John Wilder Tukey was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on June 16, 1915. He is the only child of Adah M. Tasker and Dr. Ralph H. Tukey, who met at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine) as members of the class of 1898. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry at Brown University in 1936 and 1937, respectively. He then went to Princeton, where, in 1938 he was a Jacobus Fellow, and upon receiving his doctorate in mathematics from Princeton in 1939, he was appointed Henry B. Fine Instructor in Mathematics. A decade later, at age 35, he was advanced to a full professorship. He directed Princeton's Statistical Techniques Research Group from its founding in 1956. When the Department of Statistics was formed in 1965, Tukey was named its first chairman, and held that post until 1970. He was appointed to the Donner Chair in 1976. He chaired the University (Academic) Schedule Committee from 1945 to 1970. At the same time, he was a Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1945, advancing to Assistant Director of Research, Communications Principles in 1958 and, in 1961, to Associate Executive Director-Research Information Sciences, which position he held until his retirement in 1985.
John Tukey has attracted international attention for his studies in mathematical and theoretical statistics and their applications to a wide variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. He has led the way in the now-burgeoning fields of Exploratory Data Analysis and Robust Estimation, and his contributions to the Spectrum Analysis of Time Series and other aspects of Digital Signal Processing have been widely used in engineering and science. He has been credited with coining the word "bit", a contraction of "binary digit", which refers to a unit of information, often as processed by a computer.
In addition to strong continuing interests in a wide variety of areas of statistical philosophy, techniques and application, Tukey has been active in improving the access of the scientist to the scientific literature, particularly through the development of citation and permutation indices to the literature of statistics and probability. In another area collaboration with a fellow mathematician resulted in the formation of the Cooley-Tukey Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithm, a mathematical technique that greatly simplifies computation for Fourier series and integrals. Other interests range through applications to such fields as behavioral sciences, geophysics and pharmaceutical research.
Dr. Tukey's participation in educational, public, and government service is most impressive. Throughout World War II he participated in projects assigned to Princeton's Fire Control Research Office, working on antiaircraft, armored vehicle and aircraft fire control problems. His wartime service with the Princeton Branch of the Frankfort Arsenal Fire Control Design Division marked the beginning of his close and continuing associations with governmental committees and agencies. He helped to supervise work in military systems analysis conducted from 1951-1956 at Princeton's James Forrestal Campus under the joint sponsorship of the Department of Defense and Bell Telephone Laboratories. A member of the US Delegation to Technical Working Group 2 of the Conference on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests in Geneva in 1959, he also served on the US Delegation to the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972.
Between 1950 and 1954, John Tukey served on a committee for the American Statistical Association to advise the National Research Council for Research in Problems of Sex. Subsequently, the committee prepared the report Statistical Problems of the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. From 1960 to 1963, he served on the President's Science Advisory Committee and chaired that committee's Environmental Pollution Panel (1964-65) and Chemicals and Health Panel (1971-73), among others. He has been a member of the President's Air Quality Advisory Board, President Johnson's Task Force on Environmental Pollution and President Nixon's Task Force on Air Pollution and the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. A former member of the National Science Foundation's Science Information Council (1962-64), Tukey chaired a National Academy of Science/National Research Council committee between 1975 and 1979 that investigated the potential danger of increased ultraviolet exposure (on the Earth) resulting from depletion of the atmosphere's protective ozone layer by fluorocarbons, the propellants in many aerosol spray cans. Three major reports were a result of the committee's work: Halocarbons: Environmental Effect of Chlorofluoromethane Release; Protection Against Depletion of Stratospheric Ozone by Chlorofluoromethane Carbons; and Stratospheric Ozone Depletion by Halocarbons: Chemistry and Transport. The committee's results prompted the Food and Drug Administration to require that many aerosols be labeled hazardous to the environment.
Tukey served as chairman of the Technical Advisory Committee of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from its inception in 1963 and throughout its operation by the Education Commission of the States (which ended in 1982). In 1989, he was appointed a member of the Design and Analysis Committee (DAC), by the Educational Testing Service, which had taken over operation of NAEP.
He was a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University (which, with its Board of Trustees, makes up Brown's Corporation) for fourteen years (1974-88), serving also as chairman of the corporation's Coommittee on Computers in Education.
In 1965, Tukey was named the first recipient of the Samuel S. Wilks Award of the American Statistical Association. He received the National Medal of Science in 1973 "for his studies in mathematical and theoretical statistics…and for his outstanding contributions to the applications of statistics to the physical, social, and engineering sciences". Tukey received the Shewhart Medal of the American Society for Quality Control in 1977; the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers’1982 Medal of Honor, for the Cooley-Tukey Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) Algorithm; and the American Society for Quality Control’s Deming Medal in 1983. In 1989 he was elected a Foreign Member of The Royal Society (London). Princeton University honored him in 1984 with the James Madison Medal, given annually to an alumnus of the Graduate School who has had a distinguished career, who has advanced the cause of graduate education, or who has achieved a record of outstanding public service. In 1989 he received the Monie A. Ferst Award of Sigma Xi, and in 1990 the Educational Testing Service Award for Distinguished Service to Measurement.
Tukey has taught on both the undergraduate and graduate levels and is widely sought as a seminar leader and lecturer. He holds honorary degrees from Case Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago and Brown, Temple and Yale Universities.
Author of Exploratory Data Analysis (now translated into Russian), eight (to date) volumes of collected papers, he is co-author of: Statistical Problems of the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male; Data Analysis and Regression (also translated into Russian); Index to Statistics and Probability: Citation Index; Permuted Titles: Locations and Authors (four volumes); The Measurement of Power Spectra; and Robust Estimates of Location: Survey and Advances. He was coeditor of and contributor to Understanding Robust and Exploratory Data Analysis, of Exploring Data Tables, Trends and Shapes, of Configural Polysampling, and of Fundamentals of Exploratory Analysis of Variance.
Tukey has written more than 500 technical papers and reports and he has served on editorial committees of several professional organizations. He has been represented frequently in publications such as the Annals of Mathematical Statistics (of which he was associate editor, 1950-52), Biometrics, The Journal of the American Statistical Association (JASA), Science, and Technometrics.
President of the Institute for Mathematical Statistics in 1960, he has also served as Vice President of the American Statistical Association and as Chairman of both its Biometrics Section and its Section on Physical and Engineering Sciences. He has been a Member of the Council of the Biometric Society, and served on the National Research Council for more than a decade. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and has served on its council (1969-72 and 1975-78) and as chairman of Class III Applied Sciences (1969-72). He is a member of the American Philosophical Society (vice president, 1975-77) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society (London), and a Foreign Member of The Royal Society (London). Among his other affiliations are the International Statistical Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (vice president, Section A, 1972 and Section U, 1974) and Sigma Xi.
Tukey has been a consultant to various pharmaceutical companies (over 40 years to Merck and Company), and, since retirement, to Xerox Corporation (among others). He led the statistical component of NBC's election night vote projection effort in all major elections from 1960 to 1980, after which exit polls took over the role previously played by statisticians.
John Wilder Tukey and Elizabeth Louise Rapp of Pemberton, NJ, were married in July 1950. Before their marriage, Mrs. Tukey was Personnel Director of Education Testing Service, Princeton, NJ. She died in January 1998.
June 4, 2000
Contributed on 8/12/00 by:
Mary E. Bittrich