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Topic: [HM] Tukey
Replies: 2   Last Post: Jul 30, 2000 9:39 PM

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Alfred Ross

Posts: 56
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [HM] Tukey
Posted: Jul 30, 2000 9:39 PM
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Office of Communications
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Telephone 609-258-3601; Fax 609-258-1301
Steven Schultz, Princeton University (609) 258-5729;
Steve Eisenberg, Bell Labs (908) 582-7474;

July 26, 2000

Statistician John W. Tukey dies

PRINCETON, N.J. - John Wilder Tukey, an emeritus Princeton professor
considered to be one of the most important contributors to modern
statistics, died Wednesday. He was 85.

Tukey developed many important tools of modern statistics and introduced
concepts that were central to the creation of today's telecommunications
technologies. In addition to his formidable research achievements, Tukey
was known for his penchant for coining terms that reflected new ideas and
techniques in the sciences and is credited with introducing the computer
science terms "bit" (short for binary digit) and "software."

Tukey, Princeton's Donner Professor of Science Emeritus, actively applied
his mathematical insights to real-world problems in engineering and social
sciences, serving as staff researcher and associate executive director for
research at Bell Labs, now the research and development arm of Lucent
Technologies. For decades, he was an active consultant to such companies
as Educational Testing Service and Merck & Co., and contributed to such
areas as military operations in World War II, U.S. census-taking strategies
and projecting the election-day results of presidential contests for
national television.

"He probably made more original contributions to statistics than anyone
else since World War II," said Frederick Mosteller, retired professor of
mathematical statistics at Harvard University.

"I believe that the whole country -- scientifically, industrially,
financially -- is better off because of him and bears evidence of his
influence," said retired Princeton Professor John A. Wheeler, who is a
major figure in the history of physics and the development of the atomic

"He had a penetrating understanding of so many areas in the field of
statistics and was happy to share those insights with anyone who engaged
him in a discussion," said David Hoaglin, a statistician at the social
research firm Abt Associates who co-authored books and papers with Tukey.
"It's hard to find an area that he did not work in or have a significant
impact on."

Among Tukey's most far-reaching contributions was his development of
techniques for "robust analysis," an approach to statistics that guards
against wrong answers in situations where a randomly chosen sample of
data happens to poorly represent the rest of the data set. Tukey also
pioneered approaches to exploratory data analysis, developing graphing
and plotting methods that are fixtures of introductory statistics texts,
and authored many publications on time series analysis and other aspects
of digital signal processing that have become central to modern engineering
and science.

In 1965, with James Cooley, he introduced an analytical tool known as fast
Fourier transform, which remains a ubiquitous technique for understanding
waveforms in fields from astrophysics to electrical engineering.

In addition to his research achievements, Tukey was known for his passions
for folk dancing and collecting murder mystery and science fiction books.

"John was a very lively presence on campus," said Princeton Professor of
Mathematics Robert Gunning, former chairman of the mathematics department
and dean of the faculty.

In one commonly told anecdote, Tukey put his extraordinary calculating
abilities to work as chairman of the Faculty Committee on Schedule, working
out the seemingly intractable complexities of arranging times for classes
and exams.

"He would lie flat on his back on a table and people would list the
scheduling difficulties and he would reel off solutions," Gunning said.
"He did it quickly and quietly in his head."

Tukey also was instrumental in creating a citation index for statistical
literature and was known for carrying publication lists with him and
working out the complexities of cross-references in his spare time.

"He did an amazing number of things," Gunning said. "And he was a good
and energetic teacher."

"If you have money in the bank you always have a sense of assurance,"
said Wheeler. "John Tukey was a special kind of money in the bank because
you could take up a difficult question with him and get a new point of
view and sound advice. The country will be poorer for his loss."

Tukey was born in New Bedford, MA on June 16, 1915. He earned bachelor's
and master's degrees in chemistry from Brown University in 1936 and 1937
before coming to Princeton for graduate work in mathematics. He earned
his Ph.D. in just two years. After spending wartime years in the
government's Fire Control Research Office in Princeton, Tukey rose to the
rank of full professor by 1950 at age 35.

Building on a foundation laid by statistician Samuel S. Wilks, Tukey helped
found a department of statistics, which split from the mathematics department
in 1966, and chaired the department until 1970. The department later became
today's Committee for Statistical Studies.

Among many awards and honors, Tukey received the National Medal of Science
in 1973 and an honorary doctorate from Princeton in 1998, and was a member
of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of England.

Tukey's survivors include: first cousins Clayton Tasker of Jekyll Island,
GA, Wilder A. Tasker of New Bern, NC; nephews Francis Anscombe, Anthony
Anscombe, and Frederick Anscombe, and niece Elizabeth Anscombe Valeika;
his brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Professor and Mrs. Francis Anscombe
of New Haven, CT; four great nieces and a number of second cousins from the
Tukey branch of the family. His wife of 48 years, Elizabeth Rapp Tukey,
died in January of 1998.

The funeral service will be held on Monday, July 31 at 1 p.m. at Trinity
Church on Mercer Street in Princeton and will be open to the public.
A memorial service will be held in the fall.


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