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Significance Magazine—An ASA and RSS Partnership

13 May 2010 4,364 views One Comment
Julian Champkin, Editor, Significance
Beginning with the September 2010 issue, the ASA and the Royal Statistical Society will collaborate on the publication of the statistical outreach magazine Significance. Each ASA member will receive the quarterly as a benefit of membership. Here, Julian Champkin, editor of Significance, offers a brief introduction to the magazine.

Darwin Anniversary Special Issue of Significance published in September 2009.

How does a flock of a million starlings or more manage to keep itself together as it wheels about the sky? How can you fairly handicap a yacht race? Do big firms or small firms create more jobs? Is organic milk really better for your health than nonorganic? And where exactly are the certainties—and, as important, the uncertainties—in climate change? Statistics holds the answer to all of these questions. Significance is a magazine about statistics.

Our front cover, besides looking rather wonderful, has a tagline that describes much of what we do. It says “statistics making sense.”

So we write about statistics. Almost every interesting or important decision in the world today involves statistics, either obviously or in its background. Which means that we write about the world—and pretty nearly everything that is in it. Would reintroducing commercial whaling send whale species into extinction? Does obesity really make you more at risk from swine flu? How can the Large Hadron Collider hope to extract the signature of dark matter from a billion collisions a second? In the wake of the failure of nations to agree at the Copenhagen Summit, can individual actions make a significance impact to reduce emissions?

We have asked how many civilians actually died during the invasion of Iraq—and how many soldiers died two centuries earlier during Napoleon’s march on Moscow in 1812, and whether an 18th century graph-drawer of genius or Tolstoy’s War and Peace best conveys the immensity of that military and human disaster. And we have asked whether cows really do face north more often than east, west, or south.

But we are not always as frivolous as that last example. We once happily devoted many pages to how to classify the flavors and tastes of Scotland’s 400-odd life-enhancing, single-malt whiskeys.

We write our pieces for professional statisticians, for academic statisticians, for student statisticians—and, perhaps most importantly, for people who are not statisticians at all. We try to make statistics understandable to everyone. We try not to dumb it down. We are a magazine, not a peer-reviewed journal of technical papers, which means that our language is lighter. However, our content is as stimulating and challenging as if we phrased it in the most obscure academic jargon. Some parts are easy reads; some are mind-stretchingly hard; some are contentious; a few might be infuriating; all, we hope, are interesting.

We began, back in 2004, as an outreach magazine of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) in Great Britain. But statistics is a worldwide discipline, and the world gets smaller all the time. Our authors are and always have been international—mainly statisticians themselves, who turn their own technical papers into readable pieces for those outside their own discipline, subdiscipline, or still narrower speciality. Our magazine has never been parochial—though we are happy to write about any “parish” as long as it is interesting to the rest of the world as well.

One of the best compliments the magazine has been paid was from a member of the RSS who said that his spouse, no statistician herself, would take away and read every issue before he could get his hands on it.

One of the best compliments, yes, but not the best. That came when the American Statistical Association decided that its members too might like to receive the magazine. The link is more than a compliment: It is an opportunity as well. It means that the magazine can grow: in readership, in frequency, and in influence. It can become a true, worldwide voice of statisticians shouting for the cause of statistics. When the first ASA/RSS joint issue reaches you—sometime around September—I hope you enjoy it. I hope also that you will come to feel it is your own, and that you will send us your comments and feedback, your letters, and your ideas for it—and help shout for us.

And if, with luck and inspiration, you feel that your shouting could take the form of an article, then please write for us as well. That too would be more than welcome. You are giving me as its editor the most exciting challenge anyone could wish for. I will need your help to rise to it.

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