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When Statistics Professor Emeritus Wesley Johnson first learned about the MiDaS 2019 Workshop on Novel Statistical Methods for Complex Data, he assumed it was a meeting of researchers involved with the International Society for Bayesian Analysis (ISBA). In reality, the conference, hosted by the Center for the Discovery of Structures in Complex Data (MiDaS) at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, was held to honor Johnson and celebrate his countless contributions to the field of Bayesian statistics.

During the opening ceremony, a room full of longtime friends and colleagues surprised him with the announcement that the conference was a tribute to his research contributions to Bayesian predictive modeling and Bayesian regression through informative prior elicitation and diagnostics. The conference also highlighted his work on Bayesian nonparametrics, diagnostic screening tests, and biostatistical and veterinary applications, and Johnson was praised for his exceptional mentoring and teaching over the years.

Wesley Johnson (front left) with participants at the conference held in his honor.

“When the conference title was introduced in the first session, I was in a kind of daze when my name zoomed in on that slide,” recalls Johnson. Throughout the five-day conference, held in March, talks were given by Johnson’s colleagues about their collaborative work, including talks by three professors from UCI’s Department of Statistics.

Babak Shahbaba talked about their research into Bayesian nonparametric variable selection and how it can be applied to large-scale genomic studies of diseases. Jessica Utts discussed Johnson’s contributions to the Bayesian methods used in her study of parapsychology and people’s reliance on prior beliefs (rather than evidence) when making decisions. Michele Guindani presented their use of a Bayesian nonparametric approach for dynamic model selection to monitor pneumonia and influenza mortality and detect influenza outbreaks on the U.S. These were just three of the more than 20 invited speakers and participants at the event.

“My very close friends and colleagues, Ed Bedrick and Michele Guindani, gave very touching and personal presentations about some aspects of my life and work,” says Johnson. “And Alejandro Jara, who was the mastermind of the conference, showed a video that he made in collaboration with Jessica, Ed, Michele, and a number of friends and colleagues from a variety of places.”

During the last session, Guindani presented the “landmarks of a successful career,” noting Johnson’s contributions to the field, including 173 articles (and counting) and three books (with one more coming soon). “To me, he represents the example of someone who has achieved well-deserved success through hard work and creativity, but has never forgotten his roots,” says Guindani. “He is very generous in everything he does and he has been a role model, a mentor and a friend to many of us younger statisticians.”

Johnson was overwhelmed by it all. “I was very touched and impressed by the friendship and scholarship that flowed during the event.”

Shani Murray