"A Figure of Excellence: Peter G. Hall"

2008 Flury Memorial Lecture: Peter G. Hall
Rawles Hall 100
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
March 27, 2008

Introduction and Acknowledgements

I am delighted to welcome you to the 2008 Flury Memorial Lecture, and to extend a special welcome to Bernard Flury’s wife, Leah. I have the honor of introducing our distinguished guest, Dr. Peter Hall.

Dr. Hall’s lecture provides us a welcome occasion to reflect on both the transcendent and practical power of mathematics and statistics. As Bertrand Russell explained over a century ago, “The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, …, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.”1

But as Russell goes on to explain, the beauty and purity of mathematics are balanced by practicality. He concludes, “[T]he mathematician often does more for human happiness than any of his more practically active contemporaries. The history of science abundantly proves that a body of abstract propositions may …, at any moment, be used to cause a revolution in the habitual thoughts and occupations of every citizen. The use of steam and electricity—to take striking instances—is rendered possible only by mathematics.”2

Perhaps no stronger argument can be made about the incalculable value of mathematics to all of our lives than Russell’s. This value is reflected in the fact that the five U.S. universities with top-ranked mathematics programs are also rated among the best universities in the world. (SJTU Index)

Our distinguished guest has applied the power of mathematics to multiple endeavors in probability and statistics.

Dr. Peter G. Hall

I first made Dr. Hall’s acquaintance at Australian National University where we were both professors for some time. I remember one flight we shared from Sydney to Canberra—about the same as from Indy to Chicago. He had started an article at the airport prior to our departure, wrote furiously the entire way, and by flight’s end had finished an entire journal article. He explained that he is one of those rare people who can write an argument that needs little to no editing after the first draft.

Reviewers of his work have described it as “beautifully written and mathematically elegant”,3 clever and effective,4 readable and creative.5

These words carry even more weight when we consider how remarkably prolific Peter Hall is. Legend has it that he outpublished the entire UC Berkeley Statistics Department in just one year. According to one citation index, he has published more articles than Sir Andrew Wiles, Stephen Hawking, Terence Tao, and Bradley Efron combined.6

Dr. Hall’s honors and awards are so numerous that it is difficult to determine just what to highlight. I will mention just a few that will help frame this morning’s lecture. He is a fellow in the Royal Society of London, the American Statistical Association, the Australian Academy of Science, and an honorary fellow in the Royal Statistical Society.

In 1986, he received the University of Cambridge Rollo Davidson Prize for young probabilists at age 35. In 1988 he was awarded a Personal Chair in Statistics at ANU after a series of rapid promotions. And in 1989 he received the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to Statistics by young scientists. He received the Edgeworth David Medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales, the Lyle Medal and the Hannan Medal from the Australian Academy of Sciences, and the Pitman Medal from the Statistical Society of Australia, among other honors.

One of his most recent honors is the Gottfried E. Noether Award of the American Statistical Association for outstanding contributions to the theory and applications of nonparametric statistics. This award honors the nephew of Emily Noether, a great woman mathematician and student of David Hilbert, one of my own mathematical heroes. (I might add that IU’s own Professor Madan Puri—emeritus professor of Mathematics—has just been named the 2008 Noether Award recipient.)

Currently, Dr. Hall is a Professor and Australian Research Council Fellow in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Melbourne. He is also president of the Australian Mathematical Society.

Through his scholarship and lectures around the world, Dr. Hall continues to make profound contributions to probability and statistical research, especially in relation to nonparametric curve estimation, the theory of the bootstrap and other resampling methods, and in areas such as random mosaics. As one colleague wrote in a recent review, “There is a great statistician among us, and his name is Peter Hall.”7

Would you please join me in welcoming Dr. Peter Hall?

Source Notes

  1. “The Study of Mathematics.” 1902. In Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays. London: Longmans, Green, 1919. 58-73. page 60.
  2. ibid. page 72.
  3. Seaman, John W. Review of Introduction to the Theory of Coverage Processes by Peter Hall. Technometrics 32.2 (May 1990): 237-8. page 237.
  4. Young, G. Alastair. Review of The Bootstrap and Edgeworth Expansion by Peter Hall. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (Statistics in Society). 156.3 (1993): 504-5. page 505.
  5. Stein, A. Review of The Bootstrap and Edgeworth Expansion by Peter Hall. The Statistician 45.4 (1996): 532.
  6. MathSciNet.com covers world’s mathematical literature since 1940.
  7. Stein, A. page 532.