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Guidance for Service on Federal Advisory Boards and Committees

1 April 2017 53 views No Comment
Amy Nussbaum, ASA Science Policy Fellow

    The mission and motto of the American Statistical Association is to “promote the practice and profession of statistics.” To raise the profile of statisticians within the federal government, the ASA’s science policy department staff have been nominating members to various advisory committees and boards in different government agencies. In addition, they have been working to strengthen the nominating process and become more aware of different opportunities.

    Knowledge of statistical issues concerning collection and analysis of data is vital for the success of scientific advisory committees. Statisticians bring expertise in the analysis of and study of design and data collection to help ensure collected data can be used for their intended purpose. Collaborative deliberations would benefit from statisticians’ expertise and experience in working as part of multidisciplinary teams.

    Statistics also includes the study of quantifying uncertainty (essential for understanding risk and measurements with clear implications for the decision making process). It is easy to see that including statisticians would help these committees meet their scientific objectives. Here are some of the examples of recent nominations:

    The goal of the HDS is to provide subject-matter expertise to reduce health disparities. The ASA wanted to nominate a statistician who could ensure these disparities, as well as the results of different programs and interventions, were appropriately measured. To find qualified members, ASA science policy department staff worked with leadership of the ASA’s Health Policy Statistics Section.

    This committee evaluates emerging food safety, nutrition, and other food- or cosmetic-related health issues. Evaluating available data is specifically mentioned in the committee’s duties. The ASA called on past appointees for service on this committee.

    The EPA invited the public to nominate scientific experts to be considered as peer reviewers for contract-managed peer review related to documents intended to support the Safe Drinking Water Act assessment of lead in drinking water. A report, Proposed Modeling Approaches for a Health-Based Benchmark for Lead in Drinking Water, will also be peer-reviewed. The Statistics and the Environment Section was consulted to find qualified members, and for the first time, section officers made a call for volunteers in the section.

    Several ASA members who have served on these types of committees shared some of their experience and advice. Common themes included having a good grasp of relevant subject matter and committee context. One member (who prefers to be quoted anonymously due to institutional policies) writes, “A statistician who can comment not only on statistical aspects of the review material, but subject matter aspects as well, makes the statistician a valued (and potentially THE most valuable) member of the review panel.”

    Ted, another ASA member, recommended, “For being a constructive member, do your homework. Learn about panel history, precedents, and common discussion points. If possible, attend one or more meetings of the panel prior to taking an active role.”

    Communication is another important aspect of committee service. Our anonymous member writes, “The statistician also needs to have a history of being able to communicate (in speaking and writing) statistical aspects in an understandable way to people from other disciplines.”

    Ted adds that one should “review materials ahead of time and plan in advance which points you will want to discuss/review with the other panel members. There won’t be enough time for every member to comment on every issue, so be judicious about where your input will have the most impact.”

    Finally, several mentioned the “cardinal rule” of being a member of a review panel: writing and expressing comments as statements, not questions. Our anonymous member writes, “Too many people reviewing things only ‘ask questions,’ which provides no guidance to the authors of the material being reviewed about what is needed to resolve the issues. Being able to contribute to addressing/resolving issues is one of the most rewarding aspects of being on a review panel.”

    Ted recommends committee members “consider how a seeming problem might be rectified (change in approach, clarification of methods, supplying detail, resolving apparent contradictions).”

    We have been working to identify more nominating opportunities and engaging with different sections to find the best candidates for each position. We hope to make the broader community aware of these opportunities by updating the Science Policy page, posting notices to ASA Connect, and engaging with section leadership. We are looking forward to strengthening the process and bringing statistical expertise to the federal government.

    If you know of any nominating opportunities, contact ASA Science Policy Fellow Amy Nussbaum.

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