David Blackwell
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David Blackwell  

File:David Blackwell 1999 (rescanned, cropped).jpg
Blackwell in 1999


Born  David Harold Blackwell April 24, 1919 Centralia, Illinois, U.S. 
Died  Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.^{[1]} Berkeley, California, U.S. 
Fields  Probability Statistics Logic Game theory Dynamic programming^{[2]} 
Institutions  University of California, Berkeley 
Education  University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign (BA, MA, PhD) 
Thesis  Some properties of Markoff chains (1941) 
Doctoral advisor  Joseph Leo Doob^{[3]} 
Doctoral students  <templatestyles src="Plainlist/styles.css"/> 
Known for  Rao–Blackwell theorem Blackwell channel Arbitrarily varying channel Games of imperfect information Dirichlet distribution Bayesian statistics Mathematical economics Recursive economics Sequential analysis 
Notable awards  Member of the National Academy of Sciences (1965) John von Neumann Theory Prize (1979) R. A. Fisher Lectureship (1986) 
David Harold Blackwell (April 24, 1919 – July 8, 2010) was an American statistician and mathematician who made significant contributions to game theory, probability theory, information theory, and statistics.^{[2]} He is one of the eponyms of the Rao–Blackwell theorem.^{[4]} He was the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, the first African American tenured faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley,^{[1]}^{[5]} and the seventh African American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics.^{[6]} In 2012, President Obama posthumously awarded Blackwell the National Medal of Science.
Blackwell was also a pioneer in textbook writing. He wrote one of the first Bayesian statistics textbooks, his 1969 Basic Statistics. By the time he retired, he had published over 90 papers and books on dynamic programming, game theory, and mathematical statistics.^{[7]}
Contents
Early life and education
David Harold Blackwell was born on April 24, 1919, in Centralia, Illinois, to Mabel Johnson Blackwell, a fulltime homemaker, and Grover Blackwell, an Illinois Central Railroad worker.^{[8]} He was the eldest of four children.^{[7]} Growing up in an integrated community, Blackwell attended "mixed" schools, where he distinguished himself in mathematics. During elementary school, his teachers promoted him beyond his grade level on two occasions. It was in a high school geometry course, however, that his passion for math began.^{[9]} An exceptional student, Blackwell graduated high school in 1935 at the age of sixteen.^{[8]}
Blackwell entered the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign with the intent to study elementary school mathematics and become a teacher. He was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. In 1938 he earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in 1939, and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in mathematics in 1941^{[3]} at the age of 22.^{[8]}^{[10]}^{[11]} His doctoral advisor was Joseph L. Doob. At the time, Blackwell was the seventh African American to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics in the United States and the first at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign.
Career and research
Postdoctoral study and early career
Blackwell completed one year of postdoctoral research as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) at Princeton in 1941 after receiving a Rosenwald Fellowship.^{[11]} There he met John von Neumann, who asked Blackwell to discuss his Ph.D. thesis with him.^{[12]} Blackwell, who believed that von Neumann was just being polite and not genuinely interested in his work, did not approach him until von Neumann himself asked him again a few months later. According to Blackwell, "He (von Neumann) listened to me talk about this rather obscure subject and in ten minutes he knew more about it than I did."^{[13]}
While a postdoc at IAS, Blackwell was prevented from attending lectures or undertaking research at nearby Princeton University, which the IAS has historically collaborated with in research and scholarship activities,^{[14]} because of his race.^{[11]}
Seeking a permanent position elsewhere, he wrote letters of application to 104 historically black colleges and universities in 1942, and received a total of only three offers. He felt at the time that a black professor would be limited to teaching at black colleges.^{[15]} Having been highly recommended by his dissertation advisor Joseph L. Doob for a position at the University of California, Berkeley, he was interviewed by statistician Jerzy Neyman. Neyman supported his appointment, and Griffith C. Evans, the head of the mathematics department, at first agreed and even convinced university president Robert Sproul that it was the correct decision, only to subsequently balk, citing the concerns of his wife. It was customary for Evans and his wife to invite the members of the department over for dinner and "she was not going to have any darkie in her house."^{[16]}^{[17]}
He was offered a post at Southern University at Baton Rouge, which he held in 1942–43, followed by a year as an Instructor at Clark College in Atlanta.
Howard University
In 1944, Blackwell moved to Howard University and within three years was appointed full professor and head of the Mathematics Department.^{[11]} He remained at Howard until 1954.
From 1948 to 1950, Blackwell spent his summers at RAND Corporation with Meyer A. Girshick and other mathematicians exploring the game theory of duels. In 1954 Girshick and Blackwell published Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions.^{[18]} Aside from von Neumann and Girshick, other Blackwell collaborators and mentors included Leonard J. Savage, Richard E. Bellman, and Nobel Laureate Kenneth J. Arrow.^{[19]}
Acknowledged to be among the achievements of Blackwell was the bridging of topology and game theory via a gametheoretic proof of the Kuratowski Reduction Theorem. However, it is worth noting that Blackwell only briefly extended his research beyond zerosum games to explore the sure thing principle^{[20]}^{[21]} as introduced by Jimmie Savage,^{[22]} primarily due the realworld societal implications of the mathematical result^{[clarification needed]},^{[23]} particularly for nuclear disarmament^{[how?]} at the inception of the Cold War.^{[24]}
University of California, Berkeley
Blackwell took a position at the University of California, Berkeley as a visiting professor in 1954, and was hired as a full professor in the newly created Department of Statistics in 1955. He became the Statistics department chair in 1957.^{[11]}^{[25]}^{[26]} He spent the rest of his career at UC Berkeley, retiring in 1988^{[11]}^{[26]} at age 70, which at that time was the mandatory retirement age. Over the course of his career, he mentored over 60 students.^{[3]}
Blackwell wrote one of the first Bayesian textbooks, his 1969 Basic Statistics. It inspired the 1995 textbook Statistics: A Bayesian Perspective by the biostatistician Donald Berry.
