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CU Biostatistics History


 Our Biostatistics History


 Origins of Biostatistics at CU Denver, 1960’s

In the early 1960’s, Strother Walker, Tony Murphy (Edmund Anthony Murphy), Phil Archer and Trevor Williams (George Trevor Williams) shared an office as the group of superannuated graduate students recently admitted as doctoral candidates into the Department of biostatistics of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

Strother had most recently been working for a military consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and was scheduled to return there on completion of his doctorate.  He had a B.A. from Harvard and an M.A. in mathematics.  Tony Murphy was an Irish M.D. with principal interests in genetics and clinical medicine.  He continued to work in the Moore Clinic with Victor McKusick at the School of Medicine throughout his graduate studies.  Phil Archer had come to Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in 1958 from Buffalo, N.Y. accompanying Abe Lilienfeld, M.D. to start a Division of Chronic Diseases, which was later merged into the Department of Epidemiology.  He had a B.A. and an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Buffalo (which was, at that time, a private school, later subsumed (kicking and screaming) into the SUNY system of New York State.).  Trevor had been working at the JHU Applied Physics Group.

All four received their doctoral degrees in 1965.

Johns Hopkins has two principal academic campuses.  The main undergraduate and graduate campus is called Homewood, while the medically related schools are grouped at a different location.

During that period, Dick Jones, who had just received his doctorate from Brown University, came onto the faculty, with appointments both in the School of Hygiene and in a new statistics unit that had been formed at the Homewood campus.  He taught at both campuses and collaborated with David Duncan, who was principally known for his theoretical work in multiple comparisons.  Dick left after a few years to chair a Statistics Department at the University of Hawaii.  He subsequently came to Colorado to teach and consult in this department until his retirement in 2004.

Strother was born and brought up in Denver.  In the later 1960’s, when he was visiting relatives in Denver, he heard of a new Department of Preventive Medicine being formed in the Medical School with Conrad Riley M.D., a Pediatrician (and co-discoverer of the Riley-Day syndrome, a genetic disorder) as acting chairman, and Jock Cobb, M.D. as the newly hired Chairman.  He evidently persuaded them that the new Department needed a statistical component, which he proceeded to form.  His first recruitment was Tony Murphy, his former office mate, who was also addicted to hiking in the Colorado mountains.  At about that time, Jim Murphy, who had just completed his master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Denver (after a bachelor’s in chemistry at the University of Chicago, was looking for a job, and was hired as a jack of all trades.  He subsequently went to JHU and received his doctorate in 1977.  After years of service in the department, and the attainment of full professor rank, he transferred to National Jewish Hospital, where, while retaining his university faculty status, he built up a large and productive statistical and data processing group.

As it turned out, unfortunately, Tony Murphy and Gordon Meikeljohn, Head of Medicine, did not see eye to eye, and Tony was denied clinical privileges.  As a result, he returned to JHU in the genetics section at the Medical school, and remained there for the duration of his career.

The circumstances gave Strother the opportunity to replace Tony in the new section.  Phil Archer [the author], on graduation, had gone to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) in Hiroshima, Japan, to participate in a study sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences (which continues to this writing), of the medical consequences of exposure to the atomic bomb blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August of 1944.  He accepted the offer and arrived in Denver in 1968.

The next important addition to the Biometrics faculty was Gary Zerbe.  He was still working on his degree from Ohio State University and Strother became a co-advisor.  He had seriously considered making a career of studying butterflies, but probably his wife talked him out of it.  She subsequently got her doctorate in mathematics.  Gary was awarded his doctorate in 1973.

Written by Phil Archer, 2008


 Origins of the Biostatistics MS and PhD programs, 1960’s

In the late 1960’s the Biometrics Division began teaching required courses in applied statistics to freshman medical students and (separately) freshman dental students. These continued for a number of years as routine requirements in both curricula. However, programs in academia are seldom considered as established until they have their own graduate programs. Toward this end, Strother began a dialogue with Franklin Graybill at Colorado State University (CSU). Frank had started and built a very strong statistics program some years prior to this, which was the only such program in the state, or, for that matter, in the geographical region. All of the extant faculty at the HSC and many at CSU collaborated to devise a program in which entering students would study theoretical statistics for two years at CSU for a master’s degree, and then come to the Health Sciences Center (HSC) for further exposure to areas of medical application in a vast variety of areas, such as: clinical trials, multivariate analysis, pediatric applications, genetic problems, etc. Although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had been reducing its grant support at that time, we managed to get grant support for this program, and it turned out to be very successful, the graduates of it uniformly having successful careers in various areas of applied statistics. Even before the termination of that grant the graduate program continued to expand and, over the years, we have graduated scores of either master’s or doctoral students, all of whom have had no problems gaining professional employment in the health care system. In recent years, the program has seen further expansion to include graduate degrees in epidemiology.


