Frederick Mosteller Is Dead

by Cosma Shalizi on July 28, 2006

Via everyone in the profession: the statistician Frederick Mosteller has died. Mosteller was one of the great leaders of the generation of statisticians in which our field went from being an annex of mathematics (as it was when he attended Carnegie Tech) to an autonomous, institutionalized discipline. He had an astonishing range as a researcher, but is perhaps best known for his work on stochastic theories of learning theory and the authorship of the Federalist Papers. He was also a notable teacher, as his essay “Classroom and Platform Performance” suggests, and in the later part of his career tried to bring elementary inferential hygenie to educational research. More anecdotes are available from Tales of the Statisticians, or this brief sketch by his student Stephen Fienberg.



bi 07.28.06 at 9:50 am

I’m interested in authorship attribution, so I’m making a mental note to look up some of this stuff on the Federalist Papers.


Rob St. Amant 07.28.06 at 10:48 am

My favorites of his books (I’m a computer scientist) are the collaborations with Tukey et al.: Data Analysis and Regression and “sequels”. He wrote very accessible material that led the reader to consider underlying concepts in statistics, rather than to focus only on the mechanics.


Barry 07.28.06 at 12:12 pm

Odd; I don’t recall that name.


Ajax 07.28.06 at 1:27 pm

The page you refer us to, “Tales of the Statisticians”, has this very telling statement:

“The problem of the Prisoner’s Dilemma lost steam along with the rest of the movement, only to find a second home in that all-purpose backwater, philosophy.”

I’ve rarely seen such a statement that reveals so well the professional narrowness and belligerent ignorance of most statisticians. Thank goodness for computer scientists, political scientists, economists, sociologists, biologists, business strategists, complexity theorists, historians, pure mathematicians, cognitive scientists, and any others with a sincerely-motivated interest in evolutionary game theory.


cosma 07.28.06 at 1:40 pm

Ajax: I am not about to attempt to defend that comment! (For that matter, I think there’s a lot more to be said in favor of Brush-Mosteller-style learning models…) But I do think “professional narrowness and belligerent ignorance” is a bit unfair to my adopted profession.


mcd 07.28.06 at 2:45 pm

Heard about him all the time when I had a short stint at Harvard School of Public Health. He and Robert Rosenthal were pioneers in developing the tools of meta-analysis, which lets you combine the result of many different studies to arrive at a global net effect of variables.


S 07.28.06 at 2:46 pm

West Virginia sure seems to produce its fair share of outstanding American mathematical talent.


Tracy Lightcap 07.28.06 at 9:53 pm

Irony strikes! I was just over at the Empirical Legal Studies blog. They have a new thread on methods pieces that everyone should read. I just posted Mosteller and Tukey’s classic paper, Data analysis, including statistics (1968!) as one that I think we STILL haven’t caught up with.

He was a truly great scholar. He’ll be missed badly. And I agree with Rob about Data analysis and regression. Another work we haven’t caught up to yet.

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