Fathers of datavisualization: John Tukey 1915-2000

“There is no data that can be displayed in a pie chart, that cannot be displayed BETTER in some other type of chart.” John Tukey is an American statistician who made major contributions to statistics and data-visualization. Along with developing the FFT algorithm, Tukey was the creator of a new type of graph- the box plot. For his extensive work, Tukey received many honors including an appointment as a foreign member of the Royal Society and the Shewhart Medal.

Tukey was born on June 16, 1915 in New Bedford, Massachusetts to Ralph and Adah Tukey. After showing great promise as a child, Tukey attended Brown University attaining his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Science in Chemistry. He later attended Princeton University to achieve his Ph.D. in mathematics.

Tukey worked at the Fire Control Research Office during the Second World War and then at AT&T Bell laboratories. He also served on committees within the American Statistical Association and authored twelve statistical publications. His book Exploratory Data Analysis- first published in 1977- included the first example of the box plot ever. This graph summarizes five main points of a series of data. These are: the minimum and maximum, the median, the first quartile and the third quartile.

He also clarified the difference between Exploratory Data Analysis and Confirmatory Data Analysis as the former merely analyzes data while the latter uses the data to reach a definitive decision. Furthermore, though he did not create the term software, he was the first to use it in print in 1958.

After an illustrious career, John Tukey retired in 1985. He passed away July, 26 2000.