Outlier was such a useful and long-established term that, in 1865, geologists coined inlier, so that they could have a contrasting word with the opposite meaning. So why has inlier fallen into disuse today? Maybe it’s because people and things that exist outside the mainstream are inherently more interesting, and therefore are more talked about. Today, outlier can refer to a political maverick, a musical prodigy, or an animal that lives apart from the herd—all phenomena worthy of discussion.
Nowhere have outliers been talked about more than in statistics, where a few outlying examples can throw calculations about everything else off kilter. An entire field called robust statistics was developed in order create mathematical models that can still produce reliable descriptions in spite of the presence of outliers.
The 2008 bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell, popularized the use of “outlier” to describe exceptional people such as Bill Gates who achieved enormous success. Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours of practice, timing, and societal factors beyond one’s control are more important than inborn talent in determining who will become an outlier.
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company
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