Sheffield local group seminar: Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

On 14 May 2020, the Sheffield RSS local group held its first ever online seminar to commemorate the life of Florence Nightingale 200 years after her birth on the 12tMay 1820. It was a proud day for the group as we received over 120 attendees dialling into the call, our biggest attendance at one of our events. 

The local group is lucky to have a resident Florence Nightingale expert in the way of Professor Steven Julious who is the section director for Design, Trials and Statistics section at the University of Sheffield. Steven’s seminar entitled: 'Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician' took us on a journey of Florence’s life, starting with her father’s connection to Sheffield and how she got her name because she was born in Florence.  Whilst the attendees were on mute, there was a virtual ripple of laughter when Stephen got us to imagine Florence’s life if she were instead born in Sheffield and named after one of the lesser desirable names such as Letsby Avenue or Penistone!

Steven created a magical picture of Florence, discussing her high intellect and connections to key opinion leaders of the day including Lord Palmerstone (who was also a Derbyshire resident). Steven praised her for her record keeping and her influence over key people of the day. For example, when Florence met Queen Victoria and she was instrumental in getting William Farr elevated to the Royal Commission. To hear how a female back in the 1800’s was able to be a leader, having oversight of a team to impact policy is a proud moment in history and a great time for our society to reflect. Not just focusing on her passion for tables, numbers and graphs, Steven told us of how she really understood that other people do not have the same abilities to understand, so her passion and excellent communication enabled her to get her ideas understood and actioned upon. 

Something we can all learn from even still today. This forward thinking innovator demonstrates how we can all strive to increase the impact that the data we work with has and the people we communicate with.

Steven also reflected on 'our own modern day Florence Nightingale', Doug Altman. Reflecting on his influence on the quality of statistical research and how by reviewing BMJ papers he influenced minimal requirements for statistics, setting CONSORT guidance to impact all journals and improve standards for statistics across many research areas. 

Whilst we would have love to have continue the talk into questions, with so many attendees we closed the call, reflecting on how Steven has encouraged us all to do better in our day to day work, in order to collaborate with colleagues and communicate our ideas and bring a greater impact to the environment around us.  

Thank you so much, Steven, for a thoroughly interesting and entertaining virtual seminar/webinar which was a welcome break from our current locked down days!

A recording of the seminar is available is available for those who could not attend.

Written by Lyn Taylor.
Photo shows Florence Nightingale's election into the Royal Statistical Society (then known as the Statistical Society of London).

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