 New school, department and campus, 2008

The early 2000’s was a period of preparation for the formation of a new school and department and a move to a new campus. During much of this period the Section of Biometrics was headed by Anna Barón and the MS and PhD programs directed by Dick Jones. A number of new primary teaching faculty were hired in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, including Sam MaWhinney, Diane Fairclough, Gary Grunwald, Todd Mackenzie, Deb Glueck, John Kittelson, Matt Strand, Tasha Fingerlin, Nichole Carlson, Katerina Kechris, and Sharon Lutz. Many research and affiliated faculty were also hired. In 2007 the Colorado Biostatistics Consortium (CBC) was formed, with John Kittelson as its first Director.

2008 was a year of several major transitions that set in motion a period of growth for Biostatistics at CU. In July 2008 the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) was formed from the previous Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics in the School of Medicine. As part of that transition the Department of Biostatistics and Informatics (B&I) was formed along with the Departments of Epidemiology, Community and Behavioral Health, Health Services Management and Policy, and Environmental and Occupational Health. The MPH program and Applied Biostatistics concentration were also formed in 2008 as part of the new school and department. At about the same time, the ColoradoSPH moved to the new University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (AMC) about 8 miles east of downtown Denver, with B&I groups located in historic Building 500 and in Building 406. Denny Lezotte had been head of the Section of Biometrics, became the initial chair of B&I, and guided the department through its formation and initial years. Debashis Ghosh was recruited from Penn State in 2014 as the new chair when Denny retired. He has led the department’s recent involvement with the new campus Center and Division for Personalized Medicine, expansion of the education programs toward Data Science and computing, and substantially expanding the faculty.


Our Former Biostatistics Faculty

​John (Jock) Cobb II, PhD

1965 - 1985 Professor
1965 - 1972 Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine
2016 Deceased

John Chandler Cobb II, known as “Jock”, earned his medical degree from Harvard and trained in pediatrics and public health at Johns Hopkins. During his career at CU, from 1965-1985, he was the founding Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine, the precursor to the Colorado School of Public Heath. Dr. Cobb was involved in several highly impactful public health projects at CU, including health effects of air pollution and his groundbreaking work on health effects of low-level radiation from the Rocky Flats nuclear site, which closed in 1992 and is now a wildlife preserve near the Anschutz campus. His experiences as a conscience objector and volunteer ambulance driver in Europe and North Africa during World War II shaped his future career in medical and public health research and activism.

Strother Walker, PhD

1966 - 1983 Professor
1972 - 1981 Chair, Department of Biometrics
1983 Deceased

Strother Walker received a BS from Harvard, MS from Georgetown, and PhD from Johns Hopkins. He joined the faculty of the School of Medicine at CU in 1966, and was the first Chair of the Department of Biometrics, from its founding in 1972 until 1981. He was instrumental in starting the degree programs that became the current Biostatistics MS and PhD programs. In addition to teaching and research at CU he acted as a consultant to the American University Naval Weapons Laboratory, the US War College, and the National Institutes of Health. Interestingly, his grandfather was John Brisben Walker, who was a prominent member of the early Denver business community who founded Cosmopolitan magazine, and who dreamed of building a summer White House on Mount Falcon near Morrison, the ruins of which can still be seen there.​

​Phil Archer, PhD

1968 - 1997 Professor
1997 Retired
2018 Deceased

Phil Archer arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1958 to start a Division of Chronic Diseases, which was later merged into the Department of Epidemiology. He had a BA and MA in mathematics from the University of Buffalo, and received his PhD from Johns Hopkins in 1965. After graduating, he spent three years at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima, Japan, to study medical consequences of exposure to the atomic bomb blasts. He arrived in CU in 1968 and was one of the department’s most versatile members. His contributions during his 30 years at CU include multiple receipts of the department’s outstanding teaching award, mentoring PhD, MS and MSPH students, publishing many papers with particular focus on practical applications of statistics in medical research, as well as acting department chair, president of the School of Medicine faculty senate and of the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the ASA. Phil excelled at bridge and tennis.

