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Professor Dr. rer. nat. Dr. h.c. Norbert Victor, elected member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI), former president of the International Association for Statistical Computing (IASC), the International Society of Clinical Biostatistics (ISCB), the Gesellschaft für Medizinische Informatik, Biometrie und Epidemiology (GMDS) in Germany and former Director and Professor emeritus of the Institute of Medical Biometry and Informatics of the University Heidelberg passed away on 18. April 2011 in his home in Wilhelmsfeld near Heidelberg only a few months after his 70th birthday.

 

Norbert Victor, born in Mainz (Germany) on 8 December 1940 was educated at the humanistic Rhabanus Maurus Gymnasium in Mainz which he finished with the Abitur in 1960 for general university entrance. He studied from 1960 to 1966 Mathematics at the Johannes-Gutenberg University of Mainz and with a stipend also for some time at the University of Grenoble (France) graduating in 1966 from the Department of Mathematics of the University of Mainz with a Diploma in Mathematics.  Then he worked as Associate Research Scientist (Wissenschaftlicher Assistant)  from 1966-1969 in the Institute of Medical Statistics of the Johannes-Gutenberg University earning in 1970 the degree of a PhD (Dr. rer. nat.) for a thesis on the analysis of multidimensional contingency tables.  From 1969-1972 he headed the Statistics Unit of the Institute of Medical Data Processing at the Society for Radiation Research (Gesellschaft für Strahlenforschung, GSF) in Munich where he worked also on his habilitation. In 1972 he received a professorship for Biomathematics of the Justus Liebig University of Gießen where he became Director of the Department of Biomathematics in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. During a period of 12 years working on statistical methodology and the development of statistical analysis system he came into contact with clinical researchers of the University of Gießen which determined his futures scientific work and career. He developed together with medical researchers basic concepts and biostatistical methodologies for the conduct and management of clinical trials. In 1983 he became Ordinarius and Director of Institute for Medical Biometry and Informatics in the Medical Faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg where clinical trials, training in medical biometry and the integration of biometry in practical clinical action became his major targets. Norbert Victor retired 2007 as director a flourishing institute to become Emeritus of University of Heidelberg. However, he never really retired from scientific life and stayed active as scientist until 2010 when his illness forced him forward the completion of a number high ranked projects to others.

 

Norbert Victor has made major contributions to medical biometry in clinical research and to the progress of statistics in life sciences. To mention are multiple comparisons where he formulated the concept of the false discovery rate before that became popular, flexible bandwidth methods for smoothing, and  concepts to test for substantial superiority for clinical relevance in overcoming simple significance testing. Methods for planning and evaluation of clinical therapeutic trials, risk-benefit analysis of medical drugs, instruments of pharmaco-vigilance and meta-analyses were fields where he and his staff worked in Heidelberg.  In his focus was the question: How can data are interpreted such that they guide medical action, and how can information from different sources be bundled and aggregated for clinically relevant knowledge? Using clinical information systems and statistical analyses for clinical studies he realized the need for appropriate statistical concepts which on his view never can be replaced by data analysis systems and statistical software.  The scientific approach of Norbert Victor was unique in the way that he was never frightened by the extent and the complexity of a task. In contrast, one always got the impression that the more difficult a problem was the more he got excited about it and ready to attack it with all his skills and energy.

 

As member of the Medical Faculty of the Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg, Norbert Victor engaged himself in many university activities. He was member of the Executive Committe of the Medical Faculty (“Fakultätsrat”) and the University Hospital and he was Dean of the Faculty for Theoretical Medicine and the Joint Medical Faculties between 1991 and1994. He actively supported Heidelberg’s international partnership with the “Universite Montpellier I” and “Charles-University Prague” which both later awarded his activities by their Medal of Honor.   Realizing the outstanding importance of continued education in the discipline of Medical Biometry he founded in 1996 at the University Heidelberg the first German postgraduate education for “Medical Biometry/Biostatistics” which has been recently transformed  into a “Bologna accredited”  Master’s degree program with around 10 graduates per year.

