Section U: How Statistics Fits in at AAAS
Joan F. Hilton, AAAS Section U Secretary, 2007-2011
At this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held in Washington DC over Presidents’ Day weekend, Section U—the Statistics Section of AAAS—celebrated its 50th anniversary. Following are some historical highlights.
The AAAS was founded in 1848, during the presidency of James K. Polk, when the United States comprised 30 states and six territories. The census of 1850 counted 23.2 million inhabitants. AAAS was the first permanent organization formed to promote the development of science and engineering at the national level and to represent the interests of all its disciplines. The 1874 (second) AAAS constitution identifies two sections of the association—A (mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and mineralogy) and B (geology, zoology, botany, and anthropology)—and emphasizes the sections’ roles in forming the program at the annual meeting.
By 1885, the sections had subdivided, and Section I included the fields of economic science and statistics. However, the 1920 (third) constitution does not mention statistics among its sections.
Fast forward to 1961, when AAAS formed two new Sections: T, information and communication, and U, statistics. John F. Kennedy was the U.S. president and Hawaii had joined the union in 1959 as the 50th state, bringing the 1960 population to 183.3 million. In its journal Science, the association announced
Morris B. Ullman, the first secretary of Section U, explained that the section on statistics arose from the vision of several statistical organizations and that its activities would be directed by their members:
Jerzy Neyman, the first chair of Section U, articulated the possible functions of the Section on Statistics in a 1962 essay in Science. While recognizing that compartmentalization is a prerequisite for making progress in one’s own field, he argued that “substantial progress can sometimes be achieved if a difficult problem is examined from a broader point of view, particularly if this creates the possibility of borrowing a method developed by another discipline.” Neyman recommended that Section U “concentrate on activities, as an integral part of AAAS, largely limited to the popularization and decompartmentalization of research [—a field that] is broad, fertile, and most attractive.”
To promote “fruitful intellectual cross-fertilization” between scientists and statisticians for the advancement of science, Neyman proposed that Section U offer sessions at the annual meeting “for informing the general public and other groups within AAAS of the use of statistics within various domains, including governmental agencies …” As a means of drawing statistical leaders to AAAS meetings, Neyman suggested that regional meetings of affiliated societies be held in conjunction with the AAAS annual meeting.
The 1973 (sixth and current) AAAS constitution, in describing the function of sections, continues
to emphasize their role in forming sessions at AAAS annual meetings: “Under the general direction of the section secretary, and within the context of overall plans for scientific meetings of the association, each section committee may arrange such section contributions to those meetings as it deems desirable.” This constitution further indicates that representatives of affiliate societies are meant to co-direct AAAS sections:
“The corresponding electorate” consists of AAAS members who have followed Morris B. Ullman’s advice and advised the association that they wish to be identified with Section U.
Leap forward to 2011, the 50th anniversary of Section U and the 163rd anniversary of AAAS. Barack Obama is president of the United States and our population has reached 308.7 million. AAAS has more than 130,000 members, of whom 70,000 have formally identified section(s) of interest. Among the latter, 1,802 members identify with Section U (20% as their primary section, 34% as secondary, and 46% as tertiary). Remarkably, at least one person who identifies with Section U specifies each of the other 23 sections of AAAS as their primary section. Thus, the AAAS continues to attract statisticians with diverse scientific interests.
Section U is affiliated with a variety of professional societies that also appoint representatives to other AAAS sections. These societies (Section U representatives) include the American Statistical Association (Robert Fay, Charmaine Dean), International Biometric Society (Hyune-Ju Kim), Institute of Mathematical Statistics (Jianqing Fan), Population Association of America (William Butz, Amy Tsui), Association for Women in Mathematics (Mary Gray), and Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (Ronald Rosier). Twice a year, these representatives meet with the Section U Steering Group. Current members are Thomas Louis, Mitchell Gail, Joel Greenhouse, Jane Pendergast, Betz Halloran, Alan Karr, Ronald Spoeri, and Ken Wachter.