Adolphe Quetelet

Adolphe Quetelet

Overview
Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet (22 February 1796 – 17 February 1874) was a Belgian
Demographics of Belgium
This article is about the demographic features of the population of Belgium, including ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population...

 astronomer
Astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

, mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

, statistician
Statistician
A statistician is someone who works with theoretical or applied statistics. The profession exists in both the private and public sectors. The core of that work is to measure, interpret, and describe the world and human activity patterns within it...

 and sociologist. He founded and directed the Brussels Observatory and was influential in introducing statistical methods to the social sciences. His name is sometimes spelled with an accent as Quételet.

Adolphe was born in Ghent
Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

, Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, the son of François-Augustin-Jacques-Henri Quetelet, a Frenchman and Anne Françoise Vandervelde, a Belgian.
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Encyclopedia
Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet (22 February 1796 – 17 February 1874) was a Belgian
Demographics of Belgium
This article is about the demographic features of the population of Belgium, including ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population...

 astronomer
Astronomer
An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets, stars and galaxies.Historically, astronomy was more concerned with the classification and description of phenomena in the sky, while astrophysics attempted to explain these phenomena and the differences between them using...

, mathematician
Mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

, statistician
Statistician
A statistician is someone who works with theoretical or applied statistics. The profession exists in both the private and public sectors. The core of that work is to measure, interpret, and describe the world and human activity patterns within it...

 and sociologist. He founded and directed the Brussels Observatory and was influential in introducing statistical methods to the social sciences. His name is sometimes spelled with an accent as Quételet.

Biography


Adolphe was born in Ghent
Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

, Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, the son of François-Augustin-Jacques-Henri Quetelet, a Frenchman and Anne Françoise Vandervelde, a Belgian. His father François was born at Ham, in Picardy
Picardy
This article is about the historical French province. For other uses, see Picardy .Picardy is a historical province of France, in the north of France...

, and being of a somewhat adventurous spirit, crossed the English Channel and became a British citizen and the secretary of a Scottish nobleman. In this capacity he travelled with his employer on the Continent, particularly spending time in Italy. At aged about 31, he settled in Ghent and was employed by the city, where Adolphe was born the fifth of nine children, several of whom died in childhood.

Francois died when Adolphe was only seven years old. Adolphe studied at the Ghent lycée, where he started teaching mathematics in 1815 at the age of 19. In 1819 he moved to the Athenaeum
Athenaeum
-Educational institutions, museums, libraries:* Melbourne Athenaeum, Melbourne, Australia* Limerick Athenaeum, Limerick, Ireland* Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest, Romania* Warminster Athenaeum, a theatre in Warminster, Wiltshire, UK* Glasgow Athenaeum, Glasgow, UK...

 in Brussels and in the same year he completed his dissertation (De quibusdam locis geometricis, necnon de curva focal – Of some new properties of the focal distance and some other curves).

Quetelet received a doctorate in mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 in 1819 from the University of Ghent. Shortly thereafter, the young man set out to convince government officials and private donors to build an astronomical observatory in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

; he succeeded in 1828.
He became a member of the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

 in 1820. He lectured at the museum for sciences and letters and at the Belgian Military School. In 1850, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences or Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden. The Academy is an independent, non-governmental scientific organization which acts to promote the sciences, primarily the natural sciences and mathematics.The Academy was founded on 2...

.

Quetelet also founded several statistical journals and societies, and was especially interested in creating international cooperation among statisticians.

In 1855 Quetelet suffered from apoplexy
Apoplexy
Apoplexy is a medical term, which can be used to describe 'bleeding' in a stroke . Without further specification, it is rather outdated in use. Today it is used only for specific conditions, such as pituitary apoplexy and ovarian apoplexy. In common speech, it is used non-medically to mean a state...

, which diminished but did not end his scientific activity. He died in Brussels on 17 February 1874, and is buried in the Brussels Cemetery.

Work


His scientific research encompassed a wide range of different scientific disciplines: meteorology, astronomy, mathematics, statistics, demography, sociology, criminology and history of science. He made significant contributions to scientific development, but he also wrote several monographs directed to the general public. He founded the Royal Observatory of Belgium, founded or co-founded several national and international statistical societies and scientific journals, and presided over the first series of the International Statistical Congresses. Quetelet was a liberal and an anticlerical, but not an atheist or materialist nor a socialist.

Social physics


The new science of probability
Probability
Probability is ordinarily used to describe an attitude of mind towards some proposition of whose truth we arenot certain. The proposition of interest is usually of the form "Will a specific event occur?" The attitude of mind is of the form "How certain are we that the event will occur?" The...

 and statistics
Statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

 was mainly used in astronomy at the time, to get a handle on measurement errors
Errors and residuals in statistics
In statistics and optimization, statistical errors and residuals are two closely related and easily confused measures of the deviation of a sample from its "theoretical value"...

 with the method of least squares
Least squares
The method of least squares is a standard approach to the approximate solution of overdetermined systems, i.e., sets of equations in which there are more equations than unknowns. "Least squares" means that the overall solution minimizes the sum of the squares of the errors made in solving every...

