Founding director of U statistics department dies

Seymour Geisser was director of the School of Statistics from 1971 to 2001, and one of the inventors of the cross-validation method.

Hayley Odom

Seymour Geisser, longtime director of the University’s statistics department, died March 11. He was 74.

Geisser died from heart disease and aplastic anemia, his wife, Anne Geisser, said.

He became the founding director of the University’s School of Statistics in 1971 and remained in the position until 2001. In his position, Geisser taught graduate students and helped analyze other departments’ research results. He was a faculty member at the time of his death.

Geisser believed flawed statistical models were often used by prosecutors and the FBI. An article he wrote called “Statistics, Litigation and Conduct Unbecoming” regarding the issue was featured in the book “Statistical Science in the Courtroom” in 2001.

A large critic of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors who use DNA evidence, Geisser was an expert witness for defendants in more than 100 court cases involving rape, murder and paternity.

“He had very firm opinions about things, which is why his DNA skepticism was something that differentiated him,” said Jay Weiner, a family friend.

Anne Geisser said the University setting was perfect for her husband because it enabled him to impart his knowledge on his students.

“Students use words like ‘love’ when they speak of him,” she said.

“His curiosity was unbounded,” she said. “He loved all subjects: art, philosophy, religion and literature. He read all the time.”

Geisser’s studies on prediction methods are some of his most important work, Weiner said. Geisser was one of the

inventors of cross-validation, a popular statistical method. Geisser’s work was also honored at two international conferences.

Geisser holds visiting professorships at Stanford University, Harvard, the University of Chicago and universities in South Africa, England, Taiwan and Israel.

“He was a no-nonsense guy who respected what you did, not how hard you worked,” said Glen Meeden, director of the University’s School of Statistics.

“It wasn’t enough for someone to work hard, you had to accomplish something. He’s an old-school kind of guy and he didn’t take much fluff,” Meeden said.

Geisser was born Oct. 5, 1929, in the Bronx, N.Y. and was raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from City College of New York and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of North Carolina.

Geisser is survived by his wife, daughters Mindy and Georgia, sons Adam and Dan, brother Martin and five grandchildren.

His funeral was Sunday, March 14, in St. Paul. He was buried March 16 at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y.