Took over from Sir Walter Bodmer as chairman on November 18 2021

Biosketches of FMT members

Annual reports

Report for 2015
Report for 2016
Report for 2017
Report for 2018
Report for 2019
Report for 2020
Report for 2021
Report for 2022

The Fisher Memorial Lectures

IDr. F. Yates 23.3.66 Computers, the second revolution in statistics.
IIDr. R. R. Race6.3.68Blood groups in human genetics
IIIProf. E. A. Cornish3.9.69Developments from the Fisher-Cornish expansions.
IVProf. K. Mather18.12.70Biometrical genetics.
VProf. G. A. Barnard19.9.72Statistical inference and its historical development
VIProf. L. L. Cavalli-Sforza24.6.74Cultural versus biological evolution
VIIProf. R. Hide17.11.77Motions in planetary fluids
VIIIProf. D. J. Finney20.9.78Bioassay and the practice of statistical inference
IXProf. J. Maynard Smith19.3.81The evolution of the sex ratio
XProf. J. H. Bennett3.6.81R. A. Fisher and The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
XIProf. S. Karlin20.4.83Kin selection and altruism
XIIProf. D. R. Cox5.4.84Regression and the design of experiments
XIIIProf. S. M. Stigler22.9.86Francis Galton and the unravelling of the normal world
XIVProf. G. E. Box23.3.88Quality improvement, an expanding domain for the application of scientific method
XVSir Walter Bodmer23.3.90Genetic sequences
XVIProf. D. Lindley17.9.92Statistics of the market place
XVIIProf. A. J. Jeffreys16.8.93Molecular sleuthing: the story of genetic fingerprinting
XVIIIDr. A. W. F. Edwards20.10.94Fiducial inference and the fundamental theorem of natural selection
XIXProf. M. J. R. Healy3.4.95The life and work of Frank Yates
XXProf. J. A. Nelder5.9.96Computers and statistics: the continuing revolution.
XXISir John Kingman16.11.98Mathematics of genetic diversity: before and after DNA.
XXIIProf. B Efron12.9.00The essential Fisher
XXIIISir Richard Doll29.10.01Proof of causality: Deductions from epidemiological evidence
XXIVDr. Oliver Mayo26.06.02The realisation of Fisher's research programme
XXVProf. Warren Ewens7.04.03Statistics and the transformation from genetics to genomics
XXVIProf. Adrian Smith8.09.04Towards an evidence-based society: the role of statistical thinking
XXVIIProf. E.A.Thompson4.12.061953: an unrecognized summit in human genetic linkage analysis
XXVIIIProf. R.A. Bailey15.07.08Design of dose-escalation trials
XXIX Prof B Charlesworth and
Prof D Charlesworth
6.01.10Fisher and modern evolutionary genetics
XXXProf Philip Dawid10.11.11 Causal inference from experimental data
XXXIProf Peter Donnelly14.11.12Genetic variation in human health and disease
XXXIIProf David Spiegelhalter3.07.13Putting life into numbers: the highs and lows of communicating statistics to the public
XXXIIIProf Bill Hill8.01.14Applying quantitative genetic and genomic information to animal improvement
XXXIVProf Peter McCullagh27.10.15Empirical phenomena and universal laws
XXXVProf Nancy Reid27.10.16 Statistical science and data science: where do we go from here?
XXXVIProf Stephen Senn04.09.17 And thereby hangs a tail: the strange history of P-values
XXXVIIProf Joe Felsenstein04.01.2018 Is there a more fundamental theorem of natural selection?
XXXVIIIProf Michael Goddard9.10.2018The genetic architecture of complex traits
XXXIXProf Brian Cullis and Prof Alison Smith12.07.2019Design Tableau
XLProf Kanti Mardia18.11.2022Fisher's Legacy of Multivariate Analysis, Statistics on Manifolds, and Beyond

40th Fisher Lecture

The 40th Fisher Lecture was given by Professor Kanti Mardia on 18 November 2022 at the Oxford Mathematical Institute.

Professor Mardia gave an expert and often humorous account of Fisher's various contributions to spatial and multivariate analysis, covering not only the history of the subject but also modern developments.

Fisher's Legacy of Multivariate Analysis, Statistics on Manifolds, and Beyond

Kanti Mardia (University of Leeds and University of Oxford)


It will not be an exaggeration to say that R A Fisher is the Albert Einstein of Statistics. He pioneered almost all the main branches of statistics, but it is not as well known that he opened the area of Directional Statistics with his pioneering 1953 paper introducing the Fisher distribution on the sphere. He stressed that for spherical data one should take into account that the data is on a manifold. Since then, many extensions of this distribution have appeared bearing Fisher's name. In fact, the subject of Directional Statistics has grown tremendously in the last two decades with new applications emerging in Life Sciences, Image Analysis and so on. Another area Fisher opened which I will consider is discriminant analysis in Multivariate Analysis. Several papers by him and others followed from his seminal paper in 1936 on Discriminant Analysis where he coined the name discrimination function. Now Fisher's Linear Discriminant Analysis (LDA) is an indispensable tool in Statistical Learning.

