Health Research and Policy

History of Stanford Biostatistics

Study_Nav_ButtonScientific work in biostatistics at Stanford began even before the School of Medicine moved to Palo Alto in 1959 in the person of Lincoln Moses, whose appointment was split between Community Medicine and the Department of Statistics in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Shortly after, Biostatistics became a Division of what was the Department of Community Medicine. Lincoln was joined soon by then recent Stanford Ph.D., the late Rupert G. Miller, Jr. He became Division Chief and also had an appointment split between the School of Medicine and Department of Statistics. They were joined by the late Byron Wm. (Bill) Brown, Jr. in 1968. He was entirely in the School of Medicine until his formal retirement in 1998; he was recalled to active duty until his death in late 2004. The faculty was completed for a period of years when it was joined by Bradley Efron, again with a split appointment.

From the beginning the Division has been involved in the research activities of every clinical division in the School; many basic science departments, too; and in national efforts that involved biostatistics. These included but were not limited to the celebrated National Halothane Study in the 1960s, as well as the pioneering research of Kaplan, Rosenberg, Levy and colleagues, first into the treatment of Hodgkin's disease and later that of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. As well, biostatistics was central to the development at Stanford of its celebrated efforts regarding heart transplantation and to the beginning and evolution of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, in all manner of research in pharmacology, and much else.

There has always been a strong interplay here between practical matters and collaboration with medical colleagues on the one hand and the development of cutting edge methodological work in statistics on the other. Examples include but are far from limited to innovations in survival analysis; the development of biased coin designs for clinical trials; sample reuse methods; and approaches to data mining, as it bears upon computer-aided diagnosis and prognosis, in cardiology, cancer, and transplantation. Among current members of the Division are the originator of the famous bootstrap technique for making inferences about the parameters of models and prediction when doing so mathematically is not tractable, and one of the four developers of popular CART R methodology for classification and regression, now including survival analysis and clustering. Members also include world authorities regarding inference on longitudinal data using wavelets, and concerning generalized additive models and machine learning. One of its members is coauthor of a significant part of the S package, which in various forms is among the most widely used statistical software in the world. More recently, members of the Division have worked on algorithms for analyzing gene expression profiles and cis-regulatory sequences; the human genetics of complex diseases; many aspects of image compression and enhancement, especially in CT, MR, and mammography; and on studies of the cost-effectiveness of medical screening and interventions.

To return to the historical development, in 1988 the Division of Biostatistics became one of three divisions of the new Department of Health Research and Policy, the other two being Epidemiology and Health Services Research. Bill Brown was founding Chair of the Department and also Division Chief. Sadly, by that time Rupert, superb scientist, statistician, mathematician, and raconteur, had died. His position was taken in 1989 by Iain Johnstone, who was already at Stanford in the Department of Statistics. He is not less distinguished than Rupert, indeed, is an international leader in his own right. Richard Olshen, current Division Chief, returned to Stanford from the University of California, San Diego in 1989. Trevor Hastie also returned, from Bell Laboratories, as Associate Professor of Statistics and Biostatistics in 1994. For some time he has been Professor Robert (Rob) Tibshirani, current Associate Chair of the Department, returned from the University of Toronto in 1998. He is Professor of Health Research and Policy (Biostatistics). Wing Wong joined the Division from Harvard in 2004, and former Professor (Research) Philip Lavori as Professor of Health Research and Policy (Biostatistics) in 2005. Dr. Wong is Professor of Statistics and of Health Research and Policy (Biostatistics). He is an important member of Stanford's Bio-X, with lab in the Clark Center. Dr. Lavori is incoming Chair of the Department and will take a leading role in Stanford's new Cancer Center. He has been in charge of clinical trials and field studies at the Veterans Administration Hospitals in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

Individuals mentioned thus far all occupy, or did, regular tenured billets. In fact, Efron is the Max H. Stein Professor. However, there are others without whom the Division could not enjoy the great success that it does. Professor (Research) Daniel Bloch works in a wide range of biostatistical application areas and has helped set standards of treatment for some autoimmune diseases. Assistant Professor (Research) Laura Lazzeroni specializes in statistical genetics and related computer-intensive statistical techniques. Senior Research Scientist, Dr. Tyson Holmes, is a biostatistical collaborator to basic lab research, clinical trials, and epidemiological studies. He also serves as a biostatistical adviser to faculty, research staff, research fellows, medical students and graduate students. Senior Research Scientists Drs. Jerry Halpern and Balasubramanian Narasimhan are involved in many aspects of research, especially that involves cancer. Dr. Narasimhan (Naras) is Director of the Data Coordinating Center (DCC), that is discussed elsewhere on these pages. Web Master Bonnie Chung, and Administrative Associate Kevin Horner round out the team.

We are proud that the Division of Biostatistics has fared well in review external to Stanford. The American Council on Education ratings by various criteria over a period of years have judged Stanford never worse than second in Statistics and Biostatistics, and in many comparisons we are first. Brown was, and Moses, is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Alice Whittemore, who is primarily in Epidemiology but who also is affiliated with Biostatistics, is a member of the Institute of Medicine. Efron and Johnstone are members of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as is Moses. Efron has been a MacArthur Prize Fellow. Johnstone, Tibshirani, and Wong have won the COPSS Award from the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies as, in their respective years, the best statisticians not more than the age of forty anywhere in the world. Tibshirani is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Johnstone, Olshen, and Tibshirani have been Guggenheim Fellows and Olshen the recipient of a Research Scholar in Cancer Award from the American Cancer Society. Hastie and Tibshirani are authors of a widely used text on additive models and coauthors of a recent important book on statistical learning, which are complemented by Hastie's authorship of important statistical software. As well, Efron and Tibshirani have written the fundamental book on the bootstrap, and Olshen and others the basic monograph on classification and regression trees.

We in the Division of Biostatistics expect to participate with colleagues in the School of Medicine and beyond in the wonderful growth of biomedical science in the near and long term. We have always tried to meet the highest standards of performance in research, teaching, and service (the latter given evidence to, for example, by Efron, Johnstone, and Moses having been or currently serving as Deans, and Efron head of the University's most senior professorial committee, the Advisory Board). With luck and hard work we will build from strength toward a productive future.

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