- Lucien Le Cam, one of the handful of men who developed the
modern theory of statistics, died April 25 at Doctor's Medical
Center in San Pablo at the age of 75.
an emeritus professor of statistics and mathematics at the
University of California, Berkeley, succumbed from a liver
problem he developed within the past year.
joined the UC Berkeley statistics department in the 1950s,
when the department was known around the world for its mathematical
approach to the field of statistics. Famed statistical pioneer
Jerzy Neyman, who built UC Berkeley's eminence in the field,
had embarked on a plan to provide a rigorous mathematical
basis for statistical methods that, at the time, were used
primarily in agriculture and government.
this foundation, Neyman and colleagues like Le Cam allowed
the spread of statistical methods throughout the sciences
and engineering. Today, these methods are applied in nearly
all fields, from sequencing the human genome and image analysis
to assessing the reliability of computer systems.
invited Le Cam to join his Berkeley Statistical Laboratory
in 1952, where in quick succession Le Cam obtained a PhD and
joined the mathematics faculty in 1953. Le Cam has been a
member of the Department of Statistics since 1955, when it
was first formed with Neyman as chair. Le Cam also served
as chair of the department from 1961 to 1965.
research concentrated on statistical methods called "asymptotic"
methods, which are used to analyze very large amounts of data.
His work provided a firm, rigorous foundation for the field.
was the principal architect of the modern asymptotic theory
of statistics, and one of the most important statisticians
in this century," said one of his former students and a long-time
collaborator, Grace Yang, professor of statistics at the University
of Maryland, College Park. "He did very abstract but very
fundamental work used broadly throughout the entire field
compiled his many ideas into a book, "Asymptotic Methods in
Statistical Decision Theory," that was far ahead of its time,
Yang said. The 742-page book, published in 1986, has been
studied widely throughout the world.
his emphasis on the fundamentals of statistics, Le Cam liked
to ground himself in real world problems. This served him
well when his teenage daughter came down with a rare bone
cancer, osteosarcoma, and the preferred treatment failed.
His research turned up an experimental therapy being tried
in San Francisco, and he got his daughter admitted to a clinical
trial. The new therapy worked, and Le Cam ended up collaborating
with the physicians as their statistician, eventually becoming
an expert on therapies for the disease.
age 23, he introduced a technique called the "characteristic
functional" to study the spatial and temporal distribution
of rainfall and its relation to stream flow, resulting in
a model known as "Le Cam's model" in hydrology.
loved working with students, continuing to mentor them until
the time he fell ill.
was always open, and he was very generous with his time,"
was born in Croze Creuse, France, on Nov. 18, 1924, and attended
the University of Paris, where he obtained his Licence es
Sciences in 1945. After graduate studies in Paris, he worked
as an applied statistician for Electricite de France in Paris
from 1945 to 1950. He moved permanently to UC Berkeley in
1950, leaving only once, from 1972 to 1973, to serve as director
of the Centre de Recherches Mathematiques at the Universite
de Montreal. Though he retired in 1991, he remained active
in the department until the day he became ill.
his career, he traveled widely giving invited lectures. He
was elected to the New York Academy of Sciences, the Societes
de Mathematique of France and Canada, the American Academy
of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the
Advancement of Science. He served as president of the Institute
of Mathematical Statistics in 1973.
an honorary degree in 1998 from the Institute of Statistics,
University of Brussels, Belgium. He also was a member of the
International Statistical Institute, the American Mathematical
Society and the American Statistical Association.
retirement from UC Berkeley, he was awarded the prestigious
He is the
author or editor of 10 books, included two editions of the
"Berkeley Symposium on Mathematical Statistics and Probability,"
which he co-edited with Jerzy Neyman. He completed two books
the week before his death, one a revision of his 1990 book
with Grace Yang, "Asymptotics in Statistics: Some Basic Concepts."
of Kensington, Calif., Le Cam is survived by his wife of 48
years, Louise Romig Le Cam; his daughter, Linda Le Cam, of
Santa Barbara; two sons, Denis of Washington, D.C., and Steven
of Reno, Nev.; and a brother, Jean Le Cam, of Felletin, France.
in remembrance of Le Cam is planned for early fall at UC Berkeley.