One of the features of Fisher's work is that the starting point was often a motivating application from scientists and applied statisticians. For Directional Statistics, this was the problem of pole reversal raised by a geologist Mr J. Hospers. For Discriminant Analysis it was a set of cranial measurements taken by Mr E. R. Martin, who applied Discriminant Analysis to sex differences in measurements of the mandible. Further motivation was through the work of Miss Mildred Barnard in collecting and analysing a time series of skull measurements. However, in his 1936 paper, he first time introduces now celebrated iris data.

In this talk, first I will describe the Fisher distribution and reanalyse his geological data. He mentioned in the paper that it has two goals: the first to explore methodology for the analysis of widely dispersed measurements of direction such as frequently arise in geology; the second goal to illustrate the correct a pplication of fiducial inference. Regarding, the first goal the Fisher-von Mises distribution has become an essential tool for analysing spherical data but regarding his second goal on fiducial inference his achievement remains uncertain. Incidentally, Fisher derives, the von Mises distribution on the circle independently in 1959 as another example to illustrate the fiducial principle rather than analysing any circular data.

We will discuss the extension of the Fisher distribution on the sphere to hypersphere which is now known as the von Mises-Fisher distribution. In general, the maximum likelihood methods for directional distributions are not computationally straightforward and a new approach of the score matching estimate will be presented.

Coming back to the topic of discriminant analysis, historically, he wrote four papers on this topic during 1936-1940 and connected with the pioneering work in the same period of Hotelling and Mahalanobis. We revisit the famous iris data and answer one of the assumptions he points out in his work that he admits that he is assuming normality to assess the misclassification error, in particular. One of the most popular tests of normality is through my measures of multivariate skewness and kurtosis and we give evidence that his assumption was well founded. We also indicate how the subject has moved due to the computer revolution and there are now new methods such as kernel classifier, classification trees, support vector machine, neural networks to carry out discriminant analysis. His work is a classical parametric work, but new advances have more of non-parametric flavour. Intersting that all these new analysis lead to similar conclusion as from Fisher's LDA for the Iris data.

Overall, with computational power, the whole subject of Multivariate Analysis has changed its emphasis. Deriving sampling distributions as one of the topics which Fisher pioneered has now moved to simulation methods, for example, to obtain percentage points. Boot strapping is another innovation. Now the topic of High Dimensional Data is another growing area and Cluster Analysis has become the topic of unsupervised learning. Finally, we end with a historical note pointing out some correspondence between D'Arcy Thompson (pioneer of Shape Analysis) and R A Fisher where we could have seen Fisher’s insight into Shape Analysis but this collaborative work via a Research Student did not materialise.

Video recording of the 40th Fisher Memorial lecture.
Fisher Memorial Trust Secretary Stephen Senn introducing Kanti MardiaA slide from the lecture Fisher Memorial Trust Chairman, Brian Charlesworth, presenting Kanti Mardia with the silver bowl commemorating his lecture
(Pictures by Walter Bodmer)

The 39th Fisher Memorial Lecture

Alison SmithBrian Cullis Walter Bodmer thanking the Fisher lecturers

The 39th Fisher lecture was given on 12 July 2019 by Brian Cullis and Alison Smith at the 7th IBS Channel Network Conference , Rothamsted. The lecturers gave a spirited account of their increasing frustration at the lack of basic understanding of principles of experimental design and analysis shown by some life scientists and the practical steps they had taken through creation of their Design Tableau approach to providing a principled framework that life scientists could use to apply appropriate methods to design and analysis. This incorporated ideas that statisticians working at Rothamsted and elsewhere had developed, starting with Fisher himself. The 100th anniversary of Fisher's arrival at Rothamsted made a fitting occasion for a fine lecture that was appreciated by the audience in particular because the lecturers appropriately illustrated theoretical points with practical examples. Walter Bodmer, as Fisher Memorial Trust chairman, chaired the session and presented the speakers with the customary engraved sliver bowl afterwards. This was followed by lunch in honour of the lecturers, which lecturers, Trust members and various guests, including several Fisher family members, attended.

Fisher family members Jenny Tebboth, Rose Newsom and Sarah Posey

The title and abstract for the lecture are given below.


Design Tableau


One of our main research interests over the past 30 or more years has been the use of linear mixed models (LMM) for the analysis of data from crop improvement programmes. These data arise from comparative experiments in which the aim, typically, is to select the 'best' varieties. In order to maximise the accuracy of selection we have developed analytic procedures that involve LMM with complex variance and correlation structures. For example, we use separable auto-regressive models to mitigate the impact of spatial trend within experiments conducted in the field, and factor analytic models to extract key information about variety by environment interaction in the analysis of multi-environment trial data.

We were fortunate enough to have trained and worked as young biometricians when analysis of variance (ANOVA) techniques were the primary method of analysis for comparative experiments.

