The Blackwell Seminar was established in 2020 to honor the contributions of David Blackwell to mathematical statistics, game theory, probability theory, and information theory.
David Blackwell had an extraordinary career and overcame numerous obstacles in the process. After receiving his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1941 at the age of 22 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. During this time, Jerzy Neyman interviewed him for a position at the University of California (UC), Berkeley Department of Mathematics. Prof. Neyman was in favor of offering Prof. Blackwell a faculty position, and his department agreed. However, the department head’s spouse objected based on Blackwell’s race, and so the department did not extend him a job offer.
In 1942, Prof. Blackwell left Princeton and went on to teach at three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), namely Southern University, Clark Atlanta University, and Howard University. Prof. Blackwell remained at Howard for 10 years, where he was quickly promoted to full professor and head of the Department of Mathematics.
In 1954, Prof. Blackwell then moved to Berkeley, as he had been recruited, this time successfully, by Jerzy Neyman to become the first hire in the newly formed Department of Statistics. There, he became the first tenured Black professor in the UC system. During his nearly 35 years at Berkeley, he supervised over 50 doctoral students and served as both department chair and associate dean. He also broke racial barriers by becoming the first Black scholar to be appointed to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965.
The Blackwell Seminar focuses on topics at the interface between statistics and equity issues such as racial disparities, social justice, and ethics. Speakers are invited based on their contributions to these areas. The seminar takes place each year during the fall quarter.
More information about the life and career of David Blackwell can be found in the oral history conducted by Nadine Walmot in 2002 and 2003.
2023 Blackwell Seminar. "Algorithms in unjust systems" Speaker: Alexandra Chouldechova, Principal Researcher, Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics (FATE) group at Microsoft Research NYC. See details Watch video here.
2021 Blackwell Seminar. "Closer than they appear: A Bayesian Perspective on Individual-Level Heterogeneity in Risk Assessment" Speaker: Kristian Lum, Sr. Staff Machine Learning Researcher, Twitter. See details Watch video here.
2020 Blackwell Seminar. "What do we know about racial disparities in NIH peer review?" Speaker: Elena Erosheva, Professor of Statistics & Social Work, University of Washington. Watch video here.