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John Arbuthnot

John Arbuthnot

John Arbuthnot was born in Inverbervie, Scotland. He studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen, then took a medical degree at the University of St Andrews graduating in 1696.

He translated Huygens' tract on probability in 1692 and extended it by adding to it a few further games of chance. This was the first work on probability published in English. In 1696 he graduated with a medical degree.

Arbuthnot then went to London and gave lessons in mathematics. Around this time (1700) he published:

Essay towards a natural history of the Earth and

Essay on the usefulness of mathematical learning.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1704, and in 1705 he was appointed physician to Queen Anne.

He continued his scientific work submitting a paper to the Royal Society in 1710 discussing the slight excess of male births over female births.
This paper is perhaps the first application of probability to social statistics. In this paper he claims to demonstrate that divine providence, not chance, governs the sex ratio at birth.

Arbuthnot's other main claim to fame is on his reputation as a wit and on his satirical writings. With Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay and Thomas Parnell he founded the Scriblerus Club in 1714, whose purpose was to satirise bad poetry and pedantry. The club was short-lived.

After Queen Anne died, despite Arbuthnot attending her in her final illness, he went to France for a while. He then returned to England to become a physician to other important people.

In addition to satirical works he also published some serious medical work in his last few years.

Quotation "The Reader may here observe the Force of Numbers, which can be successfully applied, even to those things, which one would imagine are subject to no Rules. There are very few things which we know, which are not capable of being reduced to a Mathematical Reasoning; and when they cannot it's a sign our knowledge of them is very small and confused; and when a Mathematical Reasoning can be had it's as great a folly to make use of any other, as to grope for a thing in the dark, when you have a Candle standing by you. "

Of the Laws of Chance. (1692)

Died: 27 Feb 1735 in London, England