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Prominent Poles

Jerzy Neyman (aka Jerzy Splawa-Neyman) Polish-American mathematician, one of the great founders of modern statistics

Photo of Jerzy Neyman, mathematician

Born:  April 16, 1894, Bendery, Russia (presently Moldova)

Died: Aug 5, 1981, Oakland, California, USA

Summary. Jerzy Neyman is considered to be one of great founders of modern statistics. He made large contributions in probability theory, testing hypothesis, confidence intervals, generalized chi-square, and other areas of mathematical statistics. He was enthusiastic about his work because he wanted to " find out’ and study " how to find out what we need to know." His work would make an impact on fields ranging from astronomy and agriculture through biology and weather to social insurance.

Early days. Jerzy was born into a Roman Catholic family which considered itself to be Polish and was certainly Polish speaking His father was Czeslaw Splawa-Neyman (When Jerzy was 30 he dropped the first part of his name), a lawyer, his mother- Kazimiera Lutoslawska.. As a young boy, Jerzy lived in several different towns: first Bendery, then Kherson, then Melitopol in the Crimea, and by the time he was eight years old the family lived at Simpheropol also in the Crimea. Up to the age of ten he was taught at home by a governess and then he entered the local gymnasium (high school). By this time he could speak five languages, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, French and German. In 1906, however, his father died of a heart attack and his mother, now having little money to bring up her son, moved to Kharkov where she had relatives. Neyman excelled at the gymnasium at Kharkov and he decided, that he would study mathematics at a university. Between completing his schooling and entering university, he made a European train journey through Austria and Italy. Neyman began his studies at Kharkov University in the autumn if 1912. He was interested both in physics and in mathematics and at first it was practical physics experiments which he enjoyed most. Many students left for military service when WWI started in 1914 but Neyman failed the eyesight test so he remained at the University. He was quickly coming to realize that he did not have the necessary manual dexterity to be a talented experimenter and when the professor who was lecturing to him on the theory of functions suggested that he read Lebesgue's paper Leçons sur l'intégration et la recherche des fonctions primitives he immediately became fascinated. He wrote a paper on Lebesgue integration which he completed in July 1915 and submitted for the Gold Medal (which it later won). In the academic year 1915-16 he attended Aleksandr Bernstein lectures on probability; he strongly influenced Neyman and encouraged him to read Karl Pearson's The Grammar of Science.

Beginning of the professional career. In September 1917, having completed his undergraduate studies, Neyman remained at Kharkov University. He lectured and assisted with tutorial sessions and began to take an interest in statistical ideas. However the last year of the war, the Russian Revolution totally disrupted the academic life of the University. There was great hardship and Neyman's health began to deteriorate. The doctors diagnosed tuberculosis and he was told to go south to recover. He traveled to the Crimea in 1919 and on the journey he met a Russian girl Olga Solodovnikova. Shortly after he returned to Kharkov to begin teaching in the autumn of 1919, Olga returned too and their friendship led to marriage on 4 May 1920. However the complex political situation in Europe had taken another twist and at the time of their marriage Poland and Russia were at war. Ten days after he was married, Neyman was imprisoned and held for about six weeks. Despite the difficulties that he was under, Neyman passed his examinations and became a lecturer at Kharkov University, teaching higher algebra, integration, and set theory. In 1921 he was forced to move to Poland and made contact with Sierpinski who said that an academic post later that year might be possible. To earn some money he took a job as senior statistical assistant at the Agricultural Institute in Bydgoszcz (Poland). Keen to be in Warsaw, in December 1922 he took a job in the State Meteorological Institute there. He began to write papers on applications of statistics. He was appointed as an assistant at Warsaw University at the beginning of the academic year 1923-24 and he also taught at the College of Agriculture. He received a doctorate in 1924 for a thesis on application of probability to agricultural experimentation after being examined by a panel which included Sierpinski and Mazurkiewicz both working in the Cipher Bureau. Receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship to work with Karl Pearson in London, he arrived there in September 1925 but was disappointed to discover that Pearson was ignorant of modern mathematics. Neyman obtained an extension of his fellowship allowing him to spend a year in Paris. He arrived in Paris in the summer of 1926 to visit Borel. In Paris for session 1926-27 Neyman attended lectures by Borel, Lebesgue (whose lectures he particularly enjoyed) and Hadamard and his interests began to move back towards sets, measure and integration. However his interest in statistics was stimulated again by a letter from Egon Pearson, son of Karl. Neyman went on to produce fundamental results on hypothesis testing and, when Egon Pearson visited Paris in the spring of 1927, they collaborated in writing their first paper.

