At the beginning of the 19th century the world’s largest brewery was Guinness in Dublin. The company hired William S. Gosset in 1899 and assigned him the problem of how much of ingredients like barley needed to be sampled in order to feel confident that the resulting beer would be of uniform high quality. In order to conceal Guinness’ direction from competitors Gosset was obliged to publish using a pseudonym. Both Karl Pearson and Ronald Aylmer Fisher, the two most famous statistical thinkers of the 20th Century, hated each other, but found common ground in their admiration for Gosset. Somewhat ironically, the discovery Gosset is justly famous for has the name of his pseudonym: the Student t distribution. Today, Gosset’s work is used to answer questions like how many measures of something should be sampled before there is confidence in the quality of the whole production.

I regret to report that the 75th anniversary of the end of the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II passed with very little notice. I would think that, by any standard, the fighting from August 7 1942 to February 9 1943 was the turning point in the Pacific Theater. As far as I can tell, the last known Japanese soldier to surrender on Guadalcanal did so on October 27, 1947. Allied losses were over 7,000 dead; 8,000 wounded; 29 ships and 615 planes. Japanese losses were almost 20,000 dead; 4,000 wounded; 38 ships and probably more than 800 planes. For both sides, leadership and logistics were generally poor: once the guns begin to shoot, the price for those failings is paid in blood. What is very disappointing, and even disturbing, is that, as far as I am aware, zero politicians and zero senior military officers from the 1930s and even early 1940s have ever said, “I was wrong, and thousands died because of me.”

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Currently, the US numbers starting 1/1/2010 I have are primary school 40 killed and 20 injured; high school 70 killed and 258 injured; and college 54 killed and 116 injured. So the questions are

  1. How any more deaths and injuries will it take to conclude at an acceptable level of confidence that the hypothesis that current gun policies are optimal is grossly false
  2. Will anyone have enough integrity to say publicly “Some of the the pain of those 558 families is my fault”.
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