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David Blackwell 1919-2010 STATS

David Blackwell 1919-2010 STATS - David Blackwell Scholar...

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David Blackwell, Scholar of Probability, Dies at 91 By WILLIAM GRIMES Published: July 16, 2010 New York Times David Blackwell, a statistician and mathematician who wrote groundbreaking papers on probability and game theory and was the first black scholar to be admitted to the National Academy of Sciences , died July 8 in Berkeley, Calif. He was 91. UC Berkeley David Blackwell The death was confirmed by his son Hugo. Mr. Blackwell, the son of a railroad worker with a fourth-grade education, taught for nearly 35 years at the University of California, Berkeley , where he became the first black tenured professor. He made his mark as a free-ranging problem solver in numerous subdisciplines. His fascination with game theory, for example, prompted him to investigate the mathematics of bluffing and to develop a theory on the optimal moment for an advancing duelist to open fire. “He went from one area to another, and he’d write a fundamental paper in each,” Thomas Ferguson, an emeritus professor of statistics at the University of California, Los Angeles , told the Berkeley Web site. “He would come into a field that had been well studied and find something really new that was remarkable. That was his forte.” David Harold Blackwell was born on April 24, 1919, in Centralia, Ill. Early on, he showed a talent for mathematics, but he entered the University of Illinois with the modest ambition of becoming an elementary school teacher. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1938 and, adjusting his sights, went on to earn a master’s degree in 1939 and a doctorate in 1941, when he was only 22. After being awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, established by the clothing magnate Julius Rosenwald to aid black scholars, he attended the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton but left after a year when, because
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of his race, he was not issued the customary invitation to become an honorary faculty member. At Berkeley, where the statistician Jerzy Neyman wanted to hire him in the mathematics department, racial objections also blocked his appointment. Instead, Mr. Blackwell sent out applications to 104 black colleges on the assumption that no other schools would hire him. After working for a year at the Office of Price Administration, he taught briefly at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and Clark College in Atlanta before joining the mathematics department at Howard University in Washington 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, with whom he wrote “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions” (1954). As a consultant to the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1950, he applied game theory to military situations. It was there that he turned his attention to what might be called the duelist’s dilemma, a problem with application to the battlefield, where the question of when to open fire looms large.
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