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An ASA Hall of Fame

1 March 2013 991 views 8 Comments
The ASA will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2014. In preparation, column “175”—written by members of the ASA’s 175th Anniversary Steering Committee and other ASA members—will chronicle the theme chosen for the celebration, status of preparations, activities to take place, and, best yet, how you can get involved in propelling the ASA toward its bicentennial.

stiglerContributing Editor
Stephen M. Stigler (PhD Berkeley) taught at the University of Wisconsin – Madison before moving in 1979 to The University of Chicago. He served as editor of JASA Theory and Methods from 1978–1981 and president of the Institute for Mathematical Statistics and International Statistical Institute. His publications include the books The History of Statistics (1986) and Statistics on the Table (1999).

On the occasion of this International Year of Statistics, and in anticipation of the 175th anniversary of the ASA in 2014, I offer a list of 20 past ASA members who were influential in bringing us to this point in our history.

No doubt others’ lists would differ and many excellent people have been omitted. Some of these (e.g., R. A. Fisher and Karl Pearson) were never members; others (e.g., Abraham Wald and Jimmie Savage) have influenced the profession greatly without playing a significant role in the ASA.

The list could have been extended with no drop in quality. Hard choices were made to give a list representative of the past membership at its finest; long service to ASA was not sufficient for inclusion. The only rigidly enforced rule was that the member be deceased—no one can complain personally that they were unfairly omitted.


The order of the names is haphazard. Twelve served as presidents of the ASA; the numbers in parentheses are the years of their presidency.

Adolphe Quetelet, Belgian, founder of the International Statistical Congresses. Played a direct role in starting the Royal Statistical Society, and by agreeing to be its first foreign member, he helped the ASA gain international recognition.

Frederick Mosteller (1967), founding chair at Harvard and statesman of statistics.

George Snedecor (1948), founder of the statistical laboratory at Iowa State.

Jerzy Neyman, founder of the statistics department at the University of California at Berkeley and pioneer in mathematical statistics.

Joseph Berkson, biostatistician at the Mayo Clinic and iconoclast (and co-founder of the Society for Stomping on Berkson). Introduced “logit” analysis.

Raymond Pearl (1939), path-breaking biometrician. Studied longevity and nutrition.

Francis Amasa Walker (1883–1896), director of the 1870 U.S. Census. Brought the ASA from a regional discussion club to a national professional society. Established JASA and, in 1896, moved the annual meeting from Boston.

William Kruskal (1982), co-inventor of the Kruskal-Wallis Test, consummate scholar of statistics, editor of encyclopedias.

John Tukey, from his exploratory and confirmatory data analysis to statistical graphics to his terminology (e.g., jackknife and software), he helped shape modern statistical analysis.

W. Allen Wallis (1965), ran the Statistical Research Group at Columbia University during WWII, editor of JASA from 1950–1960, founder of The University of Chicago Statistics Department, undersecretary of state 1985–1989, co-inventor of the Kruskal-Wallis Test.

Herman Hollerith, devised the punch card system that revolutionized the tabulation of the U.S. Census in 1890 and led to the creation of IBM Corp.

W. Edwards Deming, a tireless educator outside the academy, he brought sampling to government, quality assurance to industry, and statistical methods to the military.

Helen Walker (1944), author of an excellent history of statistical methods published in 1929, influential educator who taught at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Edwin B. Wilson (1929), polymath who published on binomial confidence intervals in 1927. Served as co-president of MIT in 1921 before founding the Harvard program in vital statistics and served as secretary of the National Academy of Sciences for 50 years.

William G. Cochran (1953), influential author of books on the design of experiments and sampling; important educator at Iowa State, The Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard.

Gertrude Cox (1956), founded the statistics department at North Carolina State University. Played a key role in starting the departments of statistics and biostatistics at The University of North Carolina.

Albert H. Bowker (1964), founding chair of the Stanford statistics department and, later, chancellor of CUNY and the University of California.