 

Norbert Victor realized that in order to pursue the interests in statistics and biometry it helpful if not indispensable to act also on the societal and political arena. Therefore, he lobbied successfully for Medical Biometry in Medicine. The biometrical community Germany has been grateful for his commitments, e.g. when he achieved the creation of a department on Medical Informatics and Biometry with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the National Science Fund in Germany. Related to this was the establishment of the function of a Responsible Biometrician in clinical trials in national guidelines for drug regulation and  legislation. As expert of the Federal Government he had substantial influence on the national programs on therapeutic clinical trials, on the creation of interdisciplinary centers for clinical research, on clinical pharmacology and organ transplantations, and the Multinational Clinical Trials program of the EU.

 

He was member of the DFG-committee “Scientific Misconduct” , ISI Committee for Ethics in Statistics and for many yeasr of the Ethics Committee of the University of Heidelberg. As a consequence he engaged himself heavily for the registration of clinical trials and advised governmental   “Competence Networks in Medicine”.

 

Although acting with impressive success on the political arena he was not absorbed by it and resisted becoming a politician and abandoning his home base in science. Norbert Victor had many and long lasting functions from 1975 until 1994 in the German Society of Medical Biometry, Informatics and Epidemiology (GMDS) which he was presiding 1981-1983. There, he  headed task forces on therapeutic research, pharmaco-vigilance, computational statistics, training and education, and last but not least the Section on Biometry. He organizes for the GMDS two annual meetings one in Gießen (1981) and another one in Heidelberg 1999; the latter joint with ISCB with more than 1000 scientists from all over the world.  Norbert Victor was active in the International Biometrical Society (IBS) and in its German Region as  council member and he co-organized in 2004 the Annual Biometric Conferences of the German Region. More recently, his international activities focused at the International Society of Clinical Biostatistics (ISCB) which he served for a many years as treasurer, then as Vice-President  and finally as President 2009-2010. Colleagues and friends in ISCB still remember the dinner of the Executive Committee of ISCB organized by Norbert Victor one year ago  having him explaining the history of the place in Montpellier and the excellence of the local wines.

 

In the core of Norbert Victor’s endeavors was the improvement of patient oriented clinical research through methodology. Therefore, he founded already in Gießen the Center for Methodological Support of Therapeutic Clinical Trials (Zentrum zur Methodischen Betreuung von Therapiestudien) which he transferred to Heidelberg in 1983. The center has supported by now more than 65 multicenter trials in all relevant medical disciplines.  It was therefore logical for him to the initiate of the Centers for Coordination of Clinical Trials in Germany. In Heidelberg, he built up with clinicians the Koordinierungszentrum für Klinische Studien (KKS) he  presided as member of executive committee for many years. In parallel he had leading functions the Study Center of the German Surgical Society (Studienzentrum der Deutschen Chirurgischen Gesellschaft, SDGC) at the University Heidelberg.

 

Norbert Victor had during his scientific life numerous students whom he brought to successful grades such the PhDs Dr. sc. hum. (scientiarum humanarum) or through habilitations at the Medical Faculty in Heidelberg, in particular to mention is  his training and support of  former collaborators in Gießen and Heidelberg who hold now professorships in the field of biometry, epidemiology or informatics in Germany.

 

Norbert Victor’s affinity and relationship to ISI goes back to his earliest scientific acquaintance with scientific computing at the Department of Mathematics in the University of Mainz in the late 1960ies where he seemed to fell in love with statistical computing. He developed between 1966 and 1969 STATSYS, a program and a statistical programming system. In the course of the legendary “DVM 107 Projekt”  lead by him for the improvement, standardization and dissemination of statistical analysis he organized workshops between 1973 und 1975 where basic elements for statistical computing, realizations in software and applications were laid down. This lead to foundation of three scientific “instruments”  surviving  until today: the GMDS-AG „Statistische Auswertungssysteme” from 1975, the series of the Reisensburg Meetings on Computational Statistics starting in 1976, and the Statistical Software Newsletter (SSN) published at first in Munich by the GSF in 1974, later   becoming part of the Computational Statistics and Data Analysis (CSDA), the official journal of the International Association of Statistical Computing (IASC)  section in the ISI.

