International Prize in Statistics awarded to Bradley Efron

Bradley Efron
The International Prize in Statistics has been awarded to Bradley Efron (Photo by Rod Searcey)

The International Prize in Statistics has been awarded to BRADLEY EFRON, professor of statistics and biomedical data science, in recognition of the “bootstrap,” a method he developed in 1977 for assessing the uncertainty of scientific results that has had extraordinary impact across many scientific fields.

The International Prize in Statistics recognizes a major achievement of an individual or team in the field of statistics and promotes understanding of the growing importance and diverse ways statistics, data analysis, probability and the understanding of uncertainty advance society, science, technology and human welfare. With a monetary award of $80,000, 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 from a selection committee comprised of world-renowned academicians and researchers and officially presented with the award at the World Statistics Congress.

According to a press release issued by the American Statistical Association, with the bootstrap, scientists are able to learn from limited data in a simple way that enables them to assess the uncertainty of their findings. In essence, it is possible to simulate 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.

Made possible by computing, the bootstrap powered a revolution that placed statistics at the center of scientific progress. It helped propel statistics beyond techniques that relied on complex mathematical calculations or unreliable approximations, enabling scientists to assess the uncertainty of their results in more realistic and feasible ways.

“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.

Cornell University and EPAM Systems Inc. examined research databases worldwide and found that, since 1980, the bootstrap (and multiple variations on the term such as bootstrapping) has been cited in excess of 200,000 documents in more than 200 journals worldwide. Citations are found in fields such as agricultural research, biochemistry, computer science, engineering, immunology, mathematics, medicine, physics and astronomy and the social sciences.

“The truth is, I didn’t think it was anything wonderful when I did it,” said Efron. “But it was one of those lucky ideas that is better than it seems at first view.”

Efron is Max H. Stein Professor of Humanities and Sciences, professor of statistics and professor of biostatistics with the Department of Biomedical Data Science in the School of Medicine. He serves as co-director of the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Program.  A recipient of a 2005 National Medal of Science for his contributions to theoretical and applied statistics, especially the bootstrap sampling technique, he 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.

Efron will accept the prize next summer at the 2019 World Statistics Congress in Kuala Lumpur.

Read more from the press release issued by the American Statistical Association.