Stephen E. Fienberg and Alessandro Rinaldo
The common view of the history of contingency tables is that it begins in 1900 with the work of Pearson and Yule, but it extends back at least into the 19th century. Moreover it remains an active area of research today. In this paper we give an overview of this history focussing on the development of log-linear models and their estimation via the method of maximum likelihood. S. N. Roy played a crucial role in this development with two papers co-authored with his students S. K. Mitra and Marvin Kastenbaum, at roughly the mid-point temporally in this development. Then we describe a problem that eluded Roy and his students, that of the implications of sampling zeros for the existence of maximum likelihood estimates for log-linear models. Understanding the problem of on-existence is crucial to the analysis of large sparse contingency tables. We introduce some relevant results from the application of algebraic geometry to the study of this statistical problem.