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\noindent{\bf Joseph Oscar IRWIN}\\
b. 17 December 1898 - d. 27 July
1982
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\noindent{\bf Summary.} Oscar Irwin was the leading theoretician amongst
British medical
statistians and contributed especially to the use of statistical methods in
biological assay and other fields of laboratory medicine.
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During the middle third of the 20th century, Oscar Irwin played an
important role in linking theoretical statistics to applications in
medicine. Amongst British statisticians he was unique in combining
a deep understanding of current developments in mathematical
statistics with a career commitment to medical research.
Irwin was born in London. After school, where he had specialised
in classics and mathematics,
Irwin was due to enter Cambridge University in 1917. His
undergraduate career was delayed first by illness, and then by the
remarkable opportunity to do wartime service with Karl Pearson (q.v.)
working on anti-aircraft trajectories. On achieving his degree in
1921 he was offered a post with Pearson on the staff at University
College London. Renewed illness led to a period of recuperation in
Switzerland, initiating a life-long love of that country and, in
later life, marriage to a Swiss lady and a final move to
Switzerland after retirement. He died in Schaffhausen.
In 1928 Irwin joined R.A. Fisher's (q.v.) department at Rothamsted
Experimental Station. He was thus one of the few statisticians to
work with both Karl Pearson and Fisher, and he was able to maintain
cordial relations with both of these strong but disparate
personalities. Fisher encouraged Irwin to read, and if necessary
interpret, the theoretical papers he (Fisher) had published in the
1920's, and Fisher's powerful ideas provided a stimulus for Irwin's
work throughout his career. Fisher always expressed a high opinion
of Irwin's mathematical ability.
In 1931 Irwin joined the staff of the (British) Medical Research
Council (MRC) in a small unit at the London School of Hygiene and
Tropical Medicine, where he was to stay for most the the next 30
years. His main responsibilities were in research, but for most of
this period he taught an annual course in statistical methods for
medical research workers, introducing topics such as analysis of
variance that were relatively unfamiliar in this field of
application. During the war years (1940-45) he worked in
Cambridge, teaching statistics to mathematicians, many of whom
pursued subsequent careers in statistics. Irwin returned to the
MRC unit in London after the war, and retired in 1965.
Irwin's early work reveals great mathematical fluency, which he
retained throughout his career. In Irwin (1927) he derived the
distribution of the sample mean from various distributions using
the characteristic function. At Rothamsted he wrote on various
agricultural topics, but was stimulated by his close contact with
Fisher into theoretical research on topics like the analysis of
variance and the theory of interval estimation. In 1931 he started
a series of papers, with bibliographies, on `Recent advances in
mathematical statistics', which played an important role in
spreading knowledge about theoretical statistics at a time when few
relevant books existed.
His move to the MRC broadened his research interests. These
included factor analysis in psychological testing, and theories of
accident proneness, but otherwise his activities centered on
laboratory experimentation. Most of this work was activated by
collaboration with scientists whom he met on committees or who came
to the unit for advice. There were papers on the estimation of
bacterial populations, and most notably on biological assay and
standardization (Irwin, 1937, 1950). An important contribution to
statistical methodology was the `exact' test for $2 \times 2$ tables
(Irwin, 1935), published independently from a paper by F. Yates and
an account in a new edition of Fisher's {\it Statistical Methods
for Research Workers}.
After the war Irwin retained a position as the foremost adviser for
the MRC on laboratory biostatistics, and he embarked on many
long-term collaborative programmes, often for official committees.
These included collaborative assays, nutritional studies, studies
of physiological responses to hot climates, and laboratory tests
for carcinogenicity of tars and mineral oils. In most of these
projects he found scope for the investigation of theoretical
problems; in the analysis of carcinogenicity experiments, for
instance, he used actuarial methods that anticiapted some of the
later work on censored survival data. Towards the end of his
working career he became very interested in the Waring family of
long-tailed discrete distributions, based on series of inverse
factorials. Many of these topics were discussed in his
Presidential Address to the Royal Statistical Society (Irwin,
1963).
Irwin participated actively in many professional societies, notably
the International Statistical Institute, the Royal Statistical
Society (President in 1962-64 and Editor of the {\it Journal,
Series B} from 1949-59) and Biometric Society. In all, he
published about 120 papers.
Irwin's role in medical statistics, concentrated as it was in the
laboratory, tended to be overshadowed by the striking post-war
developments in epidemiology and clinical trials. For this reason,
and perhaps also lowing to a certain reserve in his personality,
Irwin often seemed to be working behind the scenes rather than in
the front of the stage. He was a fine expositor, particularly in
his written work, and sought throughout his career to integrate the
diverse strands of statistical theory and practice.
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\begin{thebibliography}{3}
\bibitem{1} Irwin, J.O. (1927). On the frequency distribution of the
means of samples from a population having any law of frequency with
finite moments with special reference to Pearson's Type II. {\it
Biometrika} {\bf 19}, 225-239.
\bibitem{2} Irwin, J.O. (1935). Tests of significance for differences
between percentages based on small numbers. {\it Metron} {\bf 12},
83-94.
\bibitem{3} Irwin, J.O. (1937). Statistical method applied to biological
assays. {\it Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Supplement}
{\bf 4}, 1-60.
\bibitem{4} Irwin, J.O. (1950). Biological assays with special reference
to biological standards. {\it Journal of Hygiene} {\bf 48},
215-238.
\bibitem{5} Irwin, J.O. (1963). The place of mathematics in medical
and biological statistics. {\it Journal of the Royal Statistical
Society, Series A} {\bf 126}, 1-45.
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\bibitem{6} {\bf Further Bibliography}
\bibitem{7} Armitage, P. (1983). Joseph Oscar Irwin, 1898-1982.
{\it Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A} {\bf 146},
526-528.
\bibitem{8} Greenberg, B.G. (1983). Joseph Oscar Irwin, 1898-1982: an
obituary appreciation. {\it Biometrics} {\bf 39}, 527-528.
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\hfill{Peter Armitage}
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