How Statistical Science Got Its Name

The term "statistical science" has become commonplace in the time since the naming and founding of the now well-known journal of that name. The purpose of this note is to put out for public comment some personal recollection of how that particular name came about.

Statistical Science --- The Founding Meeting

There were many meetings and discussions that stirred the pot for an IMS journal that would be more friendly, more people-oriented than the traditional IMS Annals.

Perhaps the most persistent agitator for such a journal was Ingram Olkin. I know he'd been at the task for years before the "critical meeting." Also, Morrie DeGroot and Carl Morris were supporters, though perhaps not quite as consistently passionate for the cause as Ingram.

Anyway, by hook or by cook, the suggestion finally developed steam, and, after much vacillation, there was meeting to forge a concrete proposal for submission to the IMS council.

I guess our group was formally an ad hoc committee, and, as I recall, I was a last minute recruit. Among the other people at the meeting I clearly recall Ingram Olkin, Morrie DeGroot, and Carl Morris. Steve Fienberg or Brad Efron may have also been there --- these are details to check. Anyway, the people in Washington that day were all enthusiastic supporters of the basic concept.

Still, as usual, things became less unanimous when we confronted the the thorny issue of the name.

Jon Bentley's Wry Observation

The year must have been 1982. I was at Carnegie Mellon where I spent as may hours as possible swapping jokes with Jon Bentley, famous computer scientist and noted (at least in our building) raconteur.

A few weeks before the meeting, Jon had observed:

"Any science that calls itself a science is not a science." Jon then gave his motivating examples: "Consider Chemistry, Physics and Medicine compared to --- say --- Political Science or Computer Science."

At our Washington meeting, in the middle of our discussion of the name for the new journal, I suggested the name "Statistical Science." I then told Jon's story just to shoot down my own suggestion.

As events evolved, the suggestion would not go down. Instead it gathered steam, and, before too long, our committee had agreed to call the new journal Statistical Science.

Two Helpful Turns: Interviews and a Marketing Trick

After giving myself this slice of credit, let me mention a couple of other developments from the meeting where I had no hand.

In particular, there was the idea of publishing interviews with well-known statisticians and probabilists. I believe this idea was Ingram's.

At first, I didn't warm to the idea, but I was clearly wrong. This has been one of the most persistently engaging features of the journal.

Also, someone on the committee also came up with one hell of a great marketing trick. We decided to give the journal away for the first few years; formally it was bundled with the other IMS publications according to rules that I can't remember.

At the same time Bruce Trumbo thought of of trick to over come a strange library rule that "library's cannot be changed more than" some (small) multiple of the "individual" subscriber rate. Bruce's trick was to introduce an new intermediate class of "individual" who paid a LOT for the subscription.

There was probably never ANY such person, yet this loop-hole put the IMS into the sweet spot, where it has been ever since.This double whammy worked like a charm.

In those days, libraries that had two years of the journal on their shelves would automatically pay up when they were asked in the third year if they wanted to continue with the journal.

Of course they were right to do so. The journal is first-rate and a tremendous bargain.

Additions and Corrections?

This are mostly personal recollections, and so far I have done only a little checking. If you have any comments or corrections please let me know.

I would be especially happy to hear from anyone who has source material such as minutes, memoranda, or council reports.

This is not the most earthshaking event in history, but it does offer a little reminder of the strange paths by which institutions wind their way in the world.

Footnote Quote --- It's Crustacean!

"By the mid-1980s, the question of where floating lobster larvae landed on the bottom and transformed themselves into fully formed lobsters had become one of the most maddening mysteries of lobster science."

--- Trevor Croson The Secret Life of Lobsters (Haper Perrenial, 2005, page 143).

Incidentally, I recently saw a note in the Cornell Alumni News that mentioned meat science. Yumm!


Addendum: Tukey on Statistics as a Science

"Statistics is a science in my opinion, and it is no more a branch of mathematics than are physics, chemistry and economics; for if its methods fail the test of experience—not the test of logic—they are discarded." --- John W. Tukey, quoted by David Brillinger (AS, 2002)

Another tidbit from the Brillinger's article:

"For the period 1960–1961 he [JWT] was President of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. One innovative step he took as President was to carry out a survey on the IMS members’ feelings on the need for a separate journal of probability. The results were in favor, but The Annals of Probability did not appear until 1973."


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