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+25: Celebrating Our Past to Energize Our Future

1 March 2012 1,381 views No Comment
The ASA will celebrate its 175th anniversary in 2014. In preparation, column “175”—written by members of the ASA’s 175th Anniversary Steering Committee and other ASA members—will chronicle the theme chosen for the celebration, status of preparations, activities to take place, and, best yet, how you can get involved in propelling the ASA toward its bicentennial.

Contributing Editor
Fred Hulting is the director of global knowledge services at General Mills, Inc. He holds a PhD in statistics from Iowa State University and has served the ASA in a variety of roles, including section, chapter, and committee chair.

In last month’s 175 column, Stephen Stigler highlighted the secret to our association’s longevity: its ability to adapt. Since 1839, the ASA has moved from a regional economics discussion club to an international statistical society fostering research and practice across many disciplines. Consequently, the impact of our association and our profession has been profound, as statistics has aided in developing economies, feeding the world, and expanding safe and effective health care.

As we look ahead 25 years to our bicentennial, it is difficult to predict what the ASA and our profession will look like, but we can already see the forces of change that will shape it. Social and digital media are altering our interactions and publications; globalization is changing the culture of our institutions and businesses; computing technology is flattening our world; and rapid, disruptive, innovation presents an ever-changing stream of new challenges and opportunities.

These many forces will continue to drive statistics into new and interesting areas, expanding our scale and scope and increasing our impact. This will make it possible to leverage our expertise to tackle the really big societal, medical, environmental, and technological challenges that will confront us between now and 2039.

At the same time, these forces will continue to put stress on our profession by pushing increasing specialization and fragmentation. This is not a new trend, and we can already recognize that one key to the ASA’s future adaptability is its existing diversity. The ASA has become the ‘big tent of statistics,’ a broadly inclusive organization welcoming those from business, academia, and government who build our discipline through practice, teaching, and research.

For example, the rise of ‘big data’ has attracted many statisticians to join in the hunt for messages hidden in big data. It also has attracted professionals in machine learning and bioinformatics. Bringing the latter to our big tent and offering them unique statistical insight is an opportunity for the ASA.

With the increasing need for quantitative scientists to process data, many statistical graduates are joining the business world and working as analytics professionals. The ASA is in a unique position to work with various graduate programs to help prepare our students so they can be successful in the business world. Their success can help create awareness and support among business leaders of the statistical profession and the association that helps define it.

Yet, expanding and leveraging our diversity presents several dilemmas. How will we maintain a unifying focus while accommodating these varied interests and applications? How do we continue to serve those within today’s ASA, while identifying ways to attract future members? How exactly should we adapt our publications, meetings, services, and funding to serve our future membership?

The occasion of the ASA’s 175th anniversary is an appropriate time to answer these questions and prepare for the future. We need to increase awareness of and appreciation for statistics, expand the sphere of statistical influence, attract and welcome new members, and keep our existing members engaged. Over the next few months, you will read about efforts to do just that in this column as we discuss the following:

  • Focusing on membership initiatives to expand our big tent
  • Adding innovative programs to enhance the visibility of statistics
  • Engaging the global statistical community in celebrating the International Year of Statistics
  • Sharing and implementing your BIG IDEAS for the ASA’s future

In 2014, we will energize our association by celebrating both our past successes and the present strengths that will empower our future.

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