The Inauguration of the Rohlf Medal for Excellence in Morphometric Methods and Applications
Monday, October 24, 2011
The Rohlf Medal was established in 2006 by his family and friends to mark the 70th birthday of F. James Rohlf, Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolution and longtime Stony Brook University faculty member. Recipients of the Rohlf Medal will be recognized for excellence in their body of work on the development of new multivariate morphometric methods or for their applications in the biomedical sciences, including evolutionary biology, population biology, physical anthropology, and medicine. The term “morphometrics” is intended to include multivariate statistical analysis of biological shape and its covariation with other variables, especially those that analyze shape in a comprehensive way. The award can recognize advancements in the mathematical or statistical theory underlying morphometric methods, new software that implements or visualizes new or existing methods, or specific new biological findings that rely crucially on contemporary morphometric methods. The expectation is that an award will be made about every two years. Nominations will be evaluated by a committee.
Lecture Hall 2 of the Charles B. Wang Center, Stony Brook University
The winner for 2011 is Fred L. Bookstein of the University of Vienna and the University of Washington. He will be presented with the medal and a cash prize. He will then give a general lecture related to his work at 4:30 pm on October 24, 2011 in Lecture Hall 2 of the Charles B. Wang Center. The presentation and lecture is open to the public.
Title of Bookstein's lecture:Biology and Mathematical Imagination:
the Meaning of Morphometrics
A hundred years ago D'Arcy Thompson tried to organize our understanding of biological growth and form mainly by physics. He would better have drawn on the arts instead -- on our familiarity with proportion and disproportion born on the walls of caves and modernized over half a millennium of portraiture and caricature.
Even as our understanding of the encoded parts of biology has exploded since Thompson's time, our appraisals of form lagged far behind, awaiting the technologies of medical imaging and interactive computer graphics. Once those technologies arrived, the driver of studies of biological form became not biophysics but the cognitive sciences: the same evolved perceptions of form and form-comparison now filtered through the formalisms of quantitative pattern engines and the representations of uncertainty that, for lack of a better word, we call statistics.
This is contemporary morphometrics: a contrived tension of the Gestalt psychology of the biologist's eye against numerical inferences based on selected features. My presentation this evening will sketch the visual roots of this surprisingly seductive practice. All of today's best techniques -- thin-plate splines, creases, and random fields -- are visual, not algebraic, in their intuitions and in the ways they articulate with the other languages of biological insight.
So far, morphometrics has been a relatively passive partner of the quantitative biologist, answering only questions it is asked, commenting only on hypotheses coming to its attention from outside. I prefer to emphasize a different possible future. There morphometrics will drive the other branches of organismal biology and medicine to entrain their own pattern analyses with these visual findings. Tomorrow's biological sciences will thereby take much more seriously the possibility of causal patterns localized in space and time, a pattern language that modern morphometric technology has made feasible at last.