Thowback Thursday: The Evolution of FPL Statistics Section

Statistical analysis is at the core of many scientific fields, and its use in research at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) is no exception.

The first statistical group, or section, at FPL was commonly known as “Computing.” Its job was to summarize test information generated by engineers and scientists. Because much of this was done by hand and simple adding machines, the work required a number of people.

Members of the Computing section, 1912.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, the section was known by a number of names, such as “Administrative & Technical Services,” “Mathematical and Computing Services,” “Biometrics Section,” “Statistics and Numerical Analysis,” “Statistical Research,” and “Statistics and Automated Data Processing.” The statistics and computing functions diverged into separate groups in 1980.

The computer group known as “Systems and Automated Data Processing” and later as “Management Systems,” took on the responsibility of implementing and supporting the national computer program, focusing on administrative processes with the Data General computer system and later IBM servers.


Diana Smith with Fisk University Sophomore Ethel Hunter using a 1960s IBM computer.

That group’s work at the lab ended in 2005 when computer support was consolidated at the Forest Service’s Washington Office.

The “Statistics Group” began in 1980 with one statistician. By 2001, the Statistics group consisted of three mathematical statisticians and two statisticians. It was turned into a research work unit (RWU), the “Statistical Methods in Wood and Fiber Research,” to better reflect the importance of statistics to FPL research.

In 2007, the Statistics and Economics RWUs were merged into the combined RWU that exists today.