Letter from George Box

During the conference in Barcelona, prof. George Box was the first recipient of the Box Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Industrial Statistics. In view of his health, prof. Box was unfortunately not able to attend the conference. He wrote the following letter, which was read before the conference delegates.

"If I ever had doubts about what was meant by mixed emotions, those doubts have been set to rest today. I feel extremely sad at not being able to accept your generous invitation to be here in person.

But also I feel greatly honored that ENBIS is instituting an award in my name to be given for outstanding contributions to business and industrial statistics. Most of all I have been delighted with your new society. I have watched with interest it beginnings, it's coming to fruition and it's present healthy state.

I know that to achieve this must have been difficult and sometimes frustrating. But due to the energy, enterprise and imagination of such people as Ronald Does, Dave Stewardson, Soren Bisgaard, Henry Wynn and Bo Bergman you have produced an entity that is unique.

At last we see the coming of age of industrial statistics. I can remember the time when to be a statistical consultant was extremely frustrating.

Although there were a number of enthusiasts - engineers, chemists and business associates who made remarkable progress in the solution of many problems using statistical techniques, higher management had little or no interest in such matters.

It was the Japanese two or three decades ago that, at last, devastated this complacency of higher management. When in desperation Dr. Deming was called in to help the automobile industry, he refused to talk to anyone but the CEO's and their associates. He was very severe with them. This was the beginning of a sea change in many industries in Europe and the United States in the way that management viewed our subject.

Another harbinger of things to come was when in a local factory, Motorola gave up trying to manufacture TV sets because of the poor quality of the labor available. My late colleague Bill Hunter took his class to see how the factory was doing under new management using quality methods. At first, the defect rate of TVs going through the line had been 130% - that is to say that every set came off the line once to be individually fixed and that some had to be fixed twice.

Hanging from the ceiling, when we visited, was a huge graph showing the progress that they had made. In two or three years they had reduced the defect rate from 130% to 3%. The people in the production lines were the same workers that had been there before and so were most of the managers.

We talked to them individually and they told us how much happier they were with the new quality systems and participatory management. I think it was then that Motorola got religion and became one of the founders of the six-sigma movement.

I have one concern. I think you must be vigilant that your society remains one that is interested in the solution real problems.

What has often happened in the US is that sections of societies and journals that were initially concerned with the solution of real problems gradually became more and more mathematical. This was because the only necessary qualification there for teaching statistics was a degree in mathematics.

Statistics is a catalyst for science. But in many ways mathematical thinking and scientific thinking are in some ways antithetical. I believe that you can can never know too much mathematics but I also believe that the more you think only like a mathematician, the more difficult it will for you to be to be a good scientific statistician.

In addition to toasting to the continuing success of ENBIS, Claire and I raise our glasses to many dear friends attending the conference. We remember with great fondness our past celebrations in Catalunya and España.

Best wishes, George Box"