SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Parallel Session II: Dissertation Session

Name: Giuditta Parolini
Institutional Affiliation: University of Bologna
E-mail address:
Paper Type: Dissertation Proposal
Paper Title: The Computerisation of the Rothamsted Statistics Department
Paper Abstract:

Part I: The acquisition of the Elliott 401

In 1954 Rothamsted Experimental Station, the oldest British institution for agricultural research, secured a mainframe, an Elliott 401, for its statistics department. Since the 1920s the department had been at the forefront in the development of statistical methods for experimental research and it had built, along with its fame in statistics, a notable computing expertise. Besides scientific merits, the alliances established in operational research during WWII by Frank Yates, the chief statistician at Rothamsted, counted as well in the early computerisation of the department.
My aim is to examine the intertwining of scientific goals and wartime experiences in operational research combined in the acquisition of the Elliott 401, and the material and ‘moral’ space gained by the new technology in the Rothamsted Statistics Department, which became the leading centre for statistical research in agriculture and biology in Britain after WWII.
I will frame my case study in the literature concerned with the difference made by digital computers in scientific research (Agar, 2006) and the body of scholarship that has explicitly addressed the introduction and role of computers in agricultural sciences (Grier, 2000) and the life sciences, in this latter case focusing also on the influence of operational research in the mathematization of biomedicine (De Chadarevian, 2002; Garcia-Sancho, 2012; November, 2012).

Part II: Scientific applications of the Elliott 401

a) Tinkering with the Elliott 401
1. The collaboration with the National Agricultural Advisory Service
2. Sharing computing time with the National Research Development Corporation
b) Selected applications
1. Systematics
2. Linkage for the ABO blood groups
3. Agricultural surveys

Agar, Jon (2006) What difference did computers make to science? Social Studies of Science, Vol. 36: 869-907.
De Chadarevian, Soraya (2002) Designs for Life: Molecular Biology After WWII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garchía-Sancho, Miguel (2012) Biology, Computing, and the History of Molecular Sequencing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Grier, David A. (2000) Agricultural Computing and the Context for John Atanasoff. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 22: 48-61.
November, Joseph (2012) Biomedical Computing: Digitizing Life in the United States. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dissertation general index
1) Analysis of Variance, Experimental Design and the Reshaping of Research at Rothamsted Experimental Station.
2) The Politics of the Statistical Tables for Biological, Agricultural and Medical Research.
3) Statistics, Computing and Information Technologies in the Study of the ABO Blood Groups.
4) The Computerisation of the Rothamsted Statistics Department.