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Obituaries for July 2017

1 July 2017 52 views No Comment

Peter Homel

Peter Homel—born July 29, 1953, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—died April 24, 2017, in New York City after a vigorous battle with bacterial blood infection.

Homel was senior biostatistician research administrator at Maimonides Medical Center. He was the beloved son of the late Peter and Maria Schabelniuk Homel, husband of the late Laura Brighenti, devoted father to William, brother to Michael (Sandy), and uncle to Katrina. He will be greatly missed by family, friends, and colleagues.

Alastair Scott

Ilze Ziedins, Chris Wild, and Chris Triggs, University of Auckland

Alastair Scott, one of the finest statisticians New Zealand has produced, died in Auckland, New Zealand, on May 25. He served the University of Auckland with distinction from 1972–2005.

Scott’s research was characterized by deep insight, and he made pioneering contributions to a wide range of statistical fields. He was acknowledged, in particular, as a world leader in survey sampling theory and the development of methods to efficiently obtain and analyze data from medical studies. His methods are applied to a range of areas, notably in public health. Beyond research, he contributed prolifically to the statistical profession in academia, government, and society.

Scott was a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, American Statistical Association, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and Royal Statistical Society. He was also an honorary life member of the New Zealand Statistical Association. In November of 2016, he was awarded the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Jones Medal, which recognized his lifetime contribution to the mathematical sciences.

Scott earned his first degrees at the University of Auckland: BSc in mathematics in 1961 and MSc in mathematics in 1962. After a period at the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, he pursued a PhD in statistics at The University of Chicago, graduating in 1965. He then worked at the London School of Economics from 1965–1972.

In 1972, Scott returned to New Zealand to a post in what was then the department of mathematics and statistics at the University of Auckland; he and wife Margaret had decided they wanted to raise their children, Andrew and Julie, in New Zealand.

Throughout his career, Scott was regularly offered posts at prestigious universities overseas, but turned them down. However, he held visiting positions at Bell Labs; the universities of North Carolina, Wisconsin, and California, Berkeley, in the United States; and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

In 1994, the university’s statistics staff, led by George Seber, had an amicable divorce from the department of mathematics and statistics, and Scott became the head of the new department of statistics. He helped set the tone for the department that still exists—hard-working, but welcoming and social. The department of statistics is now the largest such school in Australasia.

In 2005, Scott officially retired. A conference in Auckland that year in his honor attracted the largest concentration of first-rank international statisticians in New Zealand in one place at one time. Scott kept an office in the department and continued writing and advising, coming into work almost every day.

Scott was an influential teacher and generous mentor to several generations of statisticians who valued his sage advice coupled with his trademark affability. He had a full life professionally and personally. He was a wonderful teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. We will all miss him greatly, and we extend our sincere condolences to Margaret; Andrew; Julie; and his family, friends, and colleagues all over the world.

Monroe Sirken

Monroe Sirken, a longtime and active member and fellow of the ASA, passed away on May 24, 2017.

Born January 11, 1921, in New York City, Sirken grew up in a suburb of Pasadena, California. He earned BA and MA degrees in sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1946 and 1947 and a PhD in sociology with a minor in mathematics in 1950 at the University of Washington, where Z. W. Birnbaum was his mentor and thesis adviser. As a postdoctoral fellow of the Social Science Research Council, Sirken spent 1950–1951 at the statistics laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, and the office of the assistant director for research at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland.

Sirken visited the Census Bureau at a time of great change in the use of sampling and survey methods and decided to remain. He began his government career there in 1951 as a mathematical statistician and moved to the National Office of Vital Statistics, where he was an actuarial mathematician and mathematical statistician, in 1953. Sirken held a variety of research and administrative positions at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and was the associate director of research and methodology and director of the Office of Research and Methodology until 1996, when he became a senior research scientist. He retired from that position in 2011.

Aside from administrative responsibilities, Sirken’s major professional interests were conducting and fostering survey and statistical research responsive to the needs of federal statistics. His interest in the design of rare and sensitive population surveys led to the development of network sampling that improves precision by linking multiple selection units to the same observation units. His interest in fostering research on the cognitive aspects of survey methods led to the establishment of permanent questionnaire design research laboratories, first at NCHS and later at other federal statistical agencies here and abroad.

Sirken was active in serving the statistical community. He served on many ASA and Washington Statistical Society committees. A charter member of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology, he chaired its research subcommittee that oversees a grants program in statistical and survey research funded by a consortium of federal statistical agencies and administered by the National Science Foundation.

Sirken was a fellow of the American Statistical Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. He was a recipient of the Public Health Service Superior Service Award, Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Government Statistics, and Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology distinguished service award.

Read more about Sirken’s life and work in “A Conversation with Monroe Sirken—His Early Career.”

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