Professional career. Neyman returned to Poland in May 1927 and immediately tried to set up a biometric laboratory in Warsaw. He spent time in both Warsaw and Krakow and on 26 June obtained his habilitation and began lecturing as a docent. By 1928 he had managed to set up a Biometric Laboratory at the Nencki Institute for Experimental Biology in Warsaw. His collaboration with Egon Pearson continued with On the problem of two samples being published by the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow in 1930. Between 1928 and 1933 Neyman and Egon Pearson had written a number of important papers on hypothesis testing and the collaboration was highly productive with papers such as On the problem of the most efficient tests of statistical hypotheses (1933) and The testing of statistical hypotheses in relation to probabilities a priori (1933). In 1933 Carl Pearson retired from the Galton Chair of Statistics in University College London and Egon Pearson became Head of the Department of Applied Statistics. Neyman obtained a three month leave of absence to go in England in 1934 to fill a temporary post in Egon Pearson's department. The following year the post was made permanent and Neyman held it until 1938. In the spring of 1937 Neyman spent six weeks in the United States on a lecture tour of universities. Shortly after his return he had a major paper Outline of a theory of statistical estimation based on the classical theory of probability accepted for publication by the Royal Society. He hoped to obtain a chair at University College but that seemed unlikely, so he also considered returning to Warsaw. However, Egon Pearson worked hard to keep him in London and managed to arrange salary increases. During the years 1934-38 Neyman made four fundamental contributions to the science of Statistics: 1. He put forward the theory of confidence intervals. 2. His contribution to the theory of contagious distributions is still of great utility in the interpretation of biological data. 3. His paper on sampling stratified populations paved the way for a statistical theory which, among other things, gave us the Gallup Poll. 4. His work, and that of Fisher, each with a different model for randomized experiments, led to the whole new field of experimentation so much used in agriculture, biology, medicine, and physical sciences Then in 1938 Neyman received an offer of lectureship at the University of California at Berkeley which he accepted. There he taught probability and statistics in the mathematics department. Soon there was an officially recognized Statistical Laboratory within the Department of Mathematics That was the beginning of one of the preeminent statistical centers in the world. At the start of World War II Neyman undertook military research, particularly working on bomb sights and targeting problems. After WWII he resumed his efforts to build a world-leading school of mathematical statistics at Berkeley. Statistics became a separate department on 1 July 1955. His paper "On the Two Different Aspects of the Representative Method: The Method of Stratified Sampling and the Method of Purposive Selection" given at the Royal Statistical Society on 19 June 1934 was the groundbreaking event leading to modern scientific sampling. During the forty years that he was in Berkeley, Neyman had students come from all over the world to attend his lectures and to learn the proper way of conducting research. Neyman was a generous man. He helped students financially in any way he could. He recommended students for University scholarships and he secured federal grants for the support of students and faculty. At times, when he could not obtain the funds he needed to support students from any other sources, Neyman took the money out of his own pocket.

Honors and awards. Neyman's contributions to research in statistics over the latter part of his career were mostly in the areas of applications to meteorology and medicine. He received many honors for his remarkable contributions. In particular we note the Guy Medal of the Royal Statistical Society in 1966 and the Medal of Science from President Johnson in January 1969. In 1970 Neyman received an honorary degree from University of California, Berkeley. In 1979 he became the Fellow of the Royal Society.

St.Andrews university
Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
GAP is Copyright (C) 1986--1997 by Lehrstuhl D fuer Mathematik, RWTH Aachen, Aachen. Germany and Copyright (C) 1997-2001 by School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, UK
GAP can be copied and distributed freely for any non-commercial purpose.

Other sources:
Univ.of Minnesota
American Statistical Society

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