Department of Statistics Unitmark
Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

In honor of the Department of Statistics' 50th Anniversary, we are highlighting our outstanding faculty and alumni of the past half-century.

Stephen Fienberg

When Stephen E. Fienberg, the Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science (Emeritus), entered his Canadian hometown university as an undergraduate, he did not know there was a field called Statistics.

It was not until his sophomore year that a course in probability introduced him to statistical concepts and ideas. Hooked, he enrolled in more such classes, eventually applying to graduate school.

After earning a Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard University in 1968, followed by faculty positions at the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota, he came to Carnegie Mellon in 1980. A year later, he became chair.

Prof. Robert E. Kass, the Maurice Falk Professor of Statistics and Computational Neuroscience, applied for a position in the department in 1981.

"I am fortunate that Steve, as incoming department head, took a special interest in hiring me as there was a rather arcane, mathematical focus to my research, and it was not obvious to all faculty that I would be a good bet as a colleague," he said.

"As new head, Steve engineered a proposal to the first SCREMS program at the National Science Foundation, and was successful in receiving funding to purchase the department's first mini-computer for $250,000 in 1982," Prof. William F. Eddy said. "That was the beginning of the department's reputation in computing.

"Steve had a variety of interests at that time – the National Crime Survey, cognitive methods in survey research, statistics and the law, and, of course, the traditional topics he's interested in like loglinear models and computation.

"Those interests have only grown broader with time."

Today, besides the Statistics Dept., Steve has appointments in Carnegie Mellon's Machine Learning Department, Heinz College, and Cylab. He was also co-director of the Living Analytics Research Centre. From 1987 to 1991, he served as Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

His research interests include: development of statistical methods, especially tools for categorical data analysis and the analysis of network data; causal inference; inference for multiple-media data; record linkage; privacy and confidentiality; statistical applications in forensic science; and much much more

The author or editor of over 20 books and 500 papers and related publications, his co-authored 1975 book, Discrete Multivariate Analysis: Theory and Practice, and his 1980 book, The Analysis of Cross-Classified Categorical Data, are classics in the field.

He was an early recipient of the prestigious COPSS Presidents' Award given annually to a person under age 41 in recognition of outstanding contributions to the profession of statistics.

More recently, he was accorded the Distinguished Service Award from the National Institute of Statistical Sciences; Lise Manchester Award from the Statistical Society of Canada; Founders Award from the American Statistical Association; and the Zellner Medal from the International Society for Bayesian Analysis.

He is a lifetime National Associate of the National Academies (National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council), and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Academy of Political and Social Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Statistical Association, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.

Steve served as president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the International Society for Bayesian Analysis, and vice-president of the American Statistical Association.

He is a founding co-editor of Chance magazine and the Annals of Applied Statistics, and founding editor of the new Annual Review of Statistics and Its Application. His research on disclosure limitation for categorical data, and on privacy and confidentiality more generally, led to his creation of the online The Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality.

Steve's vision has also had a profound impact on the intellectual direction of the department, Prof. Larry Wasserman said.

"The Machine Learning (ML) Department at Carnegie Mellon began as the Center for Automated Learning and Discovery (CALD), which Steve founded with Tom Mitchell.

"Thanks to Steve's leadership, the Statistics Department has maintained a fruitful relationship with ML since its inception.

"As a result, we have deeper ties to ML, both our ML and machine learning in general, than any other statistics department in the world," he said.

Despite his prominence, his office door remains open.

"I have never seen him turn away a visitor, whether undergraduate, graduate student or junior faculty," Prof. Joel B. Greenhouse said.

"He is a demanding instructor and advisor, yet he is also realistic and understanding. He sets his expectations at a level that asks his students and colleagues to reach a little higher and achieve a little more.

"Steve is selfless about his work, and given his level of activity, there are plenty of good problems to share with students and junior colleagues, which he does," he said.

"As I think about him today, I realize what I have appreciated most about Steve all of these years is his very strong desire to do the right thing, and to work hard to get the right thing done," Prof. Kass said.

"It is his unusual combination of continual achievement and tireless commitment to improving the world that makes Steve an inspiration."