ASA Delegation Visits Russia
Robert N. Rodriguez
Last September, I traveled to Russia with a delegation of ASA members for a series of professional exchanges with statisticians in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In addition to learning about the work of these colleagues and discussing common interests, we toured some of the cultural and historical sites for which these two cities are renowned.
Two of the statistical organizations we visited, the Russian Federal State Statistics Service and the Center for Statistical Techniques, exemplify the diversity of statistical practice we found.
The Federal State Statistics Service, located in Moscow, is an umbrella for 65 statistical agencies, and this organizational structure enables centralized oversight for the collection and use of all government data. Our hosts at the service explained their use of sampling methodology for socioeconomic surveys.
In Russia, response is not mandated for surveys or the population census, although a change in the law is being considered. Statistical agencies struggle with declining response rates, as do official statistics agencies in other countries. Response rates are higher in Russian provinces and lower in cities such as Moscow. On the other hand, economic surveys benefit from good administrative records data because businesses are required to register themselves and apply standard company classifications.
Along with data quality, we discussed the training of Russian statisticians. The number of statistics graduates is decreasing, partly because the mathematics requirement deters many potential students.
In St. Petersburg, we met with the staff of the Center for Statistical Techniques, a private company that provides statistical training and consulting. Formed in 2001, the center bridges the gap between formal statistical education in universities and the growing statistical needs of business. The center has been successful in applying statistics to quality management in marketing and sales departments and in the areas of delivery and logistics. Statistical training programs developed by the center emphasize concepts for executives and techniques for business users.
We had a lively discussion with the staff, who greeted us enthusiastically with Cyrillic name tags and a lengthy list of questions. They were especially interested in hearing about the ASA Section on Quality and Productivity and a recent book about statistical thinking by two ASA members, Roger Hoerl and Ron Snee. We later sent a copy of the book to the staff in appreciation for their hospitality.
If I had to describe the trip with a single adjective, it would be “balanced.” Although our delegation was self-selected, we represented a well-balanced mix of statistical backgrounds (academic, business, and government). And because the organizations we visited represented a similar balance of statistical activities, we were able to share viewpoints and compare notes with all of our Russian hosts.
Finally, our trip was carefully balanced between professional exchanges and cultural exploration. With the help of experts in Russian art and history, we learned much about what we saw: mosaics in the Moscow Metro system, cathedrals in the Kremlin, and great art in the Hermitage Museum. We returned from this extraordinary experience with a sense of professional accomplishment and personal enrichment.