Thursday, October 10, 2019

William Kruskal's 100th birthday

Today, Oct 10, 2019 is William Kruskal's 100th birthday (he's dead, so no cake. Oh well.) William Kruskal was a great statistician. To honor him we have a guest post by his nephew Clyde Kruskal. We also note that the Kruskal Family is one of the top two math families of all time (see here). William is a reason why the other two Kruskal brothers went into mathematics: As a much older sibling (6 years older than Martin and 8 years older than Joseph), he encouraged their early mathematical development.

Here are some pictures of William Kruskal and of the Kruskal Family: here

Guest Post by Clyde Kruskal

I was asked to blog about my uncle, the statistician, William H. Kruskal, on the centennial of his birth. We called him Uncle Bill. He is best known for co-inventing the Kruskal-Wallis test.

There are two stories that I know about Bill's childhood, which must have been family lore:

(1) As a young child, Bill was a prolific reader. His reading comprehension outstripped his conversational English. One morning, having just read the word ``schedule'' in a book, and obviously having never heard it pronounced, he sat down to breakfast and asked:
"What is the ske·DU·le for today?"

(2) My grandparents once had Bill take an occupational assessment test. The tester said that Bill was a very bright child, and should become a traffic engineer to solve the problems with traffic congestion. (This would have been the 1920s!) As you probably know, Uncle Bill did not succeed in ending traffic congestion. Oh well.

Recently there has been a controversy over whether to ask about citizenship in the 2020 census. In the late 1900s there was a different controversy: whether to adjust the known undercount statistically. In general, Democrats wanted to adjust the count and Republicans did not (presumably because Democratic states tended to have a larger undercount). A national committee was set up to study the issue, with four statisticians in favor and four against. I was surprised to learn that Uncle Bill was on the commission as one of those against adjustment, since, I thought his political views were more closely aligned with those of the Democrats. He was very principled, basing his views only on statistical arguments. I saw him give a talk on the subject, which seemed quite convincing (but, then again, I did not see the other side). They ended up not adjusting.

For more on William Kruskal, in general, and his view on adjusting the census, in particular, see the pointers at the end of this post.

I have more to say. I just hope that I am on the ske·DU·le to blog about Uncle Bill at the bicentennial of his birth.

The William Kruskal Legacy: 1919-2005 by Fienberg, Stigler, and Tanur

A short biography of William Kruskal by J.J. O'Connor and E.F. Robertson

William Kruskal: Mentor and Friend by Judith Tanur

William Kruskal: My Scholarly and Scientific Model by Stephen Fienberg

A conversation with William Kruskal by Sandy Zabell

Testimony for house subcommittee on census and population for 1990 (see page 140)

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