Our tool of trade was the GENSTAT package, so that the elegant notation of Wilkinson and Rogers and the framework of Block and Treatment structures became ingrained in our statistical thinking. So, despite the complexity of the LMM we now use, we appreciate the importance of maintaining these fundamental concepts, in particular the link between the analysis and the experimental design. We are concerned that this view is shared by only a few, as is evidenced by what we regard as a widespread mis-use of LMM for comparative experiments. This may either be due to an unintentional lapse in transitioning from ANOVA to LMM or a complete lack of exposure to traditional methods of analysis for comparative experiments.

Over recent years, we have made it a priority to fill in this gap for our young statistical colleagues at the University of Wollongong. In particular we have attempted to provide a link between ANOVA and LMM and to explain how to derive LMM that reflect the randomisation employed in the design of the experiment, no matter how complex. We found this to be a non-trivial task and tried numerous educational tools but without great success. A turning point was Brian's introduction of an Honours Statistics course on experimental design at the University of Wollongong. He based this course on Rosemary Bailey's book and found words of wisdom that have inspired us to develop an approach that we have termed Design Tableau (DT). The main aim of DT is to provide a simple, but general series of steps for specifying the LMM for a comparative experiment. It is founded on the seminal work of Sir Ronald Fisher, John Nelder, Rosemary Bailey and Robin Thompson. The motivation and concepts underlying Design Tableau will form the basis of our presentation. We will discuss the formal link between ANOVA and LMM, describe the steps that constitute DT, illustrate DT for simple cases in which the LMM may be used to re-produce an ANOVA and finally demonstrate how DT can be applied in a wide range of complex comparative experiments.

38th Fisher lecture

Mike Goddard receiving the Fisher Memorial Lecture Award
from Walter Bodmer

Fisher grandson Richard Newsom with Walter Bodmer

The 38th Fisher Memorial Lecture was given by by Professor Michael Goddard in Edinburgh on 9 October 2018 as part of a centenary meeting sponsored by the Fisher Memorial Trust, the Genetics Society, the Galton Institute, the London Mathematical Society and the Royal Statistical Society, to celebrate the publication of Fisher's famous paper: "The correlation between relatives on the supposition of Mendelian inheritance. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 1918;52:339-433.

Mike delivered a fine lecture as a fitting end to an excellent day in which Fisher's legacy and more modern developments were presented by a number of research veterans and some early career researchers. This was followed by a reception open to all attendees at which the Fisher Memorial Trust were delighted to have the presence of Fisher's grandson Richard Newsom. This was in turn followed by the usual Fisher Memorial Dinner for the lecturer and guests.

Title: The Genetic Architecture of Complex Traits

Abstract Despite the complete lack of knowledge of the physical nature of genes, a century ago Fisher showed how Mendelian inheritance of many loci could explain the observed statistical properties of quantitative or complex traits, such as the resemblance between relatives. As the number of loci increases, we obtain the infinitesimal model, which has been the basis for our understanding of the genetics of complex traits and very successful practical applications in animal and plant breeding. However, there was little knowledge of the genes causing variation, or even of their number, and limited understanding of the evolutionary forces that controlled the ubiquitous genetic variation we observed. In the last decade our knowledge of the genetics of complex traits has been revolutionized by the availability of data on thousands to millions of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The purpose of this lecture is to summarise what we have learnt about the architecture of complex traits, and the evolutionary forces that bring this about.

A simple but surprising result is that most quantitative genetic variation is due to very many polymorphisms, each with a tiny effect on the trait, and segregating in the population at moderate allele frequencies. For instance, there are approximately 10,000,000 sites in the genome where a mutation can affect a typical quantitative trait. Each generation, mutation generates new variation; some of the new mutant alleles have a large effect, but selection keeps them very rare. Most of the variation is caused by mutations of small effect that are almost neutral, and hence segregate at moderate allele frequencies. However, occasionally a mutation is favoured by selection and while it segregates generates a large variance. This is most common when the environment changes greatly so that the direction of selection on some mutations reverses. This new understanding explains many previously puzzling results, such as the linear response to artificial selection and the failure to find the genes causing variation in complex traits.

The ability to genotype thousands of SNPs at moderate cost has been utilised in methods of genomic selection or genomic prediction, which predict the genetic value of individuals for a trait based on SNP genotypes. This method is revolutionising animal and plant breeding and will be important in human medicine, for instance in personalised medicine.

The 42nd Fisher Memorial Lecture

The 42nd Fisher Lecturer will be given by Professor Mary-Claire King Details will be announced in due course.


The RA Fisher Digital Archive University of Adelaide

Figures from the history of statistics Site maintained by John Aldrich

A Guide to R.A. Fisher Specific Fisher guide maintained by John Aldrich

Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher MacTutor History of Mathematics Biography

Ronald Aylmer Fisher Monash University Fisher pages

COPSS Awards COPSS Distinguished Achievement Award and Lectureship

Chance, risk and healthOpen University series of 4 podcasts on RA Fisher and his legacy

Page of quotations from the works of Fisher collected by Anthony Edwards

Fisher memorabilia

The committee is interested to establish an index of Fisher memorabilia. If anybody has knowledge of the whereabouts of any Fisher memorabilia or is interested in learning of their whereabouts, please contact the secretary Stephen Senn or any member of the committee.

Fisher pages last updated 10 February 2024

Page maintained by Stephen Senn