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Cracking the Code of Numbers: The Amazing Story of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was an Indian statistician and scientist; who is best known for the Mahalanobis distance- A metric that measures the distances between a point and a distribution. He was a member of India’s first planning commission and founded the Indian statistical institute in Kolkata. The day on which he was born- 29th June, is observed as national statistics day to remember his contribution and to raise awareness of the importance of statics in social and economic progress among the masses.
Prasant Chandra’s life
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was born into a wealthy and influential Bengali family. His grandfather Gurucharan owned a chemist shop for which Mahalanobis' father, Probodh Chandra, worked for a while before starting his own business. His mother, Nirodbasini, was the sister of a renowned physician and educationist, Dr Nilratan. His parents had four daughters and two sons, and Prasanta was the eldest.
He completed his matriculation from Brahmo school and graduated from Presidency College in Kolkata. He then moved to England to study mathematics and physics at the University of Cambridge. At university, he interacted with renowned Indian Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. During his final year, one of his tutors introduced him to statistics, and he developed a genuine interest in it. In 1922, he returned to India and started working temporarily as a professor of physics in a presidency college. But his love for statistics grew, and he came to know about the utility of statistics in meteorology and anthropology problems. Mahalanobis published around 200 papers on a wide range of topics, such as rainfall and crop yield, which helped the Indian government take vital policy decisions.
Foundation of Indian Statistical Institute
On 17 December 1931, Mahalanobis, with the professor of economics and the professor of applied mathematics, met industrialist R. N Mukherji and passed a resolution to register the Indian Statistical Institute (which was previously called the statistical laboratory). And on 17 April 1932, it was formally registered as a non-profit learning society.
In 1932, the institute was located in the presidency college, but by 1972; the institute got its building with ample working space to provide research and training in various subjects such as crop science, sociology and statistics. In 1960, the Indian statistical institute started bachelor's and master's courses in statistics. The best CBSE schools in Nalagarh teach students about the life and work of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis in-depth, so if you are studying in one of them, you will get to know several things about him.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis proposed the Mahalanobis distance in 1936 in his paper titled “On the Generalized Distance in Statistics” The Mahalanobis distance was a vital advancement in statistics as it gives a way to analyze data in a multivariate space where variables are associated and have various scales. Mahalanobis distance is widely used in pattern recognition, image processing, clustering, outlier detection, and classification. You will easily understand the Mahalanobis distance by the following example.
Let’s say you have a group of friends and want to know how similar and different they are. You can compare them in terms of height, age, and weight. But now, you want to make a new friend, and you are unsure whether they will fit in your group of friends.
Mahalanobis distance will help you know how similar or different your new friend is from the rest of your group. It will consider the correlation and variation between your new friend and your existing group in terms of height, age, and weight. And after taking into account these characteristics, Mahalanobis distance will tell you how “different” your new friend is by giving you a single number.
A small number indicates that your new friend is like your existing friends, as per your considered characteristics. A large number indicates that your new friend is not similar to your friends. So, Mahalanobis distance helps compare a data point (New friend) with a group of points (existing data points) by finding the correlation between two points.The best schools in Nalagarh may introduce you to the Mahalanobis distance, but you will not fully grasp it until you go to college and study advanced statistics.
Honours and awards
- He was elected as a fellow of the royal society of London in 1945 and the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1958.
- He received the second-highest civilian award in India, Padma Vibhushan, in the year 1968.
- Mahalanobis was awarded the prestigious Weldon Memorial Prize by Oxford University in the year 1944.
- Indian National Science Academy awarded him the Srinivasa Ramanujan Award medal in 1968.
- The polish statistical association awarded him Przegląd Statystyczny Medal in the year 1967.
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis made pioneering contributions in the field of statistics and paved the way for advancements in several fields. His story teaches that incredible heights can be reached with hard work, dedication and enthusiasm.
Who is the father of statistics in India?
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis is referred to as the father of statistics in India. He was a prominent scientist and statistician who played a vital role in advancing statistics in India.
What did Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis invent?
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis invented Mahalanobis distance, which helps compare different data sets. He also introduced sampling techniques to improve the efficiency of surveys.
How did Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis contribute to economic planning?
Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis applied statistical models and methods to develop economic plans for India. He helped promote agricultural growth and industrialization with the formulation of evidence-based policies.