Archive for obituary

Greg Bear (1951-2022)

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2022 by xi'an

Just heard that the science-fiction writer Greg Bear had passed away. I read [a French translation of] Blood Music in 1985 or 1986, and while I did not like the second half so much, I remember being impressed by the originality of the story when compared with classics like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. (Little did I know that Bear would later contribute to the Foundation corpus by Foundation and Chaos, which I have not read to this day.) Later, much later, I read Hull Zero Three, again an original (if space-operatic) book, and Darwin’s Radio, which remains one of my favourite books in science fiction, if only because it is deeply grounded into science. Followed by Darwin’s Children this very summer. (I may have read Moving Mars as the story synopsis sounds familiar, but I am unsure…) A great writer, to whom I am grateful for all the gripping time spent on his page-turning books!

David Cox (1924-2022)

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2022 by xi'an

It is with much sadness that I heard from Oxford yesterday night that David Cox had passed away. Hither goes a giant of the field, whose contributions to theoretical and methodological statistics are enormous and whose impact on society is truly exceptional. He was the first recipient of the International Prize in Statistics in 2016 (aka the “Nobel of Statistics”) among many awards and a Fellow of the Royal Society among many other recognitions. He was also the editor of Biometrika for 25 years (!) and was still submitting papers to the journal a few month ago. Statistical Science published a conversation between Nancy Reid and him that tells a lot about the man and his amazing modesty. While I had met him in 1989, when he was visiting Cornell University as a distinguished visitor (and when I drove him to the house of Anne and George Casella for dinner once), then again in the 1990s when he came on a two-day visit to CREST,  we only really had a significant conversation in 2011 (!), when David and I attended the colloquium in honour of Mike Titterington in Glasgow and he proved to be most interested in the ABC algorithm. He published a connected paper in Biometrika the year after, with Christiana Katsonaki. We met a few more times later, always in Oxford, to again discuss ABC. In each occasion, he was incredibly kind and considerate.

Arianna Rosenbluth’s hit

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2021 by xi'an

Don Fraser (1925-2020)

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2020 by xi'an

I just received the very sad news that Don Fraser, emeritus professor of statistics at the University of Toronto, passed away this Monday, 21 December 2020. He was a giant of the field, with a unique ability for abstract modelling and he certainly pushed fiducial statistics much further than Fisher ever did. He also developed a theory of structural  inference that came close to objective Bayesian statistics, although he remained quite critical of the Bayesian approach (always in a most gentle manner, as he was a very nice man!). And most significantly contributed to high order asymptotics, to the critical analysis of ancilarity and sufficiency principles, and more beyond. (Statistical Science published a conversation with Don, in 2004, providing more personal views on his career till then.) I met with Don and Nancy rather regularly over the years, as they often attended and talked at (objective) Bayesian meetings, from the 1999 edition in Granada, to the last one in Warwick in 2019. I also remember a most enjoyable barbecue together, along with Ivar Ekeland and his family, during JSM 2018, on Jericho Park Beach, with a magnificent sunset over the Burrard Inlet. Farewell, Don!

Berni Alder obituary in Nature [and the Metropolis algorithm]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2020 by xi'an

When reading through the 15 October issue of Nature, I came across an obituary by David Ceperley for Berni Alder (1925-2020). With Thomas Wainwright, Alder invented the technique of molecular dynamics, “silencing criticism that the results were the product of inaccurate computer arithmetic.” 

“Berni Alder pioneered computer simulation, in particular of the dynamics of atoms and molecules in condensed matter. To answer fundamental questions, he encouraged the view that computer simulation was a new way of doing science, one that could connect theory with experiment. Alder’s vision transformed the field of statistical mechanics and many other areas of applied science.”

As I was completely unaware of Alder’s contributions to the field, I was most surprised to read the following

“During his PhD, he and the computer scientist Stan Frankel developed an early Monte Carlo algorithm — one in which the spheres are given random displacements — to calculate the properties of the hard-sphere fluid. The advance was scooped by Nicholas Metropolis and his group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.”

that would imply missing credit is due!, but I could only find the following information on Stan Frankel’s Wikipedia page: Frankel “worked with PhD candidate Berni Alder in 1949–1950 to develop what is now known as Monte Carlo analysis. They used techniques that Enrico Fermi had pioneered in the 1930s. Due to a lack of local computing resources, Frankel travelled to England in 1950 to run Alder’s project on the Manchester Mark 1 computer. Unfortunately, Alder’s thesis advisor [John Kirkwood] was unimpressed, so Alder and Frankel delayed publication of their results until 1955, in the Journal of Chemical Physics. This left the major credit for the technique to a parallel project by a team including Teller and Metropolis who published similar work in the same journal in 1953.” The (short) paper by Alder, Frankel and Lewinson is however totally silent on a potential precursor to the Metropolis et al. algorithm (included in its references)… It also contains a proposal for a completely uniform filling of a box by particles, provided they do not overlap, but the authors had to stop at 98 particles due to its inefficiency.

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