Arbuthnot was born in Inverbervie, Scotland. He studied
at Marischal College, Aberdeen, then took a medical degree at
the University of St Andrews graduating in 1696.
He translated Huygens' tract on probability in 1692 and extended
it by adding to it a few further games of chance. This was the
first work on probability published in English. In 1696 he graduated
with a medical degree.
Arbuthnot then went to London and gave lessons in mathematics.
Around this time (1700) he published:
towards a natural history of the Earth and
on the usefulness of mathematical learning.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1704, and in 1705
he was appointed physician to Queen Anne.
He continued his scientific work submitting a paper to the Royal
Society in 1710 discussing the slight excess of male births over
female births. This
paper is perhaps the first application of probability to social
statistics. In this paper he claims to demonstrate that divine
providence, not chance, governs the sex ratio at birth.
Arbuthnot's other main claim to fame is on his reputation as a
wit and on his satirical writings. With Alexander Pope, Jonathan
Swift, John Gay and Thomas Parnell he founded the Scriblerus Club
in 1714, whose purpose was to satirise bad poetry and pedantry.
The club was short-lived.
After Queen Anne died, despite Arbuthnot attending her in her
final illness, he went to France for a while. He then returned
to England to become a physician to other important people.
addition to satirical works he also published some serious medical
work in his last few years.
Quotation "The Reader may here observe the Force of Numbers,
which can be successfully applied, even to those things, which
one would imagine are subject to no Rules. There are very few
things which we know, which are not capable of being reduced to
a Mathematical Reasoning; and when they cannot it's a sign our
knowledge of them is very small and confused; and when a Mathematical
Reasoning can be had it's as great a folly to make use of any
other, as to grope for a thing in the dark, when you have a Candle
standing by you. "
the Laws of Chance. (1692)
27 Feb 1735 in London, England
To Scottish Physicians