Honors and awards
 Invited Speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians, 1954
 President of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, 1956
 Elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), 1965
 Elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), 1968
 President of the Bernoulli Society for Mathematical Statistics and Probability, 19751977
 Honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) in 1976
 Vice President of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in 1978
 Awarded the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1979^{[27]}
 Awarded the R. A. Fisher Lectureship in 1986^{[28]}
 The Berkeley Citation, 1988^{[29]}
 Elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, 1990^{[30]}
 Fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, 2002^{[31]}
 Awarded the National Medal of Science (posthumous), 2012^{[32]}
The BlackwellTapia prize is named in honor of David Blackwell and Richard A. Tapia.
Legacy
The Mathematical Association of America's MathFest, in coordination with the National Association of Mathematicians, features an annual MAANAM David Blackwell Lecture.^{[6]} Blackwell offered the inaugural address in 1994; and subsequent lecturers are researchers who "exemplif[y] the spirit of Blackwell in both personal achievement and service to the mathematical community."^{[33]}
The University of California, Berkeley named an undergraduate residence hall in his honor, named David Blackwell Hall. The residence hall opened in Fall 2018.^{[34]}
Blackwell made the following statement about his values and work in an 1983 interview for a project called "Mathematical People":
Basically, I'm not interested in doing research and I never have been....I’m interested in understanding, which is quite a different thing. And often to understand something you have to work it out yourself because no one else has done it.^{[11]}
Personal life and death
Blackwell married Annlizabeth Madison, a 1934 graduate of Spelman College, on December 27, 1944.^{[7]} They had eight children together.^{[35]}
David Blackwell died of complications from a stroke on July 8, 2010, at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, California.^{[36]}
Bibliography
Books
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Journal articles
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References
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 ↑ ^{3.0} ^{3.1} ^{3.2} David Blackwell at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
 ↑ Roussas, G.G. et al. (2011) A Tribute to David Blackwell, NAMS 58(7), 912–928.
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 ↑ Black, Robert “David Blackwell and the Deadliest Duel” p. 5759.
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 ↑ Arrow, K. J., D. Blackwell and M. A. Girshick “Bayes and Minimax Solutions of Sequential Decision Problems” Econometrica Vol. 17, No. 3/4 (Jul.  Oct., 1949), pp. 213244.
 ↑ Jeffrey, Richard (1982). "The Sure Thing Principle". Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. 1982 (2): 719–730. 10.1086/psaprocbienmeetp.1982.2.192456.JSTOR 192456.S2CID 124506828.
 ↑ Pearl, Judea (December 2015). "The surething principle" (PDF). UCLA Cognitive Systems Laboratory, Technical Report R466.
 ↑ Savage, L. J. (1954), The foundations of statistics. John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York.
 ↑ 7. Blyth, C. (1972). "On Simpson's paradox and the surething principle". Journal of the American Statistical Association. 67 (338): 364–366. 10.2307/2284382. JSTOR 2284382.
 ↑ Agwu, N., Smith, L., & Barry, A. (2003) “Dr. David Harold Blackwell, AfricanAmerican Pioneer” Mathematics Magazine 76, 314.
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 ↑ University of California, Berkeley (2015), "List of recipients". Retrieved March 4, 2015.
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 ↑ Spelman Messenger Spelman College
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External links
Wikimedia Commons has media related to David Blackwell. 
 Biographical sketch from the American Statistical Association
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 David Blackwell's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
 A volume dedicated to David H. Blackwell, Celebratio Mathematica
 Biography of David Blackwell from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)
 David H. Blackwell: A Profile of Inspiration and Perseverance, University of Illinois UrbanaChampaign College of Liberal Arts & Science Department of Statistics
 David Blackwell  American statistician and mathematician from Britannica
 Articles with short description
 Pages with broken file links
 Wikipedia articles needing clarification from October 2022
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 1919 births
 2010 deaths
 People from Centralia, Illinois
 University of Illinois UrbanaChampaign alumni
 University of California, Berkeley College of Letters and Science faculty
 Institute for Advanced Study visiting scholars
 AfricanAmerican mathematicians
 AfricanAmerican statisticians
 20thcentury American mathematicians
 American statisticians
 Probability theorists
 Members of the United States National Academy of Sciences
 Presidents of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics
 John von Neumann Theory Prize winners
 Fellows of the American Statistical Association
 Fellows of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences
 National Medal of Science laureates
 Game theorists
 Academics from Illinois
 Mathematicians from Illinois
 21stcentury American mathematicians
 20thcentury AfricanAmerican people
 21stcentury AfricanAmerican people
 Members of the American Philosophical Society