. Quetelet was among the first who attempted to apply it to social science, planning what he called a "social physics". He was keenly aware of the overwhelming complexity of social phenomena, and the many variables that needed measurement. His goal was to understand the statistical laws underlying such phenomena as crime rates, marriage rates or suicide rates. He wanted to explain the values of these variables by other social factors. These ideas were rather controversial among other scientists at the time who held that it contradicted a concept of freedom of choice.

His most influential book was Sur l'homme et le développement de ses facultés, ou Essai de physique sociale, published in 1835 (In English translation, titled Treatise on Man). In it, he outlines the project of a social physics and describes his concept of the "average man" (l'homme moyen) who is characterized by the mean values of measured variables that follow a normal distribution. He collected data about many such variables.

When Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte
Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte , better known as Auguste Comte , was a French philosopher, a founder of the discipline of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism...

 discovered that Quetelet had appropriated the term 'social physics', which Comte had originally introduced, Comte found it necessary to invent the term 'sociologie' (sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

) because he disagreed with Quetelet's collection of statistics.

Criminology


Quetelet was an influential figure in criminology
Criminology
Criminology is the scientific study of the nature, extent, causes, and control of criminal behavior in both the individual and in society...

. Along with Andre-Michel Guerry
André-Michel Guerry
André-Michel Guerry was a French lawyer and amateur statistician. Together with Adolphe Quetelet he may be regarded as the founder of moral statistics which led to the development of criminology, sociology and ultimately, modern social science.- Early life and education :Guerry was born in Tours,...

, he helped to establish the cartographic school and positivist school
Positivist school
In criminology, the Positivist School has attempted to find scientific objectivity for the measurement and quantification of criminal behavior. As the scientific method became the major paradigm in the search for all knowledge, the Classical School's social philosophy was replaced by the quest for...

s of criminology which made extensive use of statistical techniques. Through statistical analysis, Quetelet gained insight into the relationships between crime
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 and other social factors. Among his findings were strong relationships between age and crime, as well as gender and crime. Other influential factors he found included climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

, poverty
Poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

, education
Education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

, and alcohol
Alcoholic beverage
An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits. They are legally consumed in most countries, and over 100 countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption...

 consumption, with his research findings published in Of the Development of the Propensity to Crime.

Anthropometry


In 1835 he presented his theory of the average man in Sur l'homme et le développement de ses facultés, essai d'une physique sociale, which measurements of human trait are grouped according to the normal curve.

In terms of influence over later public health
Public health
Public health is "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" . It is concerned with threats to health based on population health...

 agendas, was Quetelet's establishment of a simple measure for classifying people's weight relative to an ideal weight for their height. His proposal, the body mass index
Body mass index
The body mass index , or Quetelet index, is a heuristic proxy for human body fat based on an individual's weight and height. BMI does not actually measure the percentage of body fat. It was invented between 1830 and 1850 by the Belgian polymath Adolphe Quetelet during the course of developing...

(or Quetelet index), has endured with minor variations to the present day. Anthropometric data is used in modern applications and referenced in the development of every consumer-based product.

Publications

  • 1823. Relation d'un voyage fait à la grotte de Han au mois d'août 1822'. 'With M.M. Kickx.
  • 1827. Recherches sur la population, les naissances, les décès, les prisons, les dépôts de mendicité, etc., dans le royaume des Pays-Bas.
  • 1829. Recherches statistiques sur le royaume des Pays-Bas.
  • 1831. The Propensity to Crime.
  • 1834. Astronomie élémentaire.
  • 1835. Sur l'homme et le développement de ses facultés, ou Essai de physique sociale. 2 volumes.
  • 1838. De l'influence des saisons sur la mortalité aux différens âges dans la Belgique.
  • 1839. Catalogue des principales apparitions d'étoiles filantes.
  • 1842. A Treatise on Man and the Development of His Faculties.
  • 1843. Sur l'emploi de la boussole dans les mines.
  • 1845–1851. Sur le climat de la Belgique. 2 volumes.
  • 1848. Du système social et des lois qui le régissent.
  • 1848. Sur la statistique morale et les principes qui doivent en former la base.
  • 1850. Mémoire sur les lois des naissances et de la mortalité à Bruxelles.
  • 1853. Mémoire sur les variations périodiques et non périodiques de la température, d'après les observations faites, pendant vingt ans, à l'observatoire royal de Bruxelles.
  • 1864. Histoire des sciences mathématiques et physiques chez les Belges.
  • 1867. Météorologie de la Belgique comparée à celle du globe.
  • 1867. Sciences mathématiques et physiques au commencement du XIXe siècle.
  • 1869. Sur la physique du globe en Belgique.
  • 1870. Anthropométrie, ou Mesure des différentes facultés de l'homme.

Further reading

  • Ian Hacking (1990). The Taming of Chance. Cambridge University Press, chapters 13–15.
  • Alain Desrosières (1998). The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning. Harvard University Press, chapter 3.
  • Stephen Stigler (1999). Statistics on the Table. Harvard University Press, chapter 2.
  • Philip Ball (2005). Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. Arrow Books 2005, chapter 3.
  • Fabien Locher (2007). "The observatory, the land-based ship and the crusades: earth sciences in european context, 1830–1850", British Journal for History of Science, 40(4), 2007, pp. 491–504 (On the leading role of Adolphe Quetelet in the fields of meteorology and geomagnetism in early nineteenth-century).

External links