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Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

1 August 2009 6,590 views No Comment
Sally Morton

Sally Morton

I venture to say that any American Statistical Association president preparing for his or her presidential address takes time to peruse the collected addresses of previous presidents. In my case, there are 103 previous presidents, spanning 169 years. This journey through the history of the association is always illuminating, but also, at times, daunting. It is “a wonderful walk through history through the eyes of our leadership,” as ASA Past-President Sallie Keller-McNulty said. I agree with Past-President Michael O’Fallon, who said, “I found no shortage of wisdom in the words of my predecessors.” However, I also agree with Keller-McNulty in that I have realized I “have nearly nothing new to say.” By the time you read this column, of course, I will have already given my address.

Fortunately, all can easily ponder the words of our previous presidents. As reported in the July issue of Amstat News, ASA Past-President Fritz Scheuren, along with Wendy Alvey and Beth Kilss, have been working hard on an electronic volume of presidential addresses and biographies for the first 100 presidents, due out soon. As the 104th president, I must admit feeling slightly excluded. Absent major medical breakthroughs due to the contributions of statisticians, I won’t be around in 2109 when the second volume appears. Regardless, I thank these members for their leadership and hard work in preserving the history of the association, and most importantly, making it accessible.

As the ASA nears its 175th celebration, Executive Director Ron Wasserstein and I have taken on the responsibility of considering various celebration options. To that end, we will journey together to Edinburgh, Scotland, for the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) annual meetings in September. We were kindly invited by RSS President David Hand, whom we invited to JSM 2009 on behalf of the ASA membership.

The RSS meeting will celebrate the society’s 175th year, making the RSS four years older than the ASA. Coincidentally, Hand and I are both the 104th presidents of our respective associations, due to the differing presidential terms in the infancies of the two societies.

The RSS meetings theme is “Statistics in a Changing Society—175 Years of Progress”. The welcome reception will take place at Edinburgh Castle; the anniversary dinner will be held at Our Dynamic Earth, which requires a view for a full explanation. The dinner will be preceded by a malt whiskey tasting. Did I mention there are scientific talks, as well?

Suffice it to say, Ron and I will bring back numerous ideas for the ASA’s 175th celebration and JSM 2014, slated for Boston, Massachusetts. As the countdown to the ASA festivities begins, no doubt numerous segments of the membership will contribute to the planning.

Having opened with quotes from ASA presidents, I close with words from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” We have much to learn from the past and much to be excited about in our future. And I have no apologies for the shortness of this column, for after all, “brevity is the soul of wit”!

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