Feb 16, 2017

XL-Files: 2016, In Memory and In Memoriam

Contributing Editor Xiao-Li Meng writes:

“How could that happen?” was perhaps the question of the year for 2016. Other than a small percentage of perceptive minds, which I hope include disproportionately more of my fellow statisticians, the rest of the human population seems to still be coping with the aftermath (afterstat?) of 2016. Forever, 2016 will remain in our memory as an extraordinary year, literally. It was a year that also saw the departures of more extraordinary figures than in any other year in my memory, although I am acutely aware of my age-induced ability to create alternative facts. The departure of the daughter–mother pair, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, on two consecutive days just before the departure of 2016 itself, sadly dramatized “The Year of The Reaper,” as Time put it (on its cover).

And although we are still years away from statisticians sharing a Time cover with Hollywood celebrities, our profession did have its heavy share of the Year of The Reaper. We started the year with the shocking departure of one of the most prolific, and kindest, scholars of our time, Peter Hall (11/20/1951–1/9/2016). Only a month after, we lost one of the most engaging and forceful pioneers, Emanuel Parzen (4/21/1929–2/6/2016). Less than 12 weeks later, we had to bid farewell to the legendary advocate and nurturer of statistics and statisticians, Ingram Olkin (7/23/1924–4/28/2016). Six weeks on, we lost another eminent and penetrating scholar, Vidyadhar Godambe (6/1/1926–6/9/2016). In early fall, we learned of the demise of Theodore Anderson (6/5/1918–9/17/2016), a renowned pioneer bridging statistics and econometrics. Ten weeks later the statistics community was shaken again by the departure of his contemporary, Charles Stein (3/22/1920–11/24/2016), a towering statistical intellect for all times. The end of the year came with the sad news of the passing of Stephen Fienberg (11/27/1942–12/14/2016), another prolific scholar, as well as an energizing leader, of our profession.

Sadly, this list is far from exhaustive, especially if we include scholars in closely related fields. Just locally, in April, I attended a very moving memorial event for James Ware (10/27/1941–4/26/2016), a leading figure, both scholarly and professionally, in biostatistics. And in July, Harvard mourned the loss of Howard Raiffa (1/24/1924–7/8/2016), a giant in game theory and decision analysis (and a founding uncle of Harvard’s Statistics Department).

Of course, we all will enter history sooner or later. The differences are that each of us may belong to a different cell of a 2×2×2 table: those who make history or not; those who care about doing so or not; and those who will be remembered by history or not. Regardless of which cell represents an ideal life and which cell is my destiny, the inspirations generated by such leading scholars and scholarly leaders can enrich our “cell life” in multiple ways. Therefore, the year of 2016 should be remembered also as a particularly rich year of inspiration. And to help the younger (than me) generations to remember all of them, and other giants of our beloved profession, I will leave you to correctly identify all nine of them in the pictures below, as well as those others in the pictures, including one whose centennial recently passed. The first eight people who can correctly identify everyone in the pictures (and who are above 21) will be invited to a “libation and inspiration” gathering at JSM 2017 to celebrate the lives of these nine (and hopefully not many more). [Email your entry and age-proof to meng@stat.harvard.edu.]

How many of these 14 people can you name? There’s a prize for the first 8 to tell Xiao-Li who they all are!


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