In November, this year, the US government would decide to inquire about Project Nightingale, which was a collaboration between the well-known Google and a hospital group in the US. So the question begs, what exactly is Google’s role behind gathering data in hospitals and why did they choose that name for a project?
Enter Florence Nightingale: a famous nurse that was born in 1820 and led an official nurse team from the army during the Crimean War to Turkey, becoming the first do so such a thing. She has a well-known nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, which would illustrate how she would tend to the ill during the night.
Yet, a lesser-known fact about the famous nurse was that she was the first woman that was elected as a Fellow of the Statistical Society. Using statistical analysis, she would find out the relation between the rate of deaths and unsuitable living conditions which would include poor sanitation, ventilation and nutrition. She was aided by the amazing work of William Farr, a successful doctor who for the most part, taught himself in statistical analysis. He would collect data regarding reasons for death, using categories such a typhus, diarrhea etc. In that era, the study could be considered the equivalent of what is known
Much like William Farr, Nightingale had taught herself the art of statistics as her father believed the field was unsuitable for a lady and that the job of a nurse was degrading. Despite his objections, his daughter’s conviction was strong enough to push through. Her efforts in Crimea made her sure that bad living conditions, improper nutrition, poor ventilation and unsanitary water resulted in deaths seven times more than those in combat.
Thanks to her work, death rates plummeted. After the war, she started to employ statistical methods in peacetime even. She noticed that death rates in soldiers’ barracks were twice of what was the civilian population’s death rate. She realized that living conditions in the barracks were inhospitable and that they might as well be handing out a death sentence. Her analysis of soldier mortality rates even earned the approval of Queen Victoria, with the Monarch even stating that the War Office sorely needed her expertise.
However, Dr. Farr and Nurse Nightingale were not always correct. As a matter of fact, the combination nearly caused an abrupt halt to the sanitation revolution during the mid-1800s. Both were sure that Cholera, which plagued Great Britain for many decades and killed almost 40,000 in just London, was caused because of poor air quality. The actual cause, polluted water went unnoticed. As a result, they sought to make sure that no sewers were made beneath houses, due to fears of smelly air rising and carrying harmful germs into the household.
Thankfully, Nightingale and Farr were powerless against the determination of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who constructed a system of sewers that, to this day, intercepts London’s sewage and conducts it to the treatment works in Beckton and Abbey Wood, downstream of the capital. Eventually, Farr’s own statistics dictated that cholera was caused by polluted water, and finally changed his mind. Sadly, in 1910 Florence Nightingale passed away, still believing the main cause was the air.