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Frederick Mosteller Named First Recipient
of the Marvin Zelen Leadership Award
by Sudeshna Adak
 

The first recipient of the Marvin Zelen Leadership Award in the Statistical Sciences is Professor Emeritus C. Frederick Mosteller. The award ceremony was marked by a special lecture given by Professor Mosteller during the 1997 Schering-Plough Workshop. Although Professor Mosteller has devoted much energy over his career to health issues, his recent efforts have been focused in the areas of public policy and education. In his talk, "The Importance of Clinical Trials in Education", Professor Mosteller described two investigations on teaching practices in schools - in particular, skill grouping and class size and what direct impact these have on improving students' performance. While the investigation of skill grouping did not show any clear evidence of improving performance, Professor Mosteller cautioned that more studies and follow-up was needed. He advised that it would be necessary to study the impact of skill grouping on the more qualitative and personal aspects of the students. While the studies did show clear evidence of improved students' performance in smaller classrooms, these studies were conducted only in Tennessee and Indiana. Professor Mosteller felt that before making a policy on education, "large scale sustained research" was needed at the national level.

Professor Mosteller, after receiving a Ph.D. from Princeton University, joined the Department of Social Relations at Harvard. The year was 1946. Over the next 50 years, he continued his association with Harvard, serving in his many roles as teacher, researcher and administrator. In the course of his career, he has been an ambassador for statistics, in educating the general public about the value of the subject. As the eminent Professor John Tukey said in his biography of Fred Mosteller, "After he became Professor of Mathematical Statistics in 1951, Fred was one of nine professors at Harvard with 'statistics' in their title, no three of whom were in the same department." To bring all the statisticians under one roof, Fred Mosteller made a concerted effort to start a Department of Statistics at Harvard. His efforts finally bore fruit in 1957 and the statistics department was born. Professor Mosteller would serve as Chairman of the statistics department for 15 years (including the first 12 consecutive years since its birth).

Professor Mosteller enjoyed a close relation with the Biostatistics department across the river right from the start, beginning with his association with Jane Worcester. In the year 1975-76, the Department of Biostatistics began searching for a new chair. Paul Meier, who was visiting Harvard from the University of Chicago, told Nan Laird that he thought Fred Mosteller would become chair of Biostatistics. Nan assured Paul Meier that this would never happen. In February 1977, Frederick Mosteller became chair of Biostatistics.

Fred Mosteller served as chair of Biostatistics for only four years (1977-81), but those four years revolutionized the Department and gave it a direction that shaped it for the years to come. One of Professor Mosteller's first initiatives as chair was to expand the Department of Biostatistics. He recruited many faculty members who are today world-class leaders in the field of Biostatistics, either at Harvard or elsewhere. One of Professor Mosteller's most memorable actions was the recruitment of Marvin Zelen and "Marvin's baseball team". (See last year's newsletter for details.)

Professor Mosteller also served as Acting Chair of the Department of Social Relations and the Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management, making him the only person in Harvard's history to serve as chair of four different departments. He has produced more than 340 journal articles and wrote/edited more than 75 books, pamphlets and reports. He has received numerous honors, including three honorary Doctor of Science degrees (Chicago '73; Carnegie Mellon '74; Wesleyan '83), an honorary Doctor of Social Sciences (Yale '81) and honorary Doctor of Laws (Harvard '91). He has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1969-70) and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served as the President of the Psychometric Society (1957-85), the American Statistical Association (1967), the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (1974-75) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1980). He became Roger I. Lee Professor of Mathematical Statistics Emeritus in 1987.

Professor Mosteller is widely known for his work ethic and his broad interests. Today, Professor Mosteller and his wife Virginia of more than 50 years live in Belmont where they enjoy gardening. Their son, William, is a computer scientist and their daughter, Gale, is an economist. Both of them helped Fred with computer simulations when he was writing his books on teaching practices. Fred has also published an article with each of his children. Today, when asked about where he thinks statistics and biostatistics should be directed, Professor Mosteller spoke of the lack of statisticians and biostatisticians in policy making and that "our students should consider taking a course in economics".

The 1998 recipient of the Marvin Zelen Leadership Award is Sir David Cox from Nuffield College, Oxford University. Professor Cox will be featured in next year's newsletter!!