Mosteller, C. Frederick 1916-2006

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Mosteller, C. Frederick 1916-2006

(Charles Mosteller, Charles Frederick Mosteller)


See index for CA sketch: Born December 24, 1916, in Clarksburg, WV; died of sepsis, July 23, 2006, in Falls Church, VA. Statistician, educator, and author. The founding chair of the department of statistics at Harvard University, Mosteller was a pioneer in his field, applying statistics to everything from education and politics to sports and medicine. A graduate of what is now Carnegie-Mellon University, he completed an M.S. there in 1939 before attending Princeton University and earning a master's degree in 1941. After a year in the U.S. War Department as a consultant from 1942 to 1943, Mosteller returned to Princeton. Here, he completed a Ph.D. in 1946 and was also a mathematics instructor and researcher for the Statistical Research Group. Moving on to Harvard after he finished his doctorate, he was on the faculty there until retiring in 1987 as a professor emeritus, though he continued to teach classes until 2000. While at Harvard, Mosteller was named Roger I. Lee Professor in 1976, chaired the department of statistics until 1971, the department of biostatistics from 1976 to 1981, and the department of health policy and management from 1981 to 1987. Not long after he first arrived at the university, the department of statistics was created specifically because of him and his groundbreaking work. Mosteller applied statistics to various disciplines and fields in innovative and useful ways. For example, he showed that smaller classrooms were beneficial to the education of poor minority students and that, educationally, children in general benefited more from a stable and prosperous home life than they did from additional funds provided directly to schools. In the area of medicine, he provided evidence that halothane, which is used for anesthesia, was not harmful as some had believed, and that some surgeries should not be performed because the health benefits were minimal compared to the costs. Applying his knowledge to politics, Mosteller demonstrated why pollsters incorrectly predicted Thomas Dewey's 1948 victory over Harry Truman; he used language analysis to satisfy the debate over which Founding Father wrote the Federalist Papers, concluding that it was Alexander Hamilton. He also employed statistics in the new field of sabermetrics: the analysis of baseball. Publishing the first paper in sabermetrics in 1946, Mosteller would go on to show that chance often plays a more important role in determining the outcome of a game than the proven record of a team. A member and former president of the Institute for Mathematical Statistics, the International Statistics Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Statistics Association, as well as a former member of other professional bodies, such as the Royal Statistics Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences, Mosteller wrote, cowrote, or edited over two dozen books. Among these are Probability: A First Course (1962; revised edition, 1970), Sturdy Statistics (1973), Biostatistics in Clinical Medicine (1983; 2nd edition, 1987), Doing More Good Than Harm: The Evaluation of Health Care Interventions (1993), and Evidence Matters: Randomized Trials in Education Research (2002).



Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2006, p. B9.

New York Times, July 27, 2006, p. C14.

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Mosteller, C. Frederick 1916-2006

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