Odd Statistical Snippet of the week: Voltaire and the statistician who won the lottery and proved that the earth is not round

I was listening with half an ear (as one does) to Melvyn Bragg’s academic-intellectual-historical-philosophical-scientific educate-us-all-in-things-that-every-civilised-person-ought-to-know-but-probably-doesn’t programme on Radio Four yesterday, (and I think it is wonderful by the way). It was on Voltaire (1694-1778 as Melvyn was careful to inform us); and one of the experts gave us a little throwaway remark. ‘Voltaire became rich early in life by teaming up with a statistician to win the French national lottery.’ That was it.

Napoleon's Russian Campaign - 200 years on

Historians this year will commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia in the War of the Empires. On June 24, 1812, he crossed the Russian frontier with 422,000 men.More than half of them were either conscripts or mercenaries from twenty nationalities across Europe. Of these, 95,000 came from the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.

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Burma: How poor? How repressive?

David Cameron has just returned from Burma, or Myanmar, the first-ever visit by a British Prime Minister. Burma is one of the most repressed states in the world. It is also one of the poorest. Do these two facts have anything to do with each other? The degree of repression may be easing. What of the degree of poverty?

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Titanic: did 'women and children first' cost lives?

‘Women and Children First!’ Alexander James Littlejohn was neither a woman nor a child, but he survived the sinking of the Titanic. There were two reasons for that. He went to the starboard side of the ship, not to the port side; and he was a steward.

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Google starts ranking journals

In a blog posted on April Fool's Day, Google announced a new feature to its Scholar service. This was no prank. It was the genuine debut of a new tool called Google Scholar Metrics. The service follows the same principle that has made Google's web search engine so successful - when you are unsure what a user is looking for, give them a list of options ranked by a metric of popularity. In this instance, the users are academics ready to submit their next breakthrough but are uncertain which journal to choose. The solution Scholar Metrics offers is a database summarizing the sway of the distributors of scholarship "to help authors as they consider where to publish their new research".

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