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May 27, 2014

Russ Wolfinger, pioneer of JMP Genomics, will be honored as an ASA Fellow

Russ Wolfinger, the leader of the JMP Genomics project and developer of SAS Proc Mixed, recently was informed that he will be honored this summer as a fellow of the American Statistical Association.

One of my best perspectives on Russ Wolfinger's work came when I went to a seminar that James Roger of GSK gave a couple of years ago. He said that one of the biggest problems in new drug approval submissions was that they used the ancient rule of last-value-carried-forward to cover for missing data. This distorted analyses in a way that would lead to falsely optimistic conclusions on the effectiveness of drugs for degenerative diseases, a tragic situation. But it was hard to analyze data any other way. The breakthrough was to switch to using Mixed models, where you could then use all your data without any carry-forwards. But none of this was possible until the arrival of full mixed models implementations in FDA-trusted commercial software, and that was due to Russ Wolfinger.

Russ, inspired by the Jennrich-Schluchter (1987) paper, and with some collaboration with Randy Tobias, designed a full mixed models system implementing very general covariance parameterizations. Russ's implementation was very complete. You could model the random terms in the design space , or in the covariance side . A large number of covariance structures was provided. You could also specify group-varying parameters. A variety of computational options were provided. At the time, it was by far the largest and most important statistical development work in our company's history.

When the Kackar-Harville and Kenward-Roger refinements were published to resolve the degrees-of-freedom issues in REML, Russ quickly added them to PROC MIXED. Russ then pioneered in the generalization of mixed models to generalized linear models (with O'Connell), then the generalization to nonlinear models in two different ways.

The implementation of PROC MIXED led the whole Biopharmaceutical industry to become much better users of mixed models, more properly accounting for the variation in a model.

Oliver Schabenberger later followed Russ's pioneering work at SAS with a next-generation procedure PROC GLIMMIX. Oliver became an ASA fellow last year, so now three SAS Mixed Model statisticians are ASA fellows. (You might recognize the name of the first of the three, Jim Goodnight.)

Of course Russ, for the past few years, has become an expert in Genomics, heading the SAS-JMP Genomics group to produce software in that area, and also helping lead the MACQ consortium for Microarray quality, which will meet here at SAS in a few weeks.

Congratulations Russ, on becoming an ASA Fellow.