In the beginning of the 20th century, the Guinness Brewing Company made an innovative move that changed the world of statistics. They hired William Gosset, a mathematician and chemist (they actually hired him for his chemistry skills, but it was his mathematical abilities that changed the field of statistics).

One of his first contributions to the Guinness Company was in the process of measuring the number of yeast cells that needed to be added to ferment the mash to make beer. Too much yeast led to bitter beer and too little led to incomplete fermentation. Prior to his techniques, people would try to count the number of yeast cells in a sample under the microscope. Gosset determined that the cells could be modeled with a probability distribution. Guiness was then able to able to more accurately measure how much yeast to use based on Gosset’s probability functions.

Guiness had a strict rule about publishing results in scientific journals (so company secrets would not be given away). Karl Pearson, the editor of Biometrika, worked out a deal with Gosset to publish his papers under the name, Student. Over the next thirty years, Student wrote many influential papers on statistical topics. One of the most famous papers, was on comparing small samples. This statistical test is know known as the Student’s t-test and is one of the most widely used tests.

Gosset was able to keep his identity secret for many years. One story suggests that when the Guiness family first found out about Gosset’s secret identity, Gosset died of a sudden heart attack.

Guiness chemist by day, Super Statistician by night. A statistical Clark Kent?