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Bienaymé attended school, first the Lycée at Bruges, then later the Lycée LouisleGrand in Paris. After taking part in the defence of Paris in 1814, he entered Ecole Polytechnique. This was not an easy time in Paris and Ecole Polytechnique was closed for a while during his course.
In 1818 Bienaymé became a lecturer in mathematics at the military academy of St Cyr. However, after two years there he joined the Civil Service in the Administration of Finances. He was soon promoted to inspector, then in 1834 he became inspector general.
After the revolution of 1848 Bienaymé retired from the Civil service and he was appointed professor of probabilities at the Sorbonne. He continued to advise the government and he was a statistical expert in the government of Napoleon III.
In 1852 Bienaymé was elected to the Paris Academy and for the next 23 years he was the referee for the statistics prize. He was also a founding member of the Societé Mathématique de France becoming president of the Society in 1875.
Bienaymé only published 23 articles during his life and half of these were published in obscure places. The early articles discuss demography and life tables. He also wrote on the size of juries and the majority need for a conviction. In fact the jury system in France at that time was based on Laplace's conclusions but it was under attack by Poisson. Bienaymé supported Laplace on this issue.
In fact Bienaymé supported Laplace in general since it was Laplace's Théorie analytique des probabilités (1812) that was the biggest influence on Bienaymé's scientific thinking throughout his life. One of his many contributions was to generalise the Laplace method of least squares.
An excellent linguist, Bienaymé translated Chebyshev's work from Russian into French. In fact Bienaymé was a friend of Chebyshev, and also of other important mathematicians such as Quetelet, Cournot and Lamé.
Bienaymé published the BienayméChebyshev inequality which was used to give a very simple and precise demonstration of the generalised law of large numbers. He also worked on independent binomial trials and his most important contribution was his statement of the criticality theorem for simple branching processes which he gave in 1845. His work on this predates that by Galton and Haldane.
He also gave a simple test for randomness of observations on a continuously varying quantity. He stated, and gave a proof which leaves something to be desired, a sophisticated limit theorem which was studied again by von Mises in 1919.
Bienaymé did tend to have arguments with people. He argued with Cauchy over the least squares method and, in 1842, he criticised Poisson's law of large numbers. Bienaymé was quite wrong in his criticism of Poisson but in general he was years ahead of his time in the depth of his statistical ideas.
References (8 books/articles)
References elsewhere in this archive:
Cité Bienaymé is in the 18th Arrondissement in Paris. You can see a list of Paris streets named after mathematicians in our archive.