“Who is the statistician or scientist you admire the most?”

As for the previous ISBA Bulletin, Luke Bornn sent me this (impossible!) question, to be answered in a few hundred words. First, let me exclude all living statisticians and scientists to avoid making a choice among all those people I admire and hurting anyone’s feeling (and also because this is somehow unfair to younger researchers). So let us stick to dead individuals! Second, I am quite hesitant to choose between a scientist (broad category!) and a statistician (restrictive category!). Again, let me [first?] stick to statisticians, avoiding the impossible choice between Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Henri Poincaré, Evariste Galois, Ada Byron,  and others…

Even in this smaller statistical world, I remain hesitant between many names, the two primary contenders being Pierre-Simon de Laplace and Harold Jeffreys. They both share an image of universal scientists (or “honnêtes hommes”) in that they dealt with many topics on a wide-ranging scale and developed new methodologies that impacted the field for years and even centuries. They both worked in statistic as a side occupation, their main field being mathematics and astronomy, and geophysics, respectively. Nonetheless, maybe thanks to their outsider quality, they imagined fundamental changes to our field. Not only did Laplace re-derive Bayes’ theorem but he also saw to its implementation and reflected on the choice of priors. Similarly, Jeffreys set the ground for the construction of reference priors in an essential piece of work. While I could claim some low-level kinship with Laplace (since we both spent our childhoods in Pays d’Auge, Normandy, went to study in Caen,  and end up living in neighbouring cities south of Paris [where an RER stop is named after him]), and. more seriously, while I tremendously enjoyed Laplace’s Traité Philosophique sur les Probabilités, I nonetheless end up voting for Harold Jeffreys as I have a great fondness for Theory of Probability. Which remains in my opinion the most important book written for Bayesian analysis. (This post just appeared in the ISBA Bulletin of March 2011, along more inspired pieces by fellow Bayesians.)

4 Responses to ““Who is the statistician or scientist you admire the most?””

  1. [...] current question for the ISBA Bulletin is “What is the biggest and most surprising change in the field of Statistics that you have [...]

  2. [...] the next chapter is about “the man who did everything”, …, yes indeed, Pierre-Simon (de) Laplace himself! (An additional nice touch is the use of lower case everywhere, instead of an inflation of [...]

  3. Christian/Very good choice as yours with Laplace and Jeffreys.

    Incidentally regarding the first, there is a lecture around his “Traité philosophique des probabilités” tomorrow on April 6, at the BNF (Mitterand library) in the cycle “One text, one mathematician” by Alice Guionnet at 6:30pm
    See http://smf.emath.fr/content/un-texte-un-mathematicien-2011

    • Yes indeed, I noticed (in Le Monde) this public talk taking place tomorrow and wish I could attend, but this is not taking place in the most convenient place nor at the most convenient time.

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