Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

The Elder

From “Dish and Dishonesty”:

Pitt the Younger: You will regret this, gentlemen. You think you can thwart my plans to bankrupt the Prince by fixing the Dunny-on-the-Wold bye-election, but you will be thrashed! I intend to put up my own brother as a candidate against you.

Edmund: Oh, and which Pitt would this be? Pitt the Toddler? Pitt the Embryo? Pitt the Glint in the Milkman’s Eye?

Paul Wolfowitz is leaving the World Bank. His father was a well-known mathematician recognized for his contributions to statistics. Part of these contributions are to the field of information theory for which Wolfowitz the Elder, a moniker at least one professor uses to refer to him, received a Shannon Award. In the same way Pitt the Younger followed his father’s footsteps by joining Parliament, Wolfowitz the Elder wanted his son to follow him into mathematics. This did not happen, and the path taken by Wolfowitz the Younger was described in detail in a CAM article a few years ago. One of the final paragraphs of the article discusses what Wolfowitz the Elder thought of his son’s decision later in life.

In time, as Paul’s career took him from Yale to the Pentagon and the State Department, Jack Wolfowitz seemed to make peace with his son’s choice. At the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he taught from 1978 until his death in 1981, he often spoke with pride about Paul’s accomplishments as a rising policymaker. Manoug Manougian, chairman of the USF math department, grew close to the distinguished mathematician in his final years. “Jack was a very down-to-earth, peace-loving person,” he says. When Paul visited, they played tennis and argued about books. “What a shame,” Jack sometimes said of his son, “that Paul didn’t continue in math.”

Quite a few people in our office have at least one parent who is or was at one time a professor. Others do not come from academic families. At the moment, it is unclear whom among us will pursue academia and whom industry. In general, it would be interesting to see if there is a greater trend among children of academics to stay within academia.

I wonder if Jim Pitman, whose class I took in the stat department, has considered this problem. Although his research and teaching interests are in probability and not statistics, he may have a different incentive to consider the problem. While browsing through a probability text (Feller?) written before Pitman joined our faculty, I was surprised to find a result attributed to him. It turned out the work in question was by Pitman the Elder.

One response

  1. Anonymous

    why aren’t you posting? Surely, the move is providing much fodder… Looking forward to reading about it! –Neelam

    May 28, 2007 at 5:54 am

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