The role of Norbert Victor has been fundamental for the creation and development of the IASC through his founding activities of the European Regional Section (ERS) of IASC and adopting the COMPSTAT Symposium as the official IASC Symposium organized by the ERS. Having him as founding member IASC was in 1977 established as ISI Sectionby the ISI General Assembly. In 1978 Norbert Victor was elected as fellow of International Statistical Institute (ISI) later he was one of ISI members promoting the ISI Committee on „Statistics in the Life Sciences“. In that year, the IASC Council created the “European Regional Committee” (ERC) to manage the COMPSTAT Symposia and designated Norbert Victor as the first Chairman of the ERC, which was approved as “European Regional Section” in 1981 by IASC. The Board of Directors of the European Regional Section of the IASC awarded Norbert Victor in 2007 the Plaque of Honor in order to recognize his substantial contribution to the development of IASC and his promotion of computational statistics in Europe.

In continuation, Norbert Victor promoted and fostered the creation of the Asian Regional Section (ARS) of IASC during his IASC Presidency 1991-1993 which was then founded. at the first ARS conference in 1993 in Beijing.  Today ERS is planning the 20th Symposium for 1912 in Cyprus and the ARS the 7th conference in 2011 in Taipei, Taiwan.

In the 1980ties Norbert Victor brought IASC together with Computational Statistics and Data Analysis (CSDA), in first line  to provide the SSN a safe harbor but more important in the long run to furnish IASC with  an official journal based on sound publishing infrastructure, for which Elsevier was chosen after a fair international competition. Norbert Victor was the relevant person to negotiate the first contract with the publisher in such a quality such that this contract is still effective in its essentials.

 

Less know in the general statistics community may be Norbert Victor’s activities in supporting colleagues behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary. He traveled early into these countries and kept contacts through invitations of colleagues to the “West”. The type of “Affiliated Membership”   in IASC was mainly directed to East European countries and gave those countries and statisticians access to the journal CSDA and to COMPSTAT Symposium at reduced fees.

 

Norbert Victor had a very special affinity to Germany’s neighbor France. One reason may have been that he grow up in the French occupied Zone in West Germany and naturally learned in Mainz French as first foreign language, such becoming familiar with French culture from his very early years. Besides studying in Grenoble, he was Visiting Professor 1978 at the University of Bordeaux und 1991 at the University of Montpellier. Privately, he bought a house in the Provence where he and his family stayed many weeks per year, as his busy schedule would allow. It was not rare that you would call his secretary in Heidelberg and he asked “Should we forward your question to Professor Victor in France?” Norbert spoke fluently French which was always a pleasure to hear, in particular when talking in French with colleagues from Italy and Spain. His long lasting collaboration and friendship with colleagues in the Medical Faculty of the University of Montpellier were recognized in March 2010 by the an honorable PhD (Dr. h.c.) of the Medical Faculty of the University Montpellier.

 

Medical biometry and statistics lost an outstanding personality which has deeply imprinted biometry and medical statistics not only in Germany. We lost a colleague who was convinced that the development of biostatistical methods alone would not suffice for progress of life sciences but that his work must be accompanied by collaborative work done together with the medical researchers needing supportive measures provided by the scientific societies and the society itself, including the provision of good statistical education.

 

Those who were lucky to accompany him were always impressed by his skills, toughness and insistence to find solutions of problems seemingly unsolvable. This attitude was part of his life and part of his choice to study mathematics and applying statistics in a relevant field. We will keep his memento in esteem and thankfulness. Our sympathy is with his wife Ilse and his daughters Dr. rer.nat. Pia Victor and Dr. rer. physiol. Anja Victor together with five grand children.

 

Lutz Edler*, Heidelberg (Germany), 12 August 2011

 

*acknowledging the support of Prof. Meinhard Kieser (Heidelberg), Prof. Ulrich Mansmann (Munich) and the staff of Norbert Victors’ former institute IMBI at the University of Heidelberg

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