Three Texas A&M University researchers whose work determined that evidence used to rule out a second shooter in the 1963 assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy was fundamentally flawed have been recognized with a prestigious national award.

Dr. Cliff Spiegelman and Dr. Simon J. Sheather, professors of statistics in the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, and Dr. William D. James, a research chemist with the Texas A&M Center for Chemical Characterization and Analysis (CCCA), were honored by the American Statistical Association (ASA) with its 2008 Statistics in Chemistry Award, which recognizes outstanding collaborative endeavors between statisticians and chemists.

William A. Tobin, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent and forensic scientist; D. Max Roundhill, former head of the Department of Chemistry at Washington State University and a current consultant with Austin-based Chem Consulting; and Stuart Wexler, a humanities and advanced placement government instructor at Hightstown High School in New Jersey, also shared in the award for their respective roles in the joint project.

The award, which includes a $2,000 cash prize, was presented to the team for their paper, Chemical and Forensic Analysis of JFK Assassination Bullet Lots: Is a Second Shooter Possible? published in Annals of Applied Statistics in 2007.

In challenging the evidence for the lone-gunman theory, the team conducted a chemical and forensic analysis of bullets reportedly derived from the same batch as those used by suspected Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Using compositional analysis techniques and statistical methods not available in the 1960s, they determined that the bullet fragments involved in the assassination are not nearly as rare as previously reported, leading them to recommend that the bullet fragments be reanalyzed.

The selection committee for the award, which is sponsored by the Chemometrics Committee of the ASA Section on Physical and Engineering Sciences (SPES), lauded the Texas A&M-led team for general excellence in all aspects, from choice of subjects to methodology.

"This is an exemplary paper," the committee stated. "The subject is of interest to a large audience, and the research was done carefully, with all the steps clearly described. It truly demonstrates a powerful statistics application in the chemistry area with a good combination of statistics and chemistry expertise."

Sheather accepted the award earlier this month on the group's behalf as part of the 168th annual Joint Statistical Meetings, held August 3-7 in Denver. As the largest gathering of statisticians in North America, it is held jointly with the ASA, the International Biometric Society (ENAR and WNAR), the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the Statistical Society of Canada and attended by more than 5,000 people.

Founded in Boston in 1839, the ASA is the nation's preeminent professional statistical society and includes 18,000 members serving in academia, government, and industry and the public.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Cliff Spiegelman, (979) 845-3141 or cliff@stat.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Cliff Spiegelman

  • William D. James

  • Simon J. Sheather

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