Dr.
David Blackwell, a mathematician and statistician, who made fundamental
contributions to probability theory, statistics and game theory during
the time that African Americans found it difficult, if not impossible,
to even attend meetings of the American Mathematical Society, passed on
July 8, 2010 at the age of 91. He was the first tenured black professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the first black elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
This
conference in his memory is cosponsored by the American Statistical
Society, The University of California Berkeley and Howard University.
Background
David
Harold Blackwell was born on April 24, 1919 in Centralia, Illinois. He
entered the University of Illinois in 1935 at the age of 16 and earned a
bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1938. He then obtained his Master’s
degree in 1939 and his Ph.D in 1941, at the age of 22.
After
being awarded a one year Rosenwald Fellowship, established by the
clothing magnate Julius Rosenwald to aid black scholars,
he attended the
Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. After completing the
fellowship, Dr. Blackwell taught at a number of colleges, and finally
arrived at Howard University in 1944. While at Howard, he attended a
lecture by Meyer A. Girshick at the local chapter of the American
Statistical Association. He became intensely interested in statistics
and developed a lifelong friendship with Girshick. They later cowrote
the wellknown classic “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions”, in
1954. In that same year, he accepted a position in the Statistics
Department at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1955 he was
promoted to full professor. He was chairman of the department from 1957 to
1961 and assistant dean of the College of Letters and Science from 1964
to 1968. He retired in 1988.
His book entitled Basic Statistics, written in 1969, was one of the first textbooks on
Bayesian statistics, which assess the uncertainty of future outcomes by
incorporating new evidence as it arises, rather than relying on
historical data. Professor
Peter Bickel noted that “He had this great talent for making things
appear simple, he liked elegance and simplicity. That is the ultimate
best thing in mathematics, if you have an insight that something
seemingly complicated is really simple, but simple after the fact.”
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