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Raftery and Kenny
University of Washington statistician-sociologist Adrian Raftery, at left, receives the St. Patrick’s Day Medal from Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. (Nick Crettier Photo)

It takes more than the luck o’ the Irish to win the St. Patrick’s Day Medal from Science Foundation Ireland, but the University of Washington’s Adrian Raftery has what it takes.

Raftery was born in Dublin but has been a statistician and sociologist on UW’s faculty for 30 years. He’s the founding director of UW’s Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences, and Thomson Reuters named him the world’s most cited researcher in mathematics for 1995-2005.

Those are the right qualifications for the St. Patrick’s Day Medal. SFI, the Irish government’s primary agency for funding and promoting research and science education, established the annual award in 2014 to honor Irish-born scientists who live and work in the United States.

“It means a lot to me to be honored by my own country,” Raftery said in a UW report on the ceremony.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny awarded the medal for academic achievement to Raftery on Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. Kenny holds the top government office, known in Gaelic as the Taoiseach, and was visiting the nation’s capital this week as part of his traditional St. Patrick’s Day rounds.

Raftery’s statistical methods have been used to help marine biologists estimate the population of bowhead whales in the northern Pacific and Arctic oceans, help U.N. scientists model the spread of HIV infection among vulnerable populations – and help the Irish government estimate production capacity for wind power.

This year’s medal for industry achievement went to T. Pearse Lyons, the founder and president of Alltech, a Kentucky-based agricultural products and food science company. Lyons was born and raised in Dundalk, near the Republic of Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland.

In SFI’s report from the ceremony, Kenny said both Raftery and Lyons have had a huge impact on their respective fields.

“They have demonstrated how academic and industry based scientific research can create jobs, tackle global problems and impact positively on people and society,” Kenny said. “These distinguished medal recipients are driving globally significant innovation in the areas of agriculture, food production, health, and population and weather forecasting, to name just a few.”

In short, “Maith thú!” That’s a Gaelic phrase that means “Good on you.” Just in case you run into Raftery when he’s back in Seattle, it’s pronounced “Ma-hoo!”

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