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Persi Diaconis

AKA Persi Warren Diaconis

Born: 31-Jan-1945
Birthplace: New York City

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Mathematician, Magician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Science of random numbers

Persi Diaconis finished high school at the age of 14, and ran away from home to become a professional magician and poker player. After almost a decade on the road, he entered night school at City College of New York, where he earned a degree in Mathematics. He was admitted to Harvard for graduate studies, largely on the recommendation of Scientific American columnist Martin Gardner, who had been extremely impressed by two card tricks Diaconis had diagrammed for the magazine's puzzle page. Diaconis earned his doctorate at Harvard, won a MacArthur "genius grant" in 1982, and has become one of the world's foremost experts on the mathematics of random chance and coincidence. He was a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and has spent most of his teaching and scientific career at Stanford, where he is a professor of mathematics and statistics.

In 1992, Diaconis showed that to sufficiently randomize an ordered deck of fifty-two cards, the deck must be riffle-shuffled at least seven times. He has also studied the mathematics of randomizing cards through several other methods of shuffling. In 2004, after having an elaborate coin-tossing machine constructed, he showed that if a coin is flipped over and over again in exactly the same manner, about 51% of the time it will land on the same side it started. With mathematician Frederick Mosteller, he is the co-creator of the Law of Truly Large Numbers (1989), which states that if a given sample is large enough, any outrageous thing is likely to occur. Or, as Diaconis has explained, since there are 280,000,000 people in the United States, ''280 times a day, a one-in-a-million shot is going to occur." Though it seems unlikely, Diaconis still maintains that he is better at magic than mathematics.

Wife: Susan Holmes (Statistics professor at Stanford)

    High School: George Washington High School, New York City (1959)
    University: BS Mathematics, City College of New York (1971; night school)
    University: MA Mathematical Statistics, Harvard University (1972)
    University: PhD Mathematical Statistics, Harvard University (1974)
    Teacher: Ass't Prof of Statistics, Stanford University (1974-79)
    Teacher: Assoc Prof of Statistics, Stanford University (1979-80)
    Professor: Statistics, Stanford University (1981-87)
    Professor: Visiting Prof of Statistics, Harvard University (1981-82)
    Professor: Visiting Prof of Mathematics, Harvard University (1985-86)
    Professor: Visiting Prof of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1985-86)
    Professor: G. V. Leverett Professor of Mathematics, Harvard University (1987-1997)
    Professor: David Duncan Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University (1996-98)
    Professor: Mary V. Sunseri Prof. of Statistics and Mathematics, Stanford University (1998-)

    Bell Laboratories Research Staff (1978-79)
    Teledyne Statistical Consultant (1993-99)
    Touring Magician (1959-68)
    MacArthur Fellowship 1982
    Rollo Davidson Prize 1982
    Van Wijngaarden Prize for Mathematics 2006
    Advances in Applied Mathematics Editorial Board
    Annals of Probability Editorial Board
    Bulletin of the American Math Society Editorial Board
    Journal of Theoretical Probability Editorial Board
    Mathematics and the Internet Editorial Board
    Scientific American Statistical Consultant (1972-80)
    Statistics and Computation Editorial Board
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1989
    American Philosophical Society 2005
    American Statistical Association 1994
    Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences Fellowship (1999-2000)
    CSICOP Founding Member
    Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Founding Member
    Institute of Mathematical Statistics 1981
    Institute of Mathematical Statistics President (1997-98)
    National Academy of Sciences 1995
    NASA Statistical Consultant, Jet Propulsion Laboratories
    Ran Away From Home

Official Website:

Author of books:
Group Representations in Probability and Statistics (1988)
Stein's Method: Expository Lectures and Applications (2004, with Susan Holmes)

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