Person: Hoeffding, Wassily
Wassily Hoeffding was a Finnish statistician and probability theorist.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- However, they spent the summer in Mustamäki, at that time part of the Russian Empire, and it was there that Wassily was born.
- Hoeffding attended an Oberrealschule in Berlin where he received a good training in natural sciences and languages.
- Although these laws did not affect Hoeffding personally, they had a major consequence on his education at the University of Berlin.
- The other consequence of the "Restoration of the civil service" as far as Hoeffding was concerned was the difficult atmosphere that resulted around the university with some inferior academics gaining high positions because of their strong support for the Nazis.
- Hoeffding took this course but also studied, among other, advanced calculus with Erhard Schmidt and number theory with Alfred Brauer (whom he considered the best of all his lecturers).
- For his doctorate Hoeffding studied properties of bivariate distributions which are invariant under certain transformations.
- Of course, by this time Germany was at war but Hoeffding was not liable to be called up at this time since he was not a German citizen.
- The Danish name Hoeffding was sufficient to qualify under the 'related blood' clause but when he went for a medical it was realised that he suffered from diabetes so he was excused military service in the army.
- Harald Geppert, the editor of the Jahrbuch, suggested that Hoeffding should work on mathematics with military applications and so that he be seen to be contributing towards the war effort.
- However, Hoeffding told him that his conscience would not allow him to contribute to the Nazi cause - a very dangerous statement to make in Nazi Germany, particularly to Geppert who was sympathetic to the Nazi cause.
- Although written in Hanover in 1946, by the time of its publication in 1947, Hoeffding was in the United States.
- Arriving in New York without any prospect of a job, Hoeffding attended statistics lectures at Columbia University.
- This offer was made without any visit or interview taking place, simply on the merits of Hoeffding's doctoral thesis.
- Hoeffding spent the rest of his career at Chapel Hill.
- While Hoeffding was in Chicago, he had given a talk on his latest work on U-statistics (the U stands for 'unbiased estimator') and he published this highly significant idea in the paper A class of statistics with asymptotically normal distribution (1948).
- This was not the only paper Hoeffding published in 1948 for another two of his papers appeared that year, namely A non-parametric test of independence, and (with his colleague Herbert Robbins) The central limit theorem for dependent random variables.
- Also, there are three articles reviewing (i) Hoeffding's work during the sixties, the impact of his work on (ii) sequential analysis, and (iii) on nonparametric inference.
- It is clear that Hoeffding's remarkable contributions to statistics would result in him receiving the highest honours.
- After he retired the University of North Carolina's College of Arts and Sciences honoured him by establishing the Wassily Hoeffding Professorship.
Born 12 June 1914, Mustamäki, Finland (now Mukhino, Russia). Died 28 February 1991, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive