Probability has been around for a long time; a lot longer than people have called it probability. Likelihood, possibility, chance, and odds are all synonyms for probability. However, people studying probability and looking into games of chance started with a correspondence between the French mathematicians Pierre de Fermat and Blaise Pascal in 1654. They were questioned about what should happen if a game of chance was interrupted. Pascal and de Fermat each gave different solutions to the problem but with the same answers. They were not the first ones to write about probabilities but Girolamo Cardano’s book on odds from a century earlier was not put into print until 1663, after de Fermat and Pascal were known for their ideas. Probability theory began to flourish and according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, ““When it began to flourish, it did so in the context of the “new science” of the 17th-century scientific revolution, when the use of calculation to solve tricky problems had gained a new credibility.” (Porter, 2020) People used probability theory for everything from games of chance to annuities to banking to insurance. Pascal used his probability theory to argue about the existence of God, that it basically was a bet about whether there was a God or not. Encyclopaedia Britannica (2020) that “probability came to be seen during the 18th-century Enlightenment as a mathematical version of sound reasoning.” Probabilities have been discussed and argued in the centuries since that correspondence between Pascal and de Fermat.
David Blackwell (born April 24, 1919- died July 8, 2010) was a noted mathematician who was born the son of a railroad worker. He was born in Illinois and died in California. He taught himself to read and had plans to become an elementary school teacher. He earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in mathematics. He worked at several schools during his career, including Clark College in Atlanta. Blackwell was the first African American member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
Blackwell made a number of contributions to probability and statistics. He has improved understanding about probability theory, game theory, information theory and others. According to the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation which states, “He has admitted that he was “sort of a dilettante” who simply liked solving problems, regardless of what mathematical or statistical field they fell under.” (2012) NSTMF also stated
He analyzed bluffing in poker and used statistics to calculate the most opportune moment for a person in a duel to shoot. He used mathematics to understand multi-stage decision making and then saw his work applied in areas like defense and finance. His work on dynamic programming has been used in genetic analysis among other fields. A handful of theorems, equations, and concepts bear his name. (2012)
Blackwell’s work has contributed greatly to the field of mathematics and is usually the first name that comes up when ethnic mathematicians are searched on the internet.
William Massey is an African American mathematician that has contributed to the field of applied psychology and African American mathematicians in general. He was born in 1956 in Jefferson City, Missouri. He went to public schools in St. Louis and college in University City. He got his bachelor’s from Princeton and his doctorate from Stanford. He helped to create the Council for African American researcher in the Mathematical Sciences (CAARMS) which encourages young African American students to pursue their interests in the field of mathematics. In that way, Dr. Massey’s influence on the subject of probability and statistics will probably be far-reaching and the effects not known for some time. Dr. Massey has given lectures all over the world and is an internationally known researcher in applied probability. According to Cornell Engineering’s website, “Much research involving probability is done under the auspices of applied probability, the application of probability theory to other scientific and engineering domains.” Therefore, probability plays a role in many areas of mathematics and science.
Statistics has also been around for longer than the name. The census’ taken from ancient times could be considered a form of statistics. The name itself has been used since the 18th century with different connotations applied to it. EMathzone states,
Gottfried Achenwall used the word statistik at a German university in 1749 to mean the political science of different countries. In 1771 W. Hooper (an Englishman) used the word statistics in his translation of Elements of Universal Erudition written by Baron B.F Bieford. In his book, statistics was defined as the science that teaches us the political arrangement of all the modern states of the known world. There is a big gap between the old statistics and modern statistics, but old statistics is also used as a part of present-day statistics.
Modern day statistics are in most areas of people’s lives. Encyclopaedia Britannica (2020) states, “Statistical tools are at work in almost every area of life, including agriculture, business, engineering, medicine, law, regulation, and social policy, as well as in the physical, biological, and social sciences and even in parts of the academic humanities.”
Donald Richards is a mathematician who was born in Jamaica in 1955. He received his PhD from the University of the West Indies in 1978. He currently works at Pennsylvania State University in the Department of Statistics where he is Associate Head of the department. The Digital Library of Mathematical Functions (2020) lists Richards as, “Richards was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 1998. He is also Associate Editor of the Annals of Statistics, Associate Review Editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, and Member of the Board of Governors of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications.”
Dr. Richards has researched and published papers on multivariate statistical analysis, probability inequalities, applied probability, special functions of matrix argument, and harmonic analysis. He has published over 50 papers in Mathematical Analysis and Statistics. Dr. Richards has also published books on hypergeometric functions and representation theory.
[bookmark: _Hlk37000900] Albert Bharucha-Reid was born in Virginia in 1927 with the name Albert Reid. He later assumed the name of his wife. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University in 1949. He never earned a PhD because he did not see the point. Nonetheless, he worked in his chosen field and published 8 papers by the age of 26. He worked in numerous institutes, including Michigan, Chicago, UCB, Poland, India, Wisconsin, and Georgia Tech before going to work at Clarke-Atlanta University. He passed away in 1985 in Atlanta.
Dr. Bharucha-Reid researched and published on several topics in mathematics, including statistics, mathematical biology, analysis, algebra, and topology. He published his first paper at the age of 18. He published 6 books and more than 70 papers. His success in mathematics is an inspiration to countless other students, despite not having earned a PhD. He obviously could have earned that title if it was important to him.
These four mathematicians have changed the science of mathematics, not only by their works, but by their willingness to share their knowledge with the world though their writings and teachings.
David Blackwell. (2012). Retrieved from National Science & Technology Medals Foundation: https://www.nationalmedals.org/laureates/david-blackwell
F. W. J. Olver, A. B. (2020, March 15). Donald St. P. Richards. Retrieved from Digital Library of Mathematical Functions: https://dlmf.nist.gov/about/bio/DSPRichards
Fikes, R. (2018, August 12). Albert T. Bharucha-Reid (1927-1985). Retrieved from BlackPast: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/bharucha-reid-albert-t-1927-1985/
History of Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from EMathzone: https://www.emathzone.com/tutorials/basic-statistics/history-of-statistics.html
Porter, T. M. (2020, February 3). Probability and statistics. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/science/probability
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