Right: Jon Wellner (’68) is knighted in the Order of the Lion by P.P.M. Hageman, honorary Dutch Consul in Seattle.

Photo provided by Raezer Photography

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Jon Wellner is knighted by P.P.M. Hageman.

Good Knight: Jon Wellner is knighted for his work with Dutch colleagues

By Donna Emert

In a brief ceremony at the University of Washington this summer, the Dutch Consul bestowed the Order of the Netherlands Lion, an honor established in 1815 by King William I of the Netherlands, upon University of Washington Professor of Statistics Jon Wellner (’68). Knighthood in the Order of the Lion is awarded to “those with merits of a very exceptional nature for society.”

Much of Wellner’s exceptional, ground- breaking research in probability and statistics has been supported by decades-long partnerships with Dutch colleagues.

“I am pleased and proud about this honor because of my long and continuing association with the Dutch school of statistics,” said Wellner. “They have a very strong tradition of statistical research. It has been a very great pleasure for me to collaborate with them and learn from them.”

That collaboration has helped enlarge the community involved with semi-parametric models, empirical processes, and inference with shape constraints, he added.

Wellner has authored and co-authored numerous research publications, including three research monographs with Dutch co-authors Chris Klaassen, Piet Groeneboom and Aad van der Vaart. These books continue to be widely cited.

The centuries old Knights’ Code includes a commitment to speaking the truth. Statisticians take that challenge up a click, and seek to distill the truest truths, ultimately helping fellow scientists reach accurate conclusions based on the data that statistical formulas analyze.

“Since perfect, zero-variance estimation is impossible, it is important to know what is possible in order to have benchmarks for the performance, or variability, of particular estimation procedures,” said Wellner. “The book with Peter Bickel, Chris Klaassen and Ya'acov Ritov gives a description of lower bound theory which applies to semi-parametric models quite generally. These ‘lower bounds' describe well how one can estimate certain parameters ‘in principle.’ ”

Wellner and his colleagues’ work has “merits of very exceptional nature,” and profound implications for society. For example, Dutch colleagues Piet Groeneboom, Geurt Jongbloed and Marloes Maathuis have worked with Wellner to describe and clarify the large sample distribution theory associated with nonparametric estimation of monotone and convex functions. Much of that work finds direct application in biomedical research—making sense of data.

Wellner, Groeneboom and Maathuis also have studied competing risks data with an interval - censored observation scheme---a scheme that is evident in much AIDS-HIV research.

Ultimately, Wellner and his colleagues’ work on competing risk data led to the development of algorithms used to more accurately compute estimators used in AIDS research.

Wellner holds a Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of Washington and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from University of Idaho. His previous honors include a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship.

As a statistician and now as a knight, Wellner participates in a tradition of seeking and speaking truth, in the language of mathematics.