Professor Emeritus Chin Long Chiang, leader in biostatistics at Berkeley, dies at 99

April 14, 2014

Chin Long Chiang, professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, passed away in his Berkeley home on April 1, 2014, at the age of 99. He was one of the world’s preeminent biostatisticians who transformed the health care field through the use of statistical methods. His death came less than six months after his wife of 68 years, Fu Chen “Jane” Chiang, died of pneumonia.

Professor Chiang was a member of the UC Berkeley faculty for more than 40 years and served as chair of the Biostatistics Division at the School of Public Health, and as co-chair of the UC Berkeley Interdepartmental Group in Biostatistics. When he retired in 1987, the University honored him with the Berkeley Citation for his distinguished achievement. He continued to teach and give lectures after his retirement.

“Chin Long was not only the leader in Biostatistics at Berkeley for many years, but also a major figure in the development of the field in the United States over the second half of the 20th century,” said Nicholas P. Jewell, professor of biostatistics and statistics at UC Berkeley and current head of the Biostatistics Division. “He was the supporter and champion of a generation of faculty and students both here and in his native China where he was deeply respected. He, and his late wife Jane, were loved by the biostatistics community, and I was very fortunate to be recruited to Berkeley by Chin Long in 1981.”

During the 1950s, Chiang was among the first to recognize biostatistics as a separate entity from statistics and to apply mathematical and statistical methods to the realms of health and disease. One of his major contributions was to develop a statistical method that could be applied to the life tables, which gauge life expectancy and mortality rates. His work transformed the use of these life tables, making them far more accurate and a valuable resource in the health community. Because of his innovative work, the life tables became a rigorous statistical tool that could be used to understand the health of different states, countries, and segments of the population. He went on to apply statistical methods to cancer rates, AIDS, and other diseases, working with the World Health Organization, the National Institute of Health, and other national and international organizations.

“It was absolutely groundbreaking at the time,” said Professor Steve Selvin, a longtime friend and colleague of Chiang’s and former chair of the Biostatistics Division. “He did a lot of work on life tables and survival data that was ahead of his time. His contributions were highly respected because they were innovative applications that open new vistas from health data.”

Chiang also made significant contributions in the areas of survival analysis and competing risks, basing his work on his study of stochastic processes—mathematical models of processes developed over time and subject to random fluctuations. Two of his five books were on the subject. Three of his books have been translated into Chinese and one into Japanese. He was a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, Emory, Peking University, and the University of London, among other universities.

He was born on Nov. 12, 1914 in Ninbo, Zheijiang Province, China. After his freshman year at Tsing Hua University in Beijing, Chiang and his classmates were forced to flee inland because of the Japanese invasion during World War II. After three universities were combined into one, he earned an undergraduate degree in economics in 1940, although he discovered his real interest was in statistics. He met his future wife at a university event and the two married in 1945, coming to the United States the following year. After the young couple settled in the Bay Area, Chiang attended UC Berkeley and earned a master’s degree in 1948 and a PhD in 1953, both in statistics. With the help of Professor Jerzy Neyman, one of the founders of modern statistics, he began a teaching career that lasted for more than 40 years.

He was involved early on in the International Chinese Statistical Association and was an honorary professor at Shanghai Jjaotong University and Peking Medical University. He sponsored numerous Chinese scholars in the United States. He was also a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and the Royal Statistical Society of London. 

 “Chin Long Chiang had a secure place as a leading biostatistician, nationally and internationally,” said his longtime friend, Peter Armitage, a former head of Oxford University’s Department of Statistics who also served as president of the Royal Statistical Society. 

Chiang was generous and gregarious, enjoying a good conversation and treating others with warmth and graciousness. Devoted to his family, he and his wife traveled to various parts of the world, and he always took along his camera, filling volumes of photo albums. He played bridge, was an avid reader, and enjoyed swimming and planting flowers in his lush Berkeley garden. After he retired, one of his greatest joys was playing chess and “Go” with his grandsons.

He is survived by his son Robert and daughter-in-law Janeen of Sunnyvale; his daughter, Harriet, of Berkeley; daughter-in-law Carol and grandson Andrew of Berkeley; and grandson Eric of New York. His wife and his son William predeceased him. A memorial service will be held May 17 in Berkeley

Memorial donations may be sent to the Chin Long Chiang Graduate Student Support Fund, which supports high-achieving graduate students at the School of Public Health, with particular preference for PhD students in Biostatistics. Professor Chiang established this fund because he received an $800 fellowship at a time when that money made the difference between finishing his education or leaving the country, and he wanted to repay this gift by supporting other students when they might need it most. Checks should be made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation and mailed to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, 417K University Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360. The name of the fund should be noted on the check. Those wishing to donate online may do so here.

By Harriet Chiang