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Interview with Significance Editor Brian Tarran

4 July 2017 99 views No Comment
Significance magazine is written by statisticians for those with an interest in analysis and data. To find out how the magazine works and where story ideas originate, we asked the editor, Brian Tarran, the following questions.

Brian Tarran/Photo by Elyse Marks

What is the best part about being editor of Significance magazine?

The best part of any editor’s job is when the publication goes to print. There’s real satisfaction in putting together something for other people to read and enjoy. But as with any creative endeavor, that feeling only lasts about 24 hours. Then, you start to critique all the things you’ve done or wished you’d done differently, mulling them over and over until it suddenly dawns on you that you’ve got exactly eight weeks to get the next magazine together, so you’d better get a move on.

What’s unique about Significance, though, is the opportunity to work with a diverse array of expert contributors—and I really do think I learn a lot from each of them. I’m not a statistician. I came to the magazine as a journalist, and my job is to work with statisticians to help them craft interesting and compelling stories. Working through that process—whether with our contributors or our editorial board—is never less than fascinating.

I like to think I’ve helped our writers to better communicate their ideas, but I can say without hesitation that working with statisticians has made me a better editor and writer—and a more critical thinker, particularly where numbers are concerned.

June Highlights
The digital version of the June 2017 issue of Significance is available.

Read about how historians use a naval battle in World War I to explain how Bayesian thinking helps them reason with uncertainties of the past and how Lord Woolton, Britain’s minister of food during World War II, used statistics (and more) to prevent the nation from starving. Additionally, access an exclusive excerpt from the new book Errors, Blunders, and Lies: How to Tell the Difference by David S. Salsburg, author of The Lady Tasting Tea.

Also in this issue:

An economist argues Big Data may not be quite the game changer promised to those looking to predict stock market performance, especially with the ever-present danger of spurious correlations.

We learn why the “most popular” baby names might not be the most popular—which is something to keep in mind the next time baby-name rankings are published.

Data scientists apply machine learning to conference abstracts to speed up the event-planning process.

A biostatistician tracks the ups and downs of her own pregnancy weight gain.

Access the digital version of Significance through Members Only or download and read the magazine on the go with our iOS and Android apps.

If you are a print subscriber, your June issue will be arriving soon.

Where do story ideas originate?

Story ideas come from all manner of sources. Our editorial board is one key source. The members keep the magazine plugged in to what is happening in the statistical community and alert us to any interesting work that has been or is about to be published in journals or at conferences. We also keep an eye on what’s happening in the wider world so we can offer a statistical take, or a statistician’s perspective, on stories in the news. But many of the best ideas come directly from our contributors, and some of our most popular articles ever were submitted as part of our annual writing competition for early-career statisticians.

Do you have any special issues or articles planned that readers can look forward to?

We’ve tended to avoid special issues in recent years in favor of a broad selection of topics in each magazine. We also try not to plan too far ahead so we can keep the content topical and relevant to the concerns of the day. That said, we are planning features on official statistics, Big Data, deep learning, pollution, data visualization, and the history of statistics.

What is your vision for Significance, and how do you see the magazine evolving?

My vision remains true to the founding remit of Significance—that is, to create a magazine that introduces and explains statistical ideas and concepts to readers and to publish accessible, entertaining, and informative articles that showcase the contribution statistics makes to all walks of life.

The challenge facing us now, though, is to think about how we continue to deliver on that remit. The print magazine remains popular—so we’re not preparing for a digital-only future just yet—but we do need to take full advantage of digital media.

We relaunched our iOS and Android app last year and our website this year—both of which were redesigned to offer an improved mobile reading experience. But my long-term ambition is to start taking advantage of digital interactivity to bring our articles to life in a way that just isn’t possible on the printed page. So, we’re very much interested in working with statisticians who are excited about experimenting with different approaches to presenting content, both in print and online. As I said earlier, many of our best story ideas are to the credit of our contributors—and I expect that will be the case here, as well.

Do you have any tips you can offer someone interested in writing for Significance?

The starting point is always the synopsis. We’re looking for a good, strong outline of the story you want to tell and some explanation of why it’s important and why readers will want to read it. The story could be on any subject you like, provided you can make it accessible, relevant, and engaging to our audience.

When it comes to writing the article, contributors tend to have the most trouble with structure. People sometimes mistake Significance for a journal, and so submissions may be structured like a journal paper. But as a magazine, we’re looking for a different style of presentation and story-telling. My job is to help with those aspects, but there’s no real secret to writing in this way. If you enjoy reading magazines—including Significance—you’ll know already what makes for a good article.

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