James Murphy, PhD

1969 - 2005 Professor
2010 Deceased

James (Jim) Murphy received his PhD from Johns Hopkins and arrived as a faculty member in Biometrics at CU in 1969. Dr. Murphy specialized in statistical methods for clinical trials. In 2010 he assumed the position of Director of the Division of Biostatistics at National Jewish hospital for respiratory illness in Denver, and built a strong group that continues to prosper and grow.

Jim played the piano and was an excellent vocalist. He often sang Gilbert and Sullivan platter songs and performed with Opera Colorado. He and Jessica Bondy often led the Department in Christmas caroling.

​Gary O. Zerbe, PhD

1969 - 2008 Professor
2008 Professor Emeritus

Gary Zerbe received his BS and MS in Math, and completed his PhD in Biostatistics from Ohio State University while already a faculty member at CU. He was instrumental in founding the Biometrics MS and PhD programs in the 1970’s, the precursors to the current Biostatistics programs, and served as program director and acting section head at various times. His research in analysis of longitudinal data and particularly analysis of growth curves has been published in many of the top statistical journals and remains very influential. Gary has taught dozens of courses and mentored many MS and PhD students, several of whom are now faculty members at CU or elsewhere. He remains active in research on longitudinal analysis and related topics.

​Richard H. Jones, PhD

1975 – 2004 Professor
1981 - 1995 Head, Section of Biometrics
2004 Professor Emeritus
2020 Deceased

Before arriving at CU in 1981, Dick Jones completed his PhD in Applied Math at Brown University in 1961, and was a faculty member at Johns Hopkins and later department chair at University of Hawaii. At CU he was at various times head of the Biometrics section and director of the MS and PhD programs and mentored many PhD and MS students. Dick is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and has written dozens of influential research papers in time series, longitudinal analysis, state space modeling and missing and unequally spaced data, some of which is summarized in his 1993 book “Longitudinal Data with Serial Correlation: A State-Space Approach”. He has travelled extensively including several international visiting positions or sabbaticals and visiting all 7 continents, and has run many marathons and triathlons.

​Jessica Bondy

1979 - 2015 Associate Professor

Prior to joining our faculty Jessica earned a Masters of Health Administration here at UCHSC in 1979. She directed and taught several courses in SAS, database management, medical informatics, technical writing, and research methods. She has served on many MSPH thesis committees. Among many interesting research endeavors she was the principal investigator on a subcontract to develop and evaluate web-based training modules to teach public health officials and other emergency responders best practices for management of bioterrorist threats. She developed a nationally–recognized web site to teach high school and college students about the basic underpinnings of cancer research. Jessica is a member of a distinguished folk singing group (Planina), and in accompaniment with Jim Murphy often led the department in song.

​Dennis Lezotte, PhD

1981 – 2014 Professor
2007 - 2014 Chair, Department of Biostatistics and Informatics

Denny Lezotte arrived in Denver in 1981, having received his PhD from SUNY Buffalo in 1976 and having been a faculty member in Florida 1976-1981. His specialty was Health Informatics, which was in its initial stages of development at that time. Denny was instrumental in the development of informatics on campus, and was Principal Investigator for a major grant in informatics research with the CU hospital burn unit. He was also very involved in university administration positions. Denny guided Biostatistics through its transition from a School of Medicine section to the current department of Biostatistics and Informatics. Denny is also an excellent athlete, having played minor league baseball and still plays competitive masters tennis.

​David Young, PhD

1992 - 2005 Associate Professor
2007 Deceased

David Young was a brilliant statistician who despite being rendered a quadriplegic at age 19 earned a MS and PhD in Biometrics from our department in 1992 and served as a faculty member until his death in 2007 from complications of his injury. He taught statistical consulting, published many papers on longitudinal data analysis, and collaborated extensively with researchers on campus, all accomplished from an electric wheelchair and with a mouth stick for typing. David’s extensive activities outside the department included writing (he was a contributing editor for New Mobility magazine), bi-skiing, film, music, skydiving, and earnest conversation, and his constant good spirit was an inspiration to all. The David Young Award given by the Colorado-Wyoming chapter of the American Statistical Association each year recognizes an outstanding statistical research project by a high school student in the region.

​Todd Mackenzie

1997-2003 Assistant Professor

Todd received his MS (1993) and PhD (1997) in Statistics from MaGill University in Canada, and arrived at CU thereafter. During his time at CU he taught courses in Theory of Statistics, and collaborated with many investigators, particularly at Children’s Hospital Colorado. He has made a number of contributions to statistical methods in survival analysis. In 2003 Todd accepted a position at Dartmouth to be closer to family in Canada, and he is currently Professor in the Department of Biomedical Data Science at Dartmouth.

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