William G. Hunter Award 2002: Søren Bisgaard

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Søren Bisgaard Receives ASQ Statistics Division's Hunter Award

The 2002 William G. Hunter Award was presented to Søren Bisgaard at the Fall Technical Conference (FTC) in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Statistics Division of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) established the Hunter Award in 1987 in memory of the Division’s founding chair to promote, encourage and acknowledge outstanding accomplishments during a career in the broad field of applied statistics. The attributes that characterize Bill Hunter's career - consultant, educator for practitioners, communicator, and integrator of statistical thinking into other disciplines - clearly applies as well to Søren.

Here are some excerpts from the award presentation.

When Søren heard the news, he told Nancy Belunis, the Hunter Award Chair, "I am very honored! As you may know, Bill was my advisor, mentor and very much the reason I am in statistics and quality. I worked with Bill up until his last days and have tried to do what he did ever since."

Søren's career, as Bill Hunter's, is a wonderful mixture of statistics and engineering: machinist, toolmaker, production engineer, professor in industrial engineering, in industrial statistics, director of Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at UW, consultant, and now the Eugene M. Isenberg Professor of Technology Management at U. Mass, Amherst.

As a written communicator, Søren has published in journals ranging from Quality Progress to Science, from Total Quality Management to Technometrics, from JRSSA to JRSSC. He has integrated statistical thinking by work in Mechanical Engineering, Journal of Engineering Design, and Manufacturing Review.

Like Bill, Søren saw a gap that should be filled, so he became the founding Chair of the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics, ENBIS.

All his honors are too numerous to mention here, but we will say that he is a three-time winner of FTC's Shewell Award, two-time winner of the ASQ's Brumbaugh award, a Fellow of both the ASA and ASQ, and, earlier this year, recipient of ASQ's Shewhart Medal.

Like Bill Hunter, Søren bespeaks sincerity, enthusiasm, ethics and integrity. It is our honor to welcome Søren Bisgaard as this year's recipient of the William G. Hunter Award.

Søren made the following remarks when he accepted the award:

It is a very special honor for me to receive the William G. Hunter Award. As some of you may know, I was Bill Hunter's student from 1980 to 1985, in some sense his last, and I continued after my Ph.D. to benefit from his mentoring while working closely and share a small office with him as we in 1985, with George Box and Conrad Fung, founded and ran the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Quality and Productivity, Bill's dream and creation, until his untimely death in 1987.

I would like to thank Ron Snee and George Box for nominating me together with Bill Golomski, my very good friend who unfortunately passed away this past winter.

Bill Hunter was a special human being and a special statistician. It is most appropriate that the Statistics Division created a prize in his honor. I will now explain why I feel that way.

First let me pause to say that it is humbling to realize that Bill was my age when he passed away but nevertheless managed to create such a legacy.

To understand Bill's legacy I must explain that to him statistics was fun, absolute pure pleasure, an infectious passion. I think perhaps the most important issues to Bill was to try to put statistics to its maximal service for mankind. To him statistics was really all about improving the quality of life and the economic conditions of his fellow human beings. That, I think, was the driving force behind everything he did including his work on Third World economic development, his interest in environmental statistics, his initiative behind the creation of the Statistics Division, his passion for quality and especially his exceptionally lucid teaching and writing.

Bill's logic, I believe, went as follows: Statistics is the guts of scientific method. As such, statistics is useful for solving just about any type of problem. To be effective, statistics must be understood and put to use, not just by a few experts, but as widely as possible by everybody, everywhere. However we, as a profession, often make statistics unnecessarily complicated and exclusive, typically by dressing up our communications in obscure, pedantic language, symbolism and writing style. That is, for example, what many textbooks and most statistical journals and their editors do. However, with this snobbish attitude, we deprive a large segment of the world's population the incredibly beneficial services of statistics.

Now let me add that I feel just as passionately as Bill that this really is reproachable! Statistics is such a fantastic tool, yet hated passionately by so many because of our absolutely unacceptable teaching. For every person we turn off there is a huge opportunity cost; such a person could instead be out there like Bill Hunter having fun improving things with statistics. And an issue of my personal interest, as one of many consequences we have very little influence in college and university level teaching of engineering and business majors. This is also a reason why we have so much trouble getting management to appreciate statistics. Unless we change, we will continue to deprive our society of the powerful services of statistics.

To Bill, statistics started with a problem in need of a solution, a set of data or an experiment in need of a design. It was never, "let X be an iid random variable, ...". Statistics was to Bill about science and scientific method, learning via a sequence of inductions and deductions and ultimately the discovery of new knowledge; mathematics and probability were only servants. Because of his strong feelings about statistics as science and scientific method, most of Bill's research was in the area of design of experiments and of course one of his great legacies is BH2, the classic text book that he so passionately worked on to complete. From that perspective statistics is relevant to all aspects of life, and the emotional experience associated with the discovery of new knowledge, even at the more mundane level, is one of the most satisfying human experiences.

Now if Bill were still alive and here today, I am convinced he would be up here passionately trying to recruit you to help spread his brand of fun, science-based statistics. He would be fighting the snobbism for mathematical purity that drive so many people away from statistics who otherwise could develop a passion similar to his. He would object to the kind of snobbism that increasingly seems to invade and take over our journals and academic departments so that they hardly any longer serve their original missions and constituencies. He would tell you that statistics should be taught via real examples, with lots of beautiful graphics, with an emphasis on the investigative process, that teachers should work hard to make concepts easy to understand, that student should engage in their own investigations to learn scientific work and that we should care about good communication. Bill would be passionately speaking about how we need to change academic curricula in engineering and business to put applied statistics center stage and as a major focus. But most of all, Bill would act as the ambassador for statistics he was, to spread his passion and try to make you experience the same fun he derived from applying statistics to help his fellow human beings.

Again, thanks. I am deeply honored to receive this award that bears Bill Hunter's name.