Celebrating the life and contributions of Ian B MacNeill

Abdel El-Shaarawi

Dr. Ian MacNeill, The Man and his Impact on Environmetrics

Ian was a great man and a brilliant statistician. His interests were broad and varied and he made lasting contributions to change point inferences and their applications to environmental and health sciences. He was a co-founder of the journal Environmetrics and Vice-President of the founding Board of Directors of TIES. He was a co-chair of the first two TIES conferences (1989 and 1990) and attended most TIES conferences with the last one being 2013 in Alaska. Members of TIES who met him remember a man with a friendly smile and broad knowledge of environmental issues and the role of statistics in addressing them.

My association with Ian started in 1981 when he attended the conference “Time Series Methods in Hydrosciences” and then participated in the two subsequent conferences (1985 and 1988) which I organized at the National Water Research Institute in Burlington, Ontario. The objective of these conferences was to create a movement to establish a body for regular communication among quantitative scientists who are involved in environmental issues. The proceedings of the first two conferences were published in Elsevier’s book series “Developments in Water Science” as volumes 17 and 27. The 1988 conference proceeding was published in 1989 by Springer as a book and also as two issues of the journal “Environment Monitoring and Assessment”. Switching from Elsevier to Springer was caused by the refusal of Elsevier to accept my two proposals (one in 1980 and other 1984) to publish a journal under the name Environmetrics.

At the 1988 conference I informed the delegates with my intention to organize a conference in 1989 in Cairo under the name Environmetrics and invited our keynote speaker Stu Hunter to give also the Keynote address for the Cairo conference. Ian was present at the discussion with Stu and he expressed his keen interest in helping, so I invited him to join me as a Co-Chair of the conference. Ian used the facility at University of Western Ontario to produce the stunning poster for the conference. I made all the arrangements for the conference including the social program through a package by MISR Travel that included travel, accommodation and meals at Hilton Ramses in Cairo. Ian and Sylvia were involved in the setting of the scientific program. The decision was made to establish The International Environmetrics Society. The Founding Board of TIES was truly multidisciplinary and this was an important consideration when Ian and I sought other members of that Board. Many of the conference participants joined the post-conference Nile cruise with visits to the Egyptian monuments in Cairo and along the banks of the Nile all the way from Cairo to Aswan. The hard work of registering TIES as a Canadian non-profit organization was done largely by Sylvia. I was also pleased to have Ian to co-chair the 1990 conference in Como Italy. At this conference we accepted Wiley’s offer to publish Environmetrics and that was the end of Environmetrics Press, the company Ian and I had started for the publication of Environmetrics.

Sylvia Esterby

I knew Ian through my association with statisticians at the University of Western Ontario in which Ian was instrumental; the Statistical Society of Canada, the home for Canadian statisticians; and, of course, The International Environmetrics Society (TIES). The link between statisticians at the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) and the University of Western Ontario (UWO) lead to Ian being involved in the beginnings of TIES and Environmetrics. On a more personal level, Ian and I are from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, a small prairie province still close to its pioneering roots. Our TIES colleague, Serge Provost, has written a sensitive account of Ian’s distinguished career and legacy (https://ssc.ca/en/publications/ssc-liaison/vol-33-1-february-2019/ian-b-macneill-1931-2019). Ian was a forward thinker, as evidenced by his leadership in founding the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at UWO, and his willingness to undertake an adventure in the simultaneous founding of Environmetrics and organization of the foundational conference, the International Conference on Statistical Methods for the Environmental Sciences, in Cairo at the Hilton Ramses Hotel, April 4-7 1989. Unlike our current online announcements, a crucial aspect to the founding of TIES, through drawing attention to the conference, was the stunning Cairo poster Ian had prepared by the Department of Graphic Services at UWO. Also, the first volume of Environmetrics was published by Environmetrics Press Inc. founded by Abdel and Ian and typeset by SCiTEX at UWO.

There are numerous anecdotes that could be recounted reminding us of a long association and friendship with Ian centering around environmetrics, and I include several. At the 1988 NWRI conference, a banquet conversation brought township- based birth registrations in Saskatchewan to light in the discussion of spatially explicit data being analyzed by David Brillinger. One of the first community building aspects of TIES conferences was the Egyptian night aboard the Nile cruise after the 1989 conference where Ian and his wife Pat were part of the multidisciplinary group, some in costumes and all enjoying the food and dance. At TIES Gold Coast Australia conference in 1998, Ian and his wife Pat were joined by Ian’s PhD supervisor, Manny Parzen, and Mrs Parzen, and I have recollections of the fun we all had square dancing. More recently Ian, Abdel and I were together to celebrate another memorable TIES conference, Anchorage Alaska 2013 (see Volume 19 Issue 2 of TIES Newsletter for a picture).

Elena Naumova

I would like to share some facts that might be not known to many. In 2005, at the Tufts Medical School we had established the Ian MacNeill Award to reinforce the value of statistical disciplines in public health research and practice. This award honors Ian’s work and in the inaugural speech I introduced Ian to the audience. In Ian’s very humble way the award was presented to the recipient and everyone had noted how happy both the recipient and Ian were. The award has been now given to over a dozen of graduate students. Here are a few quotes from their testimonials:

"Winning the Ian MacNeill Award absolutely influenced my career trajectory. It made me confident that I did have ability in this area and made me hungry to learn more about statistics and data analysis and become more skilled at it."

"The Ian MacNeill Award has had a major impact on my career thus far; it gave me the confidence in my quantitative abilities to pursue a Ph.D. in epidemiology."

"While I have always been passionate about data analysis, receiving the Ian MacNeill award impacted my career tremendously. It encouraged me to continue my pursuit of rigorous and ethical research."

The hit prize that comes with the Award is a 20-sided dice. In the 2016, to Ian’s delight we had presented him with two! 20-sided icosahedrons at the annual meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada. At the meeting, we (Venkata K. Jandhyala and Elena Naumova) were fortunate to record the conversation with Ian ( link to paper ).

Back to TOP