George Edward Pelham Box (1919–2013) was born in Kent, England, and earned degrees in statistics at the University of London. After work in the chemical industry, he taught and researched at Princeton and the University of Wisconsin.
His many major contributions to statistics include papers and books on Bayesian inference, robustness (a term he introduced to statistics), modeling strategy, experimental design and response surfaces, time-series analysis, distribution theory, transformations, and nonlinear estimation. He is credited with the famous phrase "All models are wrong, but some are useful." In fact, he used many variations of this phrase, including the following one, which is even more interesting:
"Since all models are wrong the scientist must be alert to what is importantly wrong. It is inappropriate to be concerned about mice when there are tigers abroad."
David Roxbee Cox (1924–2022) was born in Birmingham, England. He earned master’s and PhD degrees in mathematics and statistics from the universities of Cambridge and Leeds, and he worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, the Wool Industries Research Association, and the universities of Cambridge, London (Birkbeck and Imperial Colleges), and Oxford. He was knighted in 1985. He worked on a wide range of theoretical and applied statistical problems, with outstanding contributions in areas such as experimental design, stochastic processes, binary data, survival analysis, asymptotic techniques, and multivariate dependencies. In 2010, he was awarded the Copley Medal, the Royal Society’s highest honor. In 2017, he was the first recipient of the International Prize in Statistics.
William M. Haenszel (1910–1998) was an American biostatistician and epidemiologist. In 1932, he obtained a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Buffalo. He then worked at several leading institutions of health, making a lasting impact worldwide.
From 1934 to 1947, he worked for the New York State Department of Health, after which he became the director of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the Connecticut State Health Department. In 1952, he joined the National Institutes of Health, where he would serve as the chief of the Biometry Branch and head of the Biometric Section. During his time there, Haenszel collaborated with Nathan Mantel to develop the Mantel–Haenszel method. He also initiated a series of studies of migrant populations that explored the causes of diseases. Another major contribution was the instrumental role he played in developing SEER, the first national system for tracking cases of cancer and the potential causes.
Haenszel was a fellow of the American Public Health Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Statistical Association. He also served as chair of the Biometrics Section of the American Statistical Association. Toward the end of his career, Haenszel joined the Illinois Cancer Council and provided consulting services to the World Health Organization. Haenszel also helped tutor a research group that developed a brain tumor registry.
Frances Oldham Kelsey (1914–2015) was born in British Columbia. She obtained a PhD and MD in pharmacology from the University of Chicago. In 1954, Kelsey began teaching pharmacology at the University of South Dakota before working as a general practitioner. In 1960, Kelsey began working for the Food and Drug Administration, where she would play an important role in keeping harmful pharmaceuticals out of reach from consumers.
When Kelsey joined the FDA, she was responsible for reviewing drug applications; one of her first assignments was thalidomide, which was marketed as a sleeping pill. Kelsey noted that the application was based on testimonies, rather than statistical evidence, and she rejected the drug application. The manufacturer failed to provide data proving the safety of the drug, and Kelsey rejected their application four times; each time she faced resistance, but she performed her job with integrity.
Physicians then discovered that thalidomide caused infant deformities; consequently, Kelsey helped get thalidomide banned in the U.S., preventing the tragedy of birth defects. Unfortunately, the drug had already been distributed in many other countries, and thousands of infants were affected. In honor of her commitment to the public’s safety, President John F. Kennedy awarded Kelsey the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962. Kelsey continued to make important contributions as she moved on to leadership roles in the FDA; she led the implementation of drug regulations, reviewed clinical sites to ensure the integrity of their data, and much more. In 2000, Kelsey was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Dorothy Vaughan (1910–2008) was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Wilberforce University and later taught mathematics at a high school in Virginia. In 1943, she joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was later incorporated into NASA. Vaughan made history as NACA’s first African-American supervisor.
When Vaughan joined NACA, the workplace was segregated, and there was a high demand for employees to process aeronautical research data. Vaughan was promoted to supervisor in 1949 and would lead her unit of all-female, African-American mathematicians until 1958, when NACA was incorporated into NASA.
At that time, she became a part of an integrated, electronic computing division. In her new role, Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer and worked on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program, which was designed to launch satellites into orbit. She also made contributions to help launch American astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Vaughan retired from NASA in 1971 and was portrayed by Octavia Spencer in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.