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Professor Bernard W. Silverman: oration

Read Professor Chris Jennison's oration on Professor Bernard W. Silverman FRS FAcSS for the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in May 2017.


Vice-Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce Professor Bernard Silverman FRS FAcSS, a statistician of the highest renown.

At the age of 18, Bernard Silverman won a gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad. He studied Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, completing his PhD on Data Analysis: Some Theory and Practice. In a brief spell at Sinclair Radionics, he and a colleague designed the first programmable pocket calculator. Thus, when he started as a Junior Lecturer at the University of Oxford, he had demonstrated an impressive mathematical ability, an affinity for computing and an interest in developing the theory and practice of statistics.

Disregarding warnings that “he would find no intelligent people outside Oxford”, Bernard responded to an invitation from Professor Robin Sibson to move to the University of Bath in 1978. At a time when the University was developing its research profile, he led by example, publishing influential papers on density estimation and nonparametric regression. In the 1970s and 1980s, high-speed computers were opening new horizons for statistics; Bernard’s work can be characterised as providing deep understanding of the new methods that computation made possible. While at Bath, he was a founder of the field of functional data analysis, in which each data point is a curve or more complex object; with ever larger quantities of data being collected, these methods have found widespread application. Bernard’s work is notable for combining theory and practical computing, illustrating the methods with real-life examples. In parallel to fundamental research, he has also enjoyed fruitful collaborations in materials science, biology, pharmacology and veterinary research.

Bernard was appointed to the University of Bath’s first ever personal chair in 1984 and he served as Head of the School of Mathematical Sciences from 1988 to 1991. He provided strategic leadership at all levels, for the Statistics Group, for the Department and in serving on a host of University Committees. He produced the formula to calculate the bonus that Departments should receive in a scheme promoting overseas recruitment and he was responsible for the Resource Allocation Model that underpinned cost-centre accounting. He was a member of the Committee on the Office of Vice-Chancellor that recommended the appointment of Professor David VandeLinde.

Bernard left Bath for the University of Bristol in 1993, where he continued to inspire through his teaching and research supervision, as well as breaking new ground in his own research into the theory and application of wavelets. From 2003 to 2009, he served as Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford.

Bernard’s reputation as an eminent statistician, combined with his leadership and management experience, made him an ideal candidate for the post of Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office. In filling this role from 2010 to 2017, he has applied his statistical expertise in areas that affect us all. He used queueing theory to reduce the time taken to cross the border into the UK, contributing to the smooth running of the 2012 Olympics. His analysis of the behaviour of people who had been arrested but not convicted concluded it was fair to keep their DNA profiles for three years but no longer; this is now enshrined in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. In the context of legislation on Modern Slavery, Bernard applied methods first developed in ecology to combine data from a variety of sources in assessing the scale of the problem, including the “dark figure” of cases that are not recorded at all.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Bernard Silverman who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

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