Circular Statistics

Publication Year



Mathematics, circular, statistics, Nightingale, health care


Mathematics | Medicine and Health Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics | Statistics and Probability


In 1854 Florence Nightingale, a British nurse, and 38 of her colleagues left their country to treat British soldiers in the Crimean War. It was here that Florence Nightingale realized there was a need for reform in the British hospital services during war. She realized that the number of preventable deaths due to unsanitary conditions greatly outnumbered the number of deaths in battle. This could prove to be a problem for any military because they were losing battles because of loss of soldiers to preventable deaths and not because of battlefield casualties.

Nightingale knew there was a need for reform, but she had to find a way to demonstrate it so that reform would be implemented. To represent the data of number of deaths caused by unsanitary conditions, Nightingale plotted the data on what she called "coxcomb"--now called a polar-area diagram or a rose diagram. On such a diagram the winter months of December are not separated but associated directly with one another. Without this circular representation it was difficult to gain intuition on the numbers and percentages of deaths. With the data thus visually represented it was easy to see the number of preventable deaths greatly outnumbered the deaths in battle. With Nightingale's new representation of data for support her plan for reform was implemented and improvement was seen in the British military and civilian health care system.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status


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