SMU legend Bill Schucany honored with new lecture program; first events to be held Feb. 27-28, 2014

William Schucany, SMU Professor Emeritus of Statistical Science
William Schucany, SMU professor emeritus of statistical science

Professor William Schucany became known as “Mr. Statistics” during his 40-year career with SMU. By the time he retired in 2011, he was called the heart and soul of the department. And even as an emeritus faculty member, he enjoys coming back to the Hilltop for a good seminar presentation.

To honor Schucany, the Department of Statistical Science has created the Bill Schucany Scholar Lecture Series, which will bring elite statisticians from around the world to SMU. Bradley Efron, Max H. Stein Professor of Statistics and Biostatistics at Stanford University and innovator of bootstrap technology, will be the inaugural presenter in two events scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27-28, 2014.

“When people thought of our department, they thought of Bill Schucany,” says longtime colleague Wayne Woodward, professor and chair of the Department of Statistical Science in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. “Bill loves seminars – I think our Friday seminars were his favorite time of the week. We wanted to honor him, and we chose this as the thing that would mean the most to him.”

Schucany’s former students provided much of the series’ funding, which has been supplemented with departmental funds. Students, alumni and faculty members are all invited to attend the event, which the department plans to make an annual meeting.

The series’ first speaker is widely regarded as one of the most influential statisticians of all time, Woodward says. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Efron received the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the discipline, notably his innovation of the bootstrap technique. The method uses relatively simple yet computationally intensive techniques to produce accurate statistical estimates from very small random samples. Bootstrapping and its related computational techniques have greatly expanded the scope of statistical analyses, especially in the current environment of massive databases and computing capabilities.

“Anyone who would rank the top five statisticians in the world would include Brad Efron,” Woodward says. “He is an elite scholar who graciously accepted our invitation, probably because he holds Bill in such esteem. His Thursday evening talk is intended for a general scientific audience, and we encourage anyone with an interest to attend either or both events.”

Schucany himself is internationally recognized for his contributions to the field of nonparametric statistical inference. As a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA), he was chosen in 2004 as one of only four ASA members to received its Founder’s Award, the highest honor the association bestows for service to the profession. Among numerous other honors, Schucany has received the national Don Owen Research Award from the San Antonio Chapter of the ASA and the Paul Minton Award from the Southern Regional Council on Statistics. In addition, he was elected to membership in the International Statistical Institute. Schucany has also served as editor of The American Statistician and as associate editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, the Journal of Educational Statistics, and Communications in Statistics.

Efron will give two public lectures during his SMU visit:

  • “Learning from the Experience of Others” – 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, location TBA. Familiar statistical estimates such as batting averages, political polls and medical trial results are obtained by direct observation of cases of interest. Sometimes, though, we can learn from the experience of “others” – e.g., there may be information about one player’s batting average in the observed averages of other players. Efron will present several examples showing how this works in practice, indicating some of the surprising theoretical ideas involved. The talk is intended for a general scientific audience.
  • “Frequentist Accuracy of Bayesian Estimates” – 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, location TBA. In the absence of prior information, popular Bayesian estimation techniques usually begin with some form of “uninformative” prior, intended to have minimal inferential influence. Bayes rule will still produce nice-looking estimates and credible intervals, but these lack the logical force attached to genuine priors, and require further justification. This talk concerns computational formulas that produce frequentist accuracy assessments for Bayesian estimates. Both encouraging and cautionary examples will be presented.

11 SMU faculty members retire with emeritus status in 2010-11

Eleven distinguished faculty members, with more than 365 years of combined service to SMU, have retired or will retire with emeritus status during the 2010-11 academic year. Congratulations to the following professors:

Peter Bakewell, Professor Emeritus of History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1999 to 2011)

Henry J. Lischer Jr., Professor Emeritus of Law, Dedman School of Law (1978 to 2010)

Lee McAlester, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1974 to 2010)

Donald Niewyk, Professor Emeritus of History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1972 to 2011)

Cecil O’Neal, Professor Emeritus of Theatre, Meadows School of the Arts (1988 to 2011)

Marjorie Procter-Smith, LeVan Professor Emerita of Preaching and Worship, Perkins School of Theology (1983 to 2011)

William Schucany, Professor Emeritus of Statistical Science, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1970 to 2011)

Marion G. Sobol, Professor Emerita of Information Technologies and Operations Management, Cox School of Business (1974 to 2011)

R. Hal Williams, Professor Emeritus of History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1975 to 2011)

Richard K. Williams, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences (1965 to 2011)

Charles M. Wood, Lehman Professor Emeritus of Christian Doctrine, Perkins School of Theology (1976 to 2011)

Research Spotlight: Study links Gulf War exposure, brain changes

Brain scan with visible variations in signalA new study of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suggests that exposure to neurotoxins such as anti-nerve agent pills, insect repellent and Sarin caused neurological changes to their brains.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Southern Methodist University, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas performed digital brain scans on 21 chronically ill Gulf War veterans from the same Naval Reserve construction bairttalion, all of whom had symptoms of Gulf War syndrome.

Richard Gunst, Wayne Woodward and William Schucany, professors in SMU’s Statistical Science Department, are collaborating with imaging specialists at UT Southwestern Medical Center to compare brain scans of people suffering from the syndrome with those of a healthy control group. They are pioneering the use of spatial statistical modeling to analyze brain scan data from Gulf War veterans, aiming to pinpoint specific areas of the brain affected by Gulf War Syndrome.

The SMU team is working with UTSW epidemiologist and 2008 Dedman College Distinguished Graduate Robert Ware Haley. Haley, one of the foremost experts on the syndrome, earned B.A. degrees in philosophy and social sciences from SMU in 1967.

A congressionally mandated study has revealed that 1 of every 4 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suffers from neurological symptoms collectively referred to as Gulf War syndrome. The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses began work in 2002 and presented its report to then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake in November 2008.

Read more from the April 1, 2009 edition of Air Force Times
Read more from the Nov. 20, 2008 edition of Science Daily
The Report to Congress: Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans (pdf)