Harry V. Roberts Biography

Harry V. Roberts (1923-2004)
The Exemplar of Statistical Advocacy

During his long and distinguished career Harry had a significant impact on the practice and teaching of statistics and in areas such as finance, marketing, statistical software, quality management, affirmative action, government and public policy, and healthcare. Through his teaching, writing, speaking, and consulting, he was a tireless and consummate advocate for the effective use of data and statistical analysis in all areas.

Examples of his written advocacy range from “Statistics as a Career” with Howard Jones in 1953 and “Statistics in Middle Management” in 1955 to Quality is Personal with Bernie Sergesketter in 1993. Each of Harry’s dozen or so books are distinguished by their respect for the value of data and the clear exposition of how to solve real problems through sound analysis.

Thirty years after writing the path breaking text, Statistics: A New Approach with W. Allen Wallis (1956), Harry and George Tiao with the support of George Easton created the organization Making Statistics More Effective in Schools and Business. Since it’s creation, much of what MSMESB has done to improve the teaching and practice of statistics is due to Harry’s contributions and inspiration.

Harry demonstrated over and over again that data and statistical analysis could be applied to good purpose in many areas (see, for example, “Statistics for Administration” with Wallis (1958), “Stock Market ‘Patterns’ and Financial Analysis: Methodological Suggestions” (1959), “Bayesian Synthesis of Clinical and Statistical Prediction” with Pankoff (1968), “Regression Analyses in Employment Discrimination Cases” with Conway (1986), “Real World Total Quality Projects for Statistics” with Bateman (1995), and “Total Quality for Professors and Students” with Bateman (1995)). The pioneering statistical package IDA (Interactive Data Analysis) which Bob Ling and Harry developed in the early-seventies enabled rich data analysis in a way that the batch packages of the time could not. It quickly became the dominant package in schools of management and led to several manuscripts and books by Harry (some with Ling or Bateman) which demonstrated how one could do real data analysis on real data sets to solve real problems. His clear exposition of applied data analysis and the associated datasets in his Data Analysis for Managers (1988 and 1991) are still treasured by teachers and practitioners of statistics and valued by students.

Not content to be a tireless teacher, writer, researcher, and consultant, Harry carried the message of the value of data and sound data analysis to a wide variety of audiences (professional, medical, government, education, …) from Chicago to Beijing. The ASA Chicago Chapter archivist should try to retrieve a copy of his presentation at the 4th Annual Mid-West Conference of the CCASA entitled “Piercing the Communication Barrier with Statistics” (16 March 1957).

Harry’s vita is replete with many more examples of his advocacy as well as his other professional contributions. Beyond these accomplishments, though, he was
generous to all and touched many lives in his various roles of teacher, mentor, colleague, advisor, and consultant.