From: Marvin X Jackmon List Editor: Abdul Alkalimat Editor's Subject: Fw: David Blackwell Passes AwayAuthor's Subject: Fw: David Blackwell Passes AwayDate Written: Mon, 19 Jul 2010 08:33:07 -0500Date Posted: Tue, 19 Jul 2010 09:33:07 -0400 |

*From:* Lee O. Cherry of the African Scientific Institute

* *

*Dr. David Blackwell was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th

century. He was featured in our African Scientific Institute's /"Blacks

In Science Calendars"/ during the 1990s. We will miss him.*

/ /

/ /

/from New York Times, Published: July 16, 2010/

/ /

David Blackwell, Scholar of Probability, Dies at 91

By William Grimes

David Blackwell, a statistician and mathematician who wrote

groundbreaking papers on probability and game theory and was the first

black scholar to be admitted to the National Academy of Sciences, died

July 8 in Berkeley, Calif. He was 91.

The death was confirmed by his son Hugo.

Mr. Blackwell, the son of a railroad worker with a fourth-grade

education, taught for nearly 35 years at the University of California,

Berkeley, where he became the first black tenured professor.

He made his mark as a free-ranging problem solver in numerous

sub-disciplines. His fascination with game theory, for example, prompted

him to investigate the mathematics of bluffing and to develop a theory

on the optimal moment for an advancing duelist to open fire.

“He went from one area to another, and he’d write a fundamental paper in

each,” Thomas Ferguson, an emeritus professor of statistics at the

University of California, Los Angeles, told the Berkeley Web site. “He

would come into a field that had been well studied and find something

really new that was remarkable. That was his forte.”

David Harold Blackwell was born on April 24, 1919, in Centralia, Ill.

Early on, he showed a talent for mathematics, but he entered the

University of Illinois with the modest ambition of becoming an

elementary school teacher. *He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics

in 1938 and, adjusting his sights, went on to earn a master’s degree in

1939 and a doctorate in 1941, when he was only 22. *

After being awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship, established by the clothing

magnate Julius Rosenwald to aid black scholars, he attended the

Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton but left after a year when,

because of his race, he was not issued the customary invitation to

become an honorary faculty member. At Berkeley, where the statistician

Jerzy Neyman wanted to hire him in the mathematics department, racial

objections also blocked his appointment.

Instead, Mr. Blackwell sent out applications to 104 black colleges on

the assumption that no other schools would hire him. After working for a

year at the Office of Price Administration, he taught briefly at

Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and Clark College in Atlanta

before joining the mathematics department at Howard University in

Washington in 1944.

While at Howard, he attended a lecture by Meyer A. Girshick at the local

chapter of the American Statistical Association. He became intensely

interested in statistics and developed a lifelong friendship with

Girshick, with whom he wrote “Theory of Games and Statistical

Decisions” (1954).

As a consultant to the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1950, he applied

game theory to military situations. It was there that he turned his

attention to what might be called the duelist’s dilemma, a problem with

application to the battlefield, where the question of when to open fire

looms large.

His “Basic Statistics” (1969) was one of the first textbooks on Bayesian

statistics, which assess the uncertainty of future outcomes by

incorporating new evidence as it arises, rather than relying on

historical data. He also wrote numerous papers on multistage

decision-making.

“He had this great talent for making things appear simple,” Peter

Bickel, a statistics professor at Berkeley, told the university’s Web

site. “He liked elegance and simplicity. That is the ultimate best thing

in mathematics, if you have an insight that something seemingly

complicated is really simple, but simple after the fact.”

Mr. Blackwell was hired by Berkeley in 1954 and became a full professor in

the statistics department when it split off from the mathematics

department in 1955. He was chairman of the department from 1957 to 1961

and assistant dean of the College of Letters and Science from 1964 to

1968. He retired in 1988.

In 1965 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

In addition to his son Hugo, of Berkeley, he is survived by three of his

eight children, Ann Blackwell and Vera Gleason, both of Oakland, and

Sarah Hunt Dahlquist of Houston; a sister, Elizabeth Cowan of Clayton,

N.C.; and 14 grandchildren.

Mr. Blackwell described himself as a “dilettante” in a 1983 interview

for “Mathematical People,” a collection of profiles and interviews.

“Basically, I’m not interested in doing research and I never have been,”

he said. “I’m interested in /understanding/, which is quite a different

thing. And often to understand something you have to work it out

yourself because no one else has done it.”

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