The early origins and development of the scatterplot

Michael Friendly, Daniel Denis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Of all the graphic forms used today, the scatterplot is arguably the most versatile, polymorphic, and generally useful invention in the history of statistical graphics. Its use by Galten led to the discovery of correlation and regression, and ultimately to much of present multivariate statistics. So, it is perhaps surprising that there is no one widely credited with the invention of this idea. Even more surprising is that there are few contenders for this title, and this question seems not to have been raised before. This article traces some of the developments in the history of this graphical method, the origin of the term scatterplot, the role it has played in the history of science, and some of its modern descendants. We suggest that the origin of this method can be traced to its unique advantage: the possibility to discover regularity in empirical data by smoothing and other graphic annotations to enhance visual perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-130
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005


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