John Wilder Tukey: The Pioneer of Big Data and Visualization

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Sir Isaac Newton

Big Data and Data Visualization are two of the most dominating forces now shaping and steering our lives and our industry, but they’ve both had quite an interesting lineage and some very wide shoulders to stand upon.

Tukey“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.”
John W. Tukey Exploratory Data Analysis, 1977

John Wilder Tukey, a mathematician who first coined the term “exploratory data analysis,” was right when he suggested that the idea of visualization helps us see what we have not noticed before. That is especially true when you are trying to identify relationships and find meaning in huge amounts of collected data.

Tukey spent his whole career at Princeton. He became director of the newly founded Statistics Research Group when it was set up in 1956. He was the first Head of the Department of Statistics, which was set up at Princeton in 1965, holding the position for four years. At the AT&T Bell Laboratories, Tukey was involved in the development of electronic computers. He held a senior position in the Department of Statistics and Data Analysis from the time it was set up at AT&T in 1952.

A renowned statistician and researcher, John W. Tukey was credited with having coined the terms software and bit. Tukey was educated at Brown University, Providence, R.I., and Princeton University; he founded Princeton’s statistics department in 1965 and remained on the university’s faculty for the duration of his career. In an article that was published in the American Mathematical Monthly in 1958, he introduced the word software to describe programs on which electronic calculators ran.


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