John Tukey

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John Tukey
John Tukey.jpg
John Wilder Tukey
Born(1915-06-16)June 16, 1915
DiedJuly 26, 2000(2000-07-26) (aged 85)
ResidenceUnited States
Alma materBrown University
Princeton University
Known forExploratory data analysis
Projection pursuit
Box plot
Cooley–Tukey FFT algorithm
Tukey's range test
Tukey lambda distribution
Tukey–Duckworth test
Siegel–Tukey test
Tukey's trimean
Tukey's test of additivity
Tukey's lemma
Blackman–Tukey transformation
Tukey mean difference plot
Tukey median and Tukey depth
Coining the term 'bit'
AwardsSamuel S. Wilks Award (1965)
National Medal of Science (USA) in Mathematical, Statistical, and Computational Sciences (1973)
Shewhart Medal (1976)
IEEE Medal of Honor (1982)
Deming Medal (1982)
James Madison Medal (1984)
Foreign Member of the Royal Society (1991)
Scientific career
InstitutionsBell Labs
Princeton University
ThesisOn Denumerability in Topology[1]
Doctoral advisorSolomon Lefschetz[1]
Doctoral students

John Wilder Tukey (/ˈtki/; June 16, 1915 – July 26, 2000) was an American mathematician best known for development of the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithm and box plot.[2] The Tukey range test, the Tukey lambda distribution, the Tukey test of additivity, and the Teichmüller–Tukey lemma all bear his name. He is also credited with coining the term 'bit'.


Tukey was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1915 to a Latin teacher father and a private tutor mother. He was mainly taught by his mother and only went to regular classes for special subjects like French.[3] Tukey obtained a B.A. in 1936 and M.Sc. in 1937, in chemistry, from Brown University, before moving to Princeton University where he received a Ph.D. in mathematics.[4]

During World War II, Tukey worked at the Fire Control Research Office and collaborated with Samuel Wilks and William Cochran. He is claimed to have helped design the U-2 spy plane. After the war, he returned to Princeton, dividing his time between the university and AT&T Bell Laboratories. He became a full professor at 35 and founding chairman of the Princeton statistics department in 1965.[3]

Among many contributions to civil society, Tukey served on a committee of the American Statistical Association that produced a report challenging the conclusions of the Kinsey Report, Statistical Problems of the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.

From 1960 to 1980, Tukey helped design the NBC television network polls used to predict and analyze elections. He was also a consultant to the Educational Testing Service, the Xerox Corporation and Merck & Company.

He was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Nixon in 1973.[3] He was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1982 "For his contributions to the spectral analysis of random processes and the fast Fourier transform (FFT) algorithm."

Tukey retired in 1985. He died in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on July 26, 2000.

Scientific contributions[edit]

Early in his career Tukey worked on developing statistical methods for computers at Bell Labs where he invented the term "bit".[5]

His statistical interests were many and varied. He is particularly remembered for his development with James Cooley of the Cooley–Tukey FFT algorithm. In 1970, he contributed significantly to what is today known as the jackknife estimation—also termed Quenouille–Tukey jackknife. He introduced the box plot in his 1977 book, "Exploratory Data Analysis."

Tukey's range test, the Tukey lambda distribution, Tukey's test of additivity, Tukey's lemma, and the Tukey window all bear his name. He is also the creator of several little-known methods such as the trimean and median-median line, an easier alternative to linear regression.

In 1974, he developed, with Jerome H. Friedman, the concept of the projection pursuit.[6]

Statistical practice[edit]

He also contributed to statistical practice and articulated the important distinction between exploratory data analysis and confirmatory data analysis, believing that much statistical methodology placed too great an emphasis on the latter.

Though he believed in the utility of separating the two types of analysis, he pointed out that sometimes, especially in natural science, this was problematic and termed such situations uncomfortable science.

A. D. Gordon offered the following summary of Tukey's principles for statistical practice:[citation needed]

... the usefulness and limitation of mathematical statistics; the importance of having methods of statistical analysis that are robust to violations of the assumptions underlying their use; the need to amass experience of the behaviour of specific methods of analysis in order to provide guidance on their use; the importance of allowing the possibility of data's influencing the choice of method by which they are analysed; the need for statisticians to reject the role of "guardian of proven truth", and to resist attempts to provide once-for-all solutions and tidy over-unifications of the subject; the iterative nature of data analysis; implications of the increasing power, availability, and cheapness of computing facilities; the training of statisticians.

Statistical terms[edit]

Tukey coined many statistical terms that have become part of common usage, but the two most famous coinages attributed to him were related to computer science.

While working with John von Neumann on early computer designs, Tukey introduced the word "bit" as a contraction of "binary digit".[7] The term "bit" was first used in an article by Claude Shannon in 1948.

