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Math Makes Points: John Tukey

John W. Tukey

John Tukey is a pioneer in exploratory data analysis. Whenever we take samples of a product or of public opinion, we amass a collection of data points. If there are only two numbers that describe each observation, like the height and weight of students in a class, then that information can be plotted on a graph and we can see if the points "cluster" to reveal some relationship between the two quantities. But in the census data for a large city there may be many different numbers that describe each observation, three or four or more. John Tukey and his colleagues studied the "point clouds" that arise in such situations and manipulated them on a computer screen until patterns emerged that indicated relationships among different variables. To this day, one of the most significant uses of scientific visualization is in the analysis of such patterns in statistical data.

Software for rotating point clouds has been developed by Data Description Inc.

A site on Exploratory Data Analysis covers many aspects of the topic, as does the Engineering Statistics Handbook.

For more information about John Tukey and his work, see the biography the John Tukey.

Mathematics Awareness Month is sponsored each year by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics to recognize the importance of mathematics through written materials and an accompanying poster that highlight mathematical developments and applications in a particular area.