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John Wilder Tukey ForMemRS[1] (June 16, 1915 – July 26, 2000) was an American statistician best known for development of the FFT algorithm and box plot.


Tukey was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1915, and obtained a B.A. in 1936 and M.Sc. in 1937, in chemistry, from Brown University, before moving to Princeton University where he received a Ph.D. in mathematics.[2]

During World War II, Tukey worked at the Fire Control Research Office and collaborated with Samuel Wilks and William Cochran. After the war, he returned to Princeton, dividing his time between the university and AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Among many contributions to civil society, Tukey served on a committee of the American Statistical Association that produced a report challenging the conclusions of the Kinsey Report, Statistical Problems of the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.

He was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1982 "For his contributions to the spectral analysis of random processes and the fast Fourier transform (FFT) algorithm."

Tukey retired in 1985. He died in New Brunswick, New Jersey on July 26, 2000.
Scientific contributions

His statistical interests were many and varied. He is particularly remembered for his development with James Cooley of the Cooley–Tukey FFT algorithm. In 1970, he contributed significantly to what is today known as the jackknife estimation—also termed Quenouille-Tukey jackknife. He introduced the box plot in his 1977 book,"Exploratory Data Analysis".

Tukey's range test, the Tukey lambda distribution, Tukey's test of additivity and Tukey's lemma all bear his name. He is also the creator of several little-known methods such as the trimean and median-median line, an easier alternative to linear regression.

In 1974, he developed, with Jerome H. Friedman, the concept of the projection pursuit.[3]
Statistical terms

Tukey coined many statistical terms that have become part of common usage, but the two most famous coinages attributed to him were related to computer science.

While working with John von Neumann on early computer designs, Tukey introduced the word "bit" as a contraction of "binary digit".[4] The term "bit" was first used in an article by Claude Shannon in 1948.

The term "software", which Paul Niquette claims he coined in 1953,[5] was first used in print by Tukey in a 1958 article in American Mathematical Monthly, and thus some attribute the term to him.[6]
Statistical practice

He also contributed to statistical practice and articulated the important distinction between exploratory data analysis and confirmatory data analysis, believing that much statistical methodology placed too great an emphasis on the latter.

Though he believed in the utility of separating the two types of analysis, he pointed out that sometimes, especially in natural science, this was problematic and termed such situations uncomfortable science.

If we need a short suggestion of what exploratory data analysis is, I would suggest that

1. It is an attitude AND

2. A flexibility AND

3. Some graph paper (or transparencies, or both).

No catalogue of techniques can convey a willingness to look for what can be seen, whether or not anticipated. Yet this is at the heart of exploratory data analysis. The graph paper - and transparencies - are there, not as a technique, but rather as recognition that the picture-examining eye is the best finder we have of the wholly unanticipated.

A D Gordon offered the following summary of Tukey's principles for statistical practice:

... the usefulness and limitation of mathematical statistics; the importance of having methods of statistical analysis that are robust to violations of the assumptions underlying their use; the need to amass experience of the behaviour of specific methods of analysis in order to provide guidance on their use; the importance of allowing the possibility of data's influencing the choice of method by which they are analysed; the need for statisticians to reject the role of 'guardian of proven truth', and to resist attempts to provide once-for-all solutions and tidy over-unifications of the subject; the iterative nature of data analysis; implications of the increasing power, availability and cheapness of computing facilities; the training of statisticians.

Far better an approximate answer to the right question, which is often vague, than an exact answer to the wrong question, which can always be made precise.
Once upon a time statisticians only explored. Then they learned to confirm exactly - to confirm a few things exactly, each under very specific circumstances. As they emphasized exact confirmation, their techniques inevitably became less flexible. The connection of the most used techniques with past insights was weakened. Anything to which a confirmatory procedure was not explicitly attached was decried as 'mere descriptive statistics', no matter how much we had learned from it.
There is no data that can be displayed in a pie chart, that cannot be displayed BETTER in some other type of chart.