In 2000, Fred Shapiro, a librarian at the Yale Law School, published a letter revealing that Tukey's 1958 paper "The Teaching of Concrete Mathematics"[8] contained the earliest known usage of the term "software" found in a search of JSTOR's electronic archives, predating the OED's citation by two years.[9] This led many to credit Tukey with coining the term, particularly in obituaries published that same year,[3] although Tukey never claimed credit for any such coinage. In 1995, Paul Niquette claimed he had originally coined the term in October 1953, although he could not find any documents supporting his claim.[10] The earliest known publication of the term "software" in an engineering context was in August 1953 by Richard R. Carhart, in a Rand Corporation Research Memorandum.[11]

See also[edit]


  • Andrews, David F; Peter J Bickel; Frank R Hampel; Peter J Huber; W H Rogers; John W Tukey (1972). Robust estimates of location: survey and advances. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-08113-7. OCLC 369963.
  • Basford, Kaye E; John W Tukey (1998). Graphical analysis of multiresponse data. Chapman & Hall/CRC. ISBN 978-0-8493-0384-5. OCLC 154674707.[12]
  • Blackman, R B; John W Tukey (1959). The measurement of power spectra from the point of view of communications engineering. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-60507-4.
  • Cochran, William G; Frederick Mosteller; John W Tukey (1954). Statistical problems of the Kinsey report on sexual behavior in the human male. Journal of the American Statistical Association.
  • Hoaglin, David C; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (eds) (1983). Understanding Robust and Exploratory Data Analysis. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-09777-8. OCLC 8495063.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Hoaglin, David C; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (eds) (1985). Exploring Data Tables, Trends and Shapes. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-09776-1. OCLC 11550398.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Hoaglin, David C; Frederick Mosteller & John W Tukey (eds) (1991). Fundamentals of exploratory analysis of variance. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-52735-0. OCLC 23180322.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Morgenthaler, Stephan & John W Tukey (eds) (1991). Configural polysampling: a route to practical robustness. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-52372-7. OCLC 22381036.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Mosteller, Frederick; John W Tukey (1977). Data analysis and regression : a second course in statistics. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0-201-04854-4. OCLC 3235470.
  • Tukey, John W (1940). Convergence and Uniformity in Topology. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-09568-4. OCLC 227948615.
  • Tukey, John W (1977). Exploratory Data Analysis. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0-201-07616-5. OCLC 3058187.
  • Tukey, John W; Ian C Ross; Verna Bertrand (1973). Index to statistics and probability. R & D Press. ISBN 978-0-88274-001-0. OCLC 745715.
The collected works of John W Tukey, edited by William S Cleveland
About John Tukey


  1. ^ a b John Tukey at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  2. ^ Sande, Gordon (July 2001). "Obituary: John Wilder Tukey". Physics Today. 54 (7): 80–81. doi:10.1063/1.1397408.
  3. ^ a b c d Leonhardt, David (28 July 2000). "John Tukey, 85, Statistician; Coined the Word 'Software'". New York Times. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  4. ^ "John Tukey". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  5. ^ Claude Shannon (1948). "Bell System Technical Journal". Bell System Technical Journal.
  6. ^ J. H. Friedman; J. W. Turkey (September 1974). "A Projection Pursuit Algorithm for Exploratory Data Analysis" (PDF). IEEE Transactions on Computers. C-23 (9): 881–890. doi:10.1109/T-C.1974.224051. ISSN 0018-9340.
  7. ^ The origin of the 'bit'
  8. ^ J. W. Tukey, "The Teaching of Concrete Mathematics," Amer. Mathematical Monthly, vol. 65, pp. 1–9, 1958: "Today the "software" comprising the carefully planned interpretive routines, compilers, and other aspects of automative programming are at least as important to the modern electronic calculator as its "hardware" of tubes, transistors, wires, tapes, and the like."
  9. ^ Shapiro, Fred (2000). "Origin of the Term Software: Evidence from the JSTOR Electronic Journal Archive" (PDF). IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 22 (2): 69–71. doi:10.1109/mahc.2000.887997. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 5, 2003. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  10. ^ Niquette, P. (2006) Softword: Provenance for the Word 'Software'
  11. ^ Carhart, Richard (1953). A survey of the current status of the electronic reliability problem (PDF). Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation. p. 69. It will be recalled from Sec. 1.6 that the term personnel was defined to include people who come into direct contact with the hardware, from production to field use, i.e., people who assemble, inspect, pack, ship, handle, install, operate, and maintain electronic equipment. In any of these phases personnel failures may result in unoperational gear. As with the hardware factors, there is almost no quantitative data concerning these software or human factors in reliability: How many faults are caused by personnel, why they occur, and what can be done to remove the errors.
  12. ^ Reviews of Graphical Analysis of Multiresponse Data:

External links[edit]