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Frank Wilcoxon

BIOGRAPHY 21.1 Frank Wilcoxon (1882 -1965)

Frank Wilcoxon was born in Glengarriffe Castle, near Cork, Ireland, to wealthy American parents. He was soon brought to the United States where he attended Pennsylvania Military College, Rutgers, and Cornell. After receiving his doctorate as a physical chemist, Wilcoxon joined the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and began to study the use of copper compounds as fungicides. While doing so, he became part of a group, along with W. J. Youden (Biography 5.1), that studied the newly published Statistical Methods for Research Workers by Ronald A. Fisher (Biography 13.1). Through these achievements (and either in spite or because of his lifelong preoccupation with biochemistry, plant pathology, and entomology), he became a significant member of that small group of twentieth-century pioneers who developed new statistical methodology. In a now famous 1945 paper, he presented the rank-sum test and the signed-rank test now named after him. The basic idea of replacing actual sample data by their ranks, which seems so utterly simple in retrospect, proved to be inspirational to the further development of the entire field of nonparametric statistics. The elegant simplicity of these tests led to their widespread adoption and the fact that Wilcoxon in 1945 was not even aware of all the advantages of his new methods does not dim the luster of his contribution.

These advantages, not all of them discussed in text Chapter 21, include the ease and rapidity of calculation, the availability of exact significance levels without the restrictive normality assumption, the relative insensitivity to outlying sample observations, the invariance under certain monotonic transformations of the data, the applicability to situations where the data are ordinal, the excellent power properties for wide classes of alternative distributions, and the availability of distribution-free confidence intervals for the location parameters of interest. In addition, Wilcoxon contributed mightily to other aspects of statistics, in particular biological assay methods and sequential analysis (discussed in text Chapter 23).

Source: Adapted from International Encyclopedia of Statistics, vol. 2 (New York: The Free Press, 1978), pp.1245-1250.

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