Andrews, David F; Peter J Bickel; Frank R Hampel; Peter J Huber; W H Rogers & John W Tukey (1972). Robust estimates of location: survey and advances. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08113-1. OCLC 369963.
Basford, Kaye E & John W Tukey (1998). Graphical analysis of multiresponse data. Chapman & Hall/CRC. ISBN 0-8493-0384-2. OCLC 154674707.
Blackman, R B & John W Tukey (1959). The measurement of power spectra from the point of view of communications engineering. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-60507-8.
Cochran, William G; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (1954). Statistical problems of the Kinsey report on sexual behavior in the human male. Journal of the American Statistical Association.
Hoaglin, David C; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (eds) (1983). Understanding Robust and Exploratory Data Analysis. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-09777-2. OCLC 8495063.
Hoaglin, David C; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (eds) (1985). Exploring Data Tables, Trends and Shapes. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-09776-4. OCLC 11550398.
Hoaglin, David C; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (eds) (1991). Fundamentals of exploratory analysis of variance. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-52735-1. OCLC 23180322.
Morganthaler, Stephan & John W Tukey (eds) (1991). Configural polysampling: a route to practical robustness. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-52372-0. OCLC 22381036.
Mosteller, Frederick & John W Tukey (1977). Data analysis and regression : a second course in statistics. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-04854-X. OCLC 3235470.
Tukey, John W (1940). Convergence and Uniformity in Topology. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09568-X. OCLC 227948615.
Tukey, John W (1977). Exploratory Data Analysis. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-07616-0. OCLC 3058187.
Tukey, John W; Ian C Ross; Verna Bertrand (1973–). Index to statistics and probability. R & D Press. ISBN 0-88274-001-6. OCLC 745715.

The collected works of John W Tukey, edited by William S Cleveland

Brillinger, David R (ed) (1984). Volume I: Time series, 1949–1964. Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-03303-2. OCLC 10998116.
Brillinger, David R (ed) (1985). Volume II: Time series, 1965–1984. Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-03304-0. OCLC 159731367.
Jones, Lyle V (ed) (1985). Volume III: Philosophy and principles of data analysis, 1949–1964. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0-534-03305-9. OCLC 159731367.
Jones, Lyle V (ed) (1986). Volume IV: Philosophy and principles of data analysis, 1965–1986. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0-534-05101-4. OCLC 165832503.
Cleveland, William S (ed) (1988). Volume V: Graphics, 1965–1985. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0-534-05102-2. OCLC 230023465.
Mallows, Colin L (ed) (1990). Volume VI: More mathematical, 1938–1984. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0-534-05103-0. OCLC 232966724.
Cox, David R (ed) (1992). Volume VII: Factorial and ANOVA, 1949–1962. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole. ISBN 0-534-05104-9. OCLC 165366083.
Braun, Henry I (ed) (1994). Volume VIII: Multiple comparisons, 1949–1983. Chapman & Hall/CRC. ISBN 0-412-05121-4. OCLC 165099761.

About John Tukey

O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "John Tukey", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
Interview of John Tukey about his experience at Princeton

See also

Tukey mean-difference plot
Tukey median and Tukey depth


^ McCullagh, P. (2003). "John Wilder Tukey. 16 June 1915 - 26 July 2000". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 49: 537. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2003.0032. edit
^ "John Tukey". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
^ J. H. Friedman and J. W. Tukey (September 1974). "A Projection Pursuit Algorithm for Exploratory Data Analysis". IEEE Transactions on Computers C-23 (9): 881–890. doi:10.1109/T-C.1974.224051. ISSN 0018-9340.
^ The origin of the 'bit'
^ Niquette, P. (2001) Challenger: John WilderTukey
^ John Tukey, 85, Statistician; Coined the Word 'Software', New York Times, Obituaries, July 28, 2000 [1]

External links

John W. Tukey: His Life and Professional Contributions published in The Annals of Statistics
John Wilder Tukey (1915–2000) in Notices of the American Mathematical Society
Memories of John Tukey
Short biography by Mary Bittrich
Obituary from The New York Times
"Remembering John W. Tukey", special issue of Statistical Science
John Wilder Tukey at the Mathematics Genealogy Project

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