Record

Reference numberMS/935
LevelItem
TitleCorrespondence concerning biometrics between David John Finney FRS and Richard Cormack
Date23 April 1956 - 11 October 1997
DescriptionLetters chiefly concern Richard Cormack and David Finney's mutual area of expertise, biometrics and statistics. Both sides of the correspondence are present with only one enclosure of a letter from a third party: Dr Arthur Rayner of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Natal, South Africa.

What begins as a purely professional correspondence increasingly includes personal exchanges.

The initial correspondence dated 1956 concerns the possible appointment of Cormack to a position under Finney's management at the University of Aberdeen, either at the Torry Research Station or within the Department of Statistics, and the deferment of Cormack's military service for the duration of the appointment. Cormack went on to register as a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen and was appointed Assistant in the Department of Statistics with effect 1 August 1956.

The correspondence continues until 1997 and concerns potential research and early career opportunities for Cormack overseas and in Britain as well as the professional activities of both correspondents, including discussion of colleagues' work, lectures, meetings, and publications on biometrics including subject area journals and Finney and Cormack's own publications, notably Finney's book 'Statistics for Biologists' in 1980 and a paper by Cormack entitled 'A Test for Catchability' (1965).

The letters include exchanges regarding Finney's development of the Statistics Department at the University of Aberdeen and statistics education at the University of Aberdeen and later at Edinburgh (where Finney and Cormack both moved in 1966 when the The Agricultural Research Council funded Unit of Statistics was also relocated). Statistcs education is discussed as part of various courses including ecology, botany and genetics and the involvement of both correspondents in several specific research projects is mentioned, including a Culterty Field Station research project on animal life present in mud (1964) and a fetiliser survey. The letters also cover statistics education more broadly and make comparison of academia and the field of statistics in the USA and Britain. Cormack spent 1964-65 at the Department of Mathematics, University of Washington, USA which he refers to in a letter of 13 July 1965 as a 'Pacific Wonderland' and returned to do further research there in subsequent years. Several of the letters are addressed from Finney at Harvard University Medical School, Department of Preventitive Medicine, where Finney spent a sabbatical year in 1962 - 1963.

Both correspondents were involved with The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Royal Society of Edinburgh, International Statistical Institute (where Finney was Director of the Research Centre from 1987), Institute of Statisticians (merged with the Royal Statistical Society in 1993) and the Biometric Society. Activities with these organisations feature in the correspondence including comments on election of members and contributing, editing, reviewing and refereeing for their journal publications and those of other organisations. There is an extended exchange regarding the best editorial methods for presenting statistical findings in publications, including use of Pearson's formula, graphical representation, algebraic symbols and standradised English (correspondence dated 1991-1997, during which time Finney was on the Editorial Committe for the journal 'Biometrics').

There are some significant periods within the covering dates for which no letters are present in the collection. There are no letter for the years 1966-1971.
Extent108 letters
FormatTypescript
Manuscript
Computer printout
Physical descriptionLoose papers, boxed
Access statusOpen
Administrative historyRichard Melville Cormack is one of the giants who developed the theory of mark-recapture. Referring to his key paper in 1964, and the papers published back-to-back in 1965 by George Jolly and George Seber, the `Cormack-Jolly-Seber model' is central to the development of mark-recapture methods for estimating survival. Richard was born on 12 March 1935. His father was Principal of Stow College of Engineering in Glasgow. From the age of 7, Richard attended Glasgow Academy, and later entered directly into the second year at Kings College, Cambridge, intending at the time to be a theoretical astronomer. He secured first class honours in Special Mathematics from London as an external student in 1954, and second class honours in Mathematics from Cambridge in 1955. After changing direction, he left Cambridge in 1956 with a Distinction in the Diploma in Mathematical Statistics. Richard's PhD, undertaken while a lecturer at Aberdeen, was completed in 1961. Richard's period at Aberdeen (1956-66) coincided with a golden era for statistics there, and his colleagues included D.J. Finney, Bill Brass, Peter Fisk, David M.G. Wishart, Michael Sampford, Robert Curnow, George Jolly and Andrew Rutherford (the last four being members of the ARC Unit of Statistics). In common with a number of these colleagues, he moved to Edinburgh in 1966, holding a Senior Lectureship there until 1972, when he became the first Professor of Statistics at St Andrews. Richard's groundbreaking contributions to mark-recapture in the early 1960s continued when he addressed the issue of heterogeneity in capture probabilities, publishing a test for heterogeneity in Biometrics in 1966. Then in 1972, in another Biometrics paper, he showed the logic behind capture-recapture estimates, making the methods more accessible and understandable to the user community. In 1981, jointly with Philip North, Richard published important insights into mark-recovery models. His work on log-linear models for mark-recapture led to papers in Biometrika in 1984 (with Ron Sandland) and 1991 (with Peter Jupp), and in Biometrics in 1989, and additionally, to four book chapters. There was also a sequence of Biometrics capture-recapture papers in the 1990s: on modelling covariates (1990), on interval estimation (1992) and on variance estimation (1993). After retirement in 1994, his publications in mark-recapture were mostly as co-author in epidemiology studies. Richard also published on other diverse topics, often with scientists from other disciplines. His 1971 review of classification, read to the Research Committee of RSS and later appearing in JRSS A, is a classic, and while his 1988 exposition on statistical challenges in the environmental sciences (also in JRSS A) has had substantially less impact, it too showed his characteristic incisiveness. His contributions to a wide range of committees, working groups, visiting groups and scientific organisations (including council member for NERC and the Freshwater Biological Association) were substantial. He was elected a member of the ISI in 1962 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1974. He held various offices within the Biometric Society, as Secretary of the British Region 1970-77, Regional President 1990-92 and President of the International Society 1980-81. He served on the Council and various committees of the Royal Statistical Society. Richard married Edith Whittaker on 1st September 1960, at King's College Chapel, Aberdeen. Edith is a plant ecologist, and a past chairperson of the Fife and Kinross Branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and of the Friends of St Andrews Botanic Garden: she was also a founding member of the Garden's Education Trust. Their son Andrew is a European Chartered Engineer working for the JANET network, while their daughter Anne is a Marketing Manager. Photography has been a passion of Richard's for many decades. He was lecturer and judge for 40 years for the Scottish Photographic Federation, and was placed on their roll of honour. He has held exhibitions in Dundee (Land of the Berbers), St Andrews (Growth and Form) and Aberdeen (Walking in the North), and has given many talks. Richard firmly established the University of St Andrews as a centre for statistical ecology, a strength that continues today.
Citation:
Buckland , S T 2016 , ' A conversation with Richard M. Cormack ' Statistical Science , vol. 31 , no. 2 , pp. 142-150 . https://doi.org/10.1214/15-STS543
Fellows associated with this archive
CodeNameDates
NA4124Finney; David John (1917 - 2018)1917 - 2018
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