Margaret Martin (1980), helped develop the Current Population Survey. Helped direct several federal statistical offices, from the Bureau of the Budget to the National Academy of Sciences.

Paul Meier, biostatistician and co-inventor of the Kaplan-Meier estimator of survival curves; that paper (in JASA) has been the most-cited paper in statistics.

Harold Hotelling, founder of the programs at Columbia and The University of North Carolina, pioneer in multivariate analysis and resource economics.

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  • Yossi Levy said:

    What about Jerome Cornfield?

  • Howard Wainer said:

    Familiarity breeds contempt. Too often we tend to undervalue our contemporaries and so when we make up top ten lists the greats of the past seem larger than those of the present.

    Let me suggest nine additions (not replacements):

    Stephen Stigler – whose encyclopedic knowledge of the past has helped us to understand how we got where we are.
    William Cochran – a list of his contributions is monumental.
    Stephen Fienberg – a behind the scenes mover-and-shaker.
    Don Rubin – whose work on missing data had the side benefit of conjoining statistics and epistemology and expanded our understanding of causation (and the EM algorithm)
    Sam Wilks – who wrote the book that taught me statistics.
    Erich Lehmann – who wrote the books that taught all of us statistics.
    Paul Holland – who expanded the reach of rigorous statistical thinking into the social sciences — and brought us Rubin’s Model for causal inference.
    Ingram Olkin – who started a lot of things.
    Herb Robbins – to prove that inclusion in this list doesn’t rely on someone being well-liked & because of empirical Bayes methods.

  • Shobbo Basu said:

    Great list. In my opinion, 2 names that are missing from this list are R.A. Fisher and George Box. I am wondering if you considered them and why they did not make the top 20.

  • Milo Schield said:

    Jerome Cornfield (1912-1979), 1974 ASA President, should have been included.

    He took on R. A. Fisher directly on the association between smoking and lung cancer. Cornfield showed that there was a minimum confounder size needed to nullify or reverse an observed observational association. “Cornfield’s minimum effect size is as important to observational studies as is the use of randomized assignment to experimental studies.” Schield (1999).

    Cornfield also demonstrated that “the odds ratio calculated from data obtained in case-control studies could be used to estimate relative risk” and he “introduced the multiple logistic risk function to analyze multi-way cross classification tables.”

    Greenhouse, Samuel W. (1982). Jerome Cornfield’s Contributions to Epidemiology. Biometrics Vol 38. p. 33-45.

    Schield, Milo (1999). Simpson’s Paradox and Cornfield’s Conditions. ASA Proceedings of the Section on Statistical Education. Copy at http://www.statlit.org/pdf/1999SchieldASA.pdf

  • Randy Bartlett said:

    Snedecor gets recognized! Fabulous. He is often overlooked. Without Snedecor there might not have been an F test, a Gertrude Cox, et al. He taught the first statistics class and set up the first statistical laboratory. Good job. Not familiar with Helen Walker, Edwin Wilson, or Albert Bowker. Those look thin.

  • arup guha said:

    no sensible list can miss R.A Fisher. There are American greats. Fisher as we know are British. Cochran should be added.

  • Rick Wicklin said:

    This is a good list, and I know it was hard to choose just 20. I would argue that Jerome Cornfield also meets the criteria for this list: substantial contributions to the profession, to the ASA, and he is dead! For those interested in learning more about his contributions, I have written a short biography of Jerome Cornfield: http://blogs.sas.com/content/iml/2013/03/18/biography-of-jerome-cornfield/

  • jack borsting said:

    I believe W. J. Dixon should be included in the list of 20 Hall of Fame Statisticians. Wilfrid Dixon was active in ASA and organized the Statistical Computing Sections of the the ASA and ISI. He received the Wilks Award for his contributions in statistical computing. Dr. Dixon made significant contributions to the profession in his over 120 papers. He led the development of the BMD statictical software programs which were a significant step forward in statistical computing. In addition to these accomplishments, his seminal elementary textbook, with Frank Massey, was used for years to introduce students from all fields to probability and statistics