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Sir David Cox: Some Early Reminiscences

Published onApr 27, 2023
Sir David Cox: Some Early Reminiscences

In February 1966, I traveled to London to begin a National Research Council of Canada Post- Doctorate Overseas Fellowship under Professor David R. Cox at Birkbeck College at the University of London. It was at Birkbeck College that I met Professor Cox for the first time. The year before, I had written to him inquiring where I should go in the United Kingdom if I were to receive a fellowship for further study. He sent a concise reply on a blue Airmail letter form that arrived within 2 weeks of the mailing of the original letter. His reply described what was done at the universities in the United Kingdom in statistics and ended by saying that although Birkbeck College was short of space, I would be most welcome.

At first, I had an office in the attic of an old building belonging to the college on Woburn Square, which I shared with Professor Cox’s students, Basil Springer (Barbados), Osborne Jackson (Ghana), and David Hinkley (United Kingdom). The secretary, Dorothy Wilson, coined the acronym BOSDAG to refer to us; there is at least one paper in the statistical literature in which BOSDAG is thanked for its help.

On my second meeting with Professor Cox, he asked me to describe my PhD thesis at the blackboard in his office. At one point, I turned around and discovered the professor was fast asleep. Not knowing what to do, I carried on. When I returned to my office, I reported what had happened to the others. They replied that the only way to keep the professor awake was to not only have him standing, but also with a piece of chalk in his hand. (I observed later that Professor Cox had an uncanny ability to ask searching questions at the end of presentations even if he had appeared to be asleep.)

In September 1966, everyone in the Statistics Group at Birkbeck College moved to Imperial College since Professor Cox was to take up the professorship in statistics there following the retirement of Professor George A. Barnard. Early in my time at Imperial College, Professor Cox announced that since he would be away on April 1, we would celebrate April Fool’s Day on May 1.

The first collaboration with Professor Cox concerned a query that he and a few other professors were asked to comment on by the editor of the journal Technometrics. During our discussions for the answer to the query, Professor Cox said “Ours will be the shortest,” and it is; see Technometrics (1967, 9(1), p. 170).

Later, Professor Cox suggested we should put together a bibliography on the design of experiments from 1957, since earlier work had been summarized in books and papers. We were proud of our result in 1969 (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society A 132, 29—67), and ordered a large number of reprints. We did not receive the reprints and we ordered them again. It was not until many years later when I was proctoring an examination in a building of Imperial College that I discovered some boxes in a cupboard; I had found the first set of reprints. It was never discovered how they got there.

In 1979, Professor Cox worried about the future of book reviews in the Review of the International Statistical Institute. Before he went to the meeting of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) in Manila, he told me of his idea for the future of the book reviews under the ISI umbrella. He would propose his idea in Manila and if it were passed, he would suggest me, if I were willing, as the person who would do the work. Thus, I became the editor of Short Book Reviews.

Professor Cox had a soft spot for Osborne Jackson, always asking if I had heard from him and interested in his news. Following the completion of his PhD degree with Professor Cox, Dr. Jackson worked in Ghana for 17 years and then at the Statistical Office of the United Nations in New York. He could have remained in the United States as his children did, but he and his wife chose to return to Ghana to teach and, as he told me, to help. Professor Cox was impressed and touched by this.

While editor of Short Book Reviews, I noted at one time that there was a cluster of Festschrifts being published to celebrate the 65th birthday of many. I invited Professor Cox to write a paper for the Festschrift I would be editing in honor of Dr. Frank Yates’s 80th birthday in 1982. Professor Cox said it would be appropriate to write a paper for Dr. Yates, but then the overproduction of Festschrifts should stop.

Perhaps one could say that Professor Cox will be remembered for his humanity and humility, and his humor.

Disclosure Statement

Agnes M. Herzberg has no financial or non-financial disclosures to share for this article.

©2023 Agnes M. Herzberg. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) International license, except where otherwise indicated with respect to particular material included in the article.

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