Richard von Mises and the "problem of two races": A statistical satire in 1934

Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze, Sandy Zabell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The article "Problem of two races," which appeared in 1934 in French and Russian in the Matematichesky Sbornik (Moscow), authored by the noted applied mathematician and statistician Richard von Mises (1883-1953), is interpreted as having a twofold agenda. On its surface it is merely a detailed mathematical analysis of the statistical problem of comparing the distributions of a quantitative characteristic in two different classes. But on closer examination it serves two auxiliary purposes. On the one hand, von Mises, who as a Jew fled Nazi Germany in 1933, satirically attacked Nazi racial doctrines by resorting to statistical parody. On the other hand, von Mises employed his theoretical results to further his own distinctive program of objective Bayesian statistics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-220
Number of pages15
JournalHistoria Mathematica
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Bayesian statistical inference
  • Frequency theory of probability
  • George Pólya
  • Ludwig Bieberbach
  • Ludwig Marcuse
  • Otto Neurath
  • Racist policies of Nazi Germany
  • Richard von Mises (1883-1953)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Mathematics
  • History


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