The statistical equivalent of the Nobel Prize has been awarded to RSS fellow Bradley Efron, professor of statistics and biomedical data science at Stanford University.
Bradley was awarded the prize for the creation of the 'bootstrap', a method he developed in 1977 for assessing the uncertainty of scientific results. The method has had an extraordinary impact across many scientific fields and transformed science’s ability to use and understand data. It's also helped usher in a new era of data analysis through computing.
The bootstrap method enables scientists to learn from limited data by simulating a potentially infinite number of data sets from an original data set and—in looking at the differences—measure the uncertainty of the result from the original data analysis. It has been referenced in more than 200,000 peer-reviewed journal articles since 1980. Citations are found in fields such as agricultural research, biochemistry, computer science, engineering, immunology, mathematics, medicine, physics and astronomy and the social sciences.
'Because the bootstrap is easy for a computer to calculate and is applicable in an exceptionally wide range of situations, the method has found use in many fields of science, technology, medicine and public affairs,' says Sir David Cox, inaugural winner of the International Prize in Statistics.
Xiao-Li Meng, a statistics professor at Harvard University, called the bootstrap method the 'best statistical pain reliever ever produced', explaining: 'It has saved countless scientists and researchers the headache of finding a way to assess uncertainty in complex problems by providing a simple and practical way to do so in many seemingly hopeless situations.' Meanwhile Sally Morton, of Virginian Tech College of Science, described the method as 'a quantum leap in statistical methodology'.
Bradley is a recipient of a US 2005 National Medal of Science for his contributions to theoretical and applied statistics and was awarded the Guy Medal in Gold by the Royal Statistical Society in 2014. He served in 2004 as president of the American Statistical Association.
The International Prize in Statistics recognises a major achievement of an individual or team in the field of statistics and promotes understanding of the growing importance and diverse ways in which statistics, data analysis, probability and the understanding of uncertainty can advance society, science, technology and human welfare.
With a monetary award of $80,000 USD, it is given every other year by the International Prize in Statistics Foundation, which is comprised of representatives from the American Statistical Association, International Biometric Society, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, International Statistical Institute and Royal Statistical Society. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee comprised of world-renowned academicians and researchers and officially presented with the award at the World Statistics Congress.
RSS President, Sir David Spiegelhalter, said: 'Brad richly deserves this award. The bootstrap continues to be hugely important, and is being increasingly seen as the appropriate way to introduce interval estimation to students - but he has made so many other major contributions to statistics. And he is also a very nice person.'
Efron will accept the prize next summer at the 2019 World Statistics Congress in Kuala Lumpur.