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Oscar Kempthorne: From Observation to Inference, 1991 part 1


we’re about to sample the career of a
remarkable statistician hello I’m Noel Cressey of the department of statistics
at iowa state university the american statistical association has asked my
department to make a video tape of the statistician oscar Kempthorne who for
forty two and a half years was professor and distinguished professor at Iowa
State University this taping was made in July 1991 with generous support from
friends and alumni of the statistical laboratory and departments of statistics
at Iowa State University Oscar Kempthorne was born on january 31 1919
in some 2d in Cornwall England he won scholarships to Cambridge where he was a
rainbow receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1940 and a Master
of Arts degree in 1943 Cambridge awarded him the doctor of science degree in 1960
from 1941 to 1946 he was at Rothamsted Experimental Station he joined Iowa
State College from rothamsted in january nineteen forty-seven initially as an
associate professor he was promoted to professor of statistics in 1951 and two
distinguished professor in sciences and humanities in 1964 he is currently
distinguished professor emeritus after retirement in 1989 his influential Wiley
texts the design and analysis of experiments and an introduction to
genetic statistics were published in nineteen fifty two and 1957 respectively
his co-author of probability statistics and data analysis published in 1971 and
editor or co-editor of four volumes of proceedings of conferences he helped to
organize he has sole or joint author of some 140 papers in scientific
particularly statistical journals professor Kempthorne was major professor
for 22 PhDs and 24 ms students he has taught
courses in design of experiments genetic statistics linear models foundations of
statistics statistical methods and statistical theory professor kempthorne
has served as chair of statistics section of the American Association for
the Advancement of science as president of the eastern North America region of
the biometric society and as president of the Institute of mathematical
statistics he is a fellow of the american statistical association the
institute of mathematical statistics and the Association for the Advancement of
science an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and
was named an honorary fellow of the royal statistical society in 1988 you
heard the summary statistics largely in chronological on illogical order now to
add the spatial component to Oscar Kempthorne from observation to inference
here is Oscar Kempthorne or kemp as some of us like to call him temp in the next
hour we’re going to touch on many different highlights of your career
separating the personal from the professional is like unscrambling
breakfast eggs we’d like to hear about both aspects let us start in 1928 your
parents were farmers in Cornwall the Great Depression was approaching and you
were nine years old tend you describe for us how this Cornish farm boy ended
up as a Cambridge graduate in mathematics 12 years later well I really
did come from a farming family I have two brothers and two sisters and 13
nephews and nieces who are all in farming so I went to the Church of
England not that that matters very much of course all children reasonable
children on a farm work so I was involved in animals birthing of animals
and so on milking which I hated but then I went to the village school
quite a small school I had a very fine headmaster who encouraged me who thought
I had a little bit of a brain so I went on scholarship to a grammar school ok
and there i discovered mathematics and mathematics was really beautiful
particularly calculus so i wanted to go i had the idea of going to university I
was the only person no one well the only person from my school who’ve gone to
Oxbridge Oxford or Cambridge but somehow other I got that idea and the only way
to do it was to win scholarships so I worked studied like mad i worked from
the age of 14 to 18 I work harder than I’ve ever worked but I made it so I
ain’t go to Cambridge now Cambridge is sort of an interesting experience there
were a few excellent lecturers there was one called Burke hill on analysis and
then there was another cold ingham who was a big guy in the prime number
theorem so but then I did a lot of mathematical physics I’m was exposed to
people of world class in this Dirac lennard-jones and so on now I had a
course in statistics rather like a an eight-week course of Hogan Craig which
is given by Wishart and then we short left because of the war the war was
going on then and then jail Erwin gave a two-term sequence so the in this
sequence he covered a lot of Fisher stuff Fisher 1928 in combinatorial
statistics and so on so I have my three years there I should
say here look you mentioned that I had these degrees with the MA degree from
Cambridge is a pure seniority degree cost I think about 10 pounds I think so
that has no significance at all but the the other one the other one the sed is a
little different though there I am a cambridge now after cambridge i let me
just interrupt here because i’d like to ask you a question about cambridge more
personal question huh when you’re at Cambridge tell us how you fit it in with
the boys from eres de cratic or rich backgrounds oh actually it was
interesting I didn’t have a particularly good college under this it was Clare
College which is a small one and it went in for huntin shootin and fishing
students so but there was a small scholarship crowd sort of the
proletarian scholars of the user whoever’s phrase it was and you know
that went alright i guess they would cambridge you tend to interact more with
people from your college than people from throughout the university it’s a
college system the college system but i didn’t interact there was a scholarship
crowd at the college I and this group sort of hung together right but the rest
you know I had I had no feeling for the hunting shooting fishing crowd and it’s
not that sort of that group so well in your undergraduate degree which as you
point out was your only formal university training during those three
years you studied only mathematics only mathematics and the American system
which your three children experienced puts more emphasis on breadth of
education do you think you left Cambridge well trained in mathematics
but less so in other skills I think I was
not as well trained in mathematics as I should have been and but as regards the
general education that was all done before i got went to Cambridge I see you
know I am high school in high school I had really read a tremendous amount of
literature and stuff like that so so you were well trained in the classics before
you really don’t know yes and I you know I’ve done a lot of Latin for instance
and I see and stuff like that I’d like to move on to Rothamsted Experimental I
am unless you have something else that you would like to okay well now in about
came next step is clearly rothamsted yes I did have a really silly job for a few
months in the Ministry of supply department of tank production and I was
counting the way tanks were being produced so this is between cambridge
and i was there for about six months and see but the main thing i did what i was
in that was a wee arranging group trips to Stratford on Avon to see Shakespeare
performances so when I go to rothamsted and Yates was the boss there he was the
boss you know and he said jump you really jumped you are tell ha yes and of
course out there I was doing biological helping and biological and agricultural
research I was involved in the analysis of a big farm survey and Yates was
involved in war time operations research he was working under an individual
called Sally zukerman who’s still around and he’s writing he need a baron our
Lord’s a woman so well I wondered if it was the time of statistical revelation
for you what did you learn there about statistics oh I learned
I learned because you know I had to consult people with data problems so you
know this is where I really learned statistics and the first year that i was
there i basically studied did nothing else i think so but then you know then i
started if you like performing and that went on for some years so the large
amount of your duties were more consulting than actual theoretical
rethought yes yes yes that’s right and in agriculture and biological and
agricultural research is so well I I would like to move on to your secondment
by the british foreign office but if there’s some more things you’d like to
say about rothamsted please go ahead well nothing much really rothamsted of
course was the maint the prime agricultural research station of the
world it was known of course it was in Britain part of the British Empire and
the British Empire still existed in a real sense at that time it sort of
rather faded now yes so you know there were lots of very good people there and

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