Statistical Science

A conversation with John W. Tukey and Elizabeth Tukey

Luisa T. Fernholz and Stephan Morgenthaler

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John Wilder Tukey, Donner Professor of Science Emeritus at Princeton University, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on June 16,1915. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at Brown University in 1936 and 1937, respectively, he started his career at Princeton University with a mathematics in 1939 followed by an immediate appointment as Henry B.Fine Instructor in Mathematics. A decade later, at age 35, he was advanced to a full professorship. He directed the Statistical Research Group at Princeton University from its founding in 1956;when the Department of Statistics was formed in 1965, he was named its first chairman and held that post until 1970. He was appointed to the Donner Chair in 1976 and remained at Princeton until reaching emeritus status in 1985. At the same time, he was a Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories since 1945, advancing to Assistant Director of Research, Communications Principles, in 1958 and, in 1961, to Associate Executive Director, Research Information Sciences, a position he held until retirement in 1985.

Throughout World War II he participated in projects assigned to the Princeton Branch of the Frankford Arsenal Fire Control Design Division. This wartime service marked the beginning of his close and continuing association with governmental committees and agencies. Among other activities he was a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests in Geneva in 1959, served on the President’s Science Advisory Committee from 1960 to 1964 and was a member of President Johnson’s Task Force on Environmental Pollution and President Nixon’s Task Force on Air Pollution. The long list of awards and honors that Tukey has received includes the S.S.Wilks Medal from the American Statistical Association (ASA)(1965), the National Medal of Science (1973), the Medal of Honor from the IEEE (1982), the Deming Medal from the American Society of Quality Control (1983) and the Educational Testing Service Award (1990). He holds honorary degrees from Case Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago and Brown, Temple, Yale and Waterloo Universities; in June 1998, he was awarded an honorary degree from Princeton University. He has led the way to the fields of exploratory data analysis (EDA) and robust estimation. His contributions to the spectral analysis of time series and other aspects of digital signal processes have been widely used in engineering and science. His collaboration with a fellow mathematician resulted in the discovery of the fast Fourier transform (FFT) algorithm. Author of Exploratory Data Analysis and eight volumes of collected papers, he has contributed to a wide variety of areas and has coauthored several books. He has guided more than 50 graduate students to successful Ph.D.’s and inspired their careers. A detailed list of his students as well as a complete curriculum vitae can be found in The Practice of Data Analysis (1997), edited by D. Brillinger, L. Fernholz, and S.Morgenthaler, Princeton University Press.

John W. Tukey married Elizabeth Louise Rapp in 1950. Before their marriage, she was Personnel Director of the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Statist. Sci., Volume 15, Number 1 (2000), 79-94.

First available in Project Euclid: 24 December 2001

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Fernholz, Luisa T.; Morgenthaler, Stephan. A conversation with John W. Tukey and Elizabeth Tukey. Statist. Sci. 15 (2000), no. 1, 79--94. doi:10.1214/ss/1009212675.

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