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175 | Celebrating the Impact of Our Profession

1 November 2014 No Comment
This year marks the ASA’s 175th birthday. To celebrate, the 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.

Contributing Editor

Fred Hulting

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.


    The 175th anniversary of the ASA occurs this month, and we are wrapping up a year of commemoration and celebration of this tremendous milestone. The anniversary theme was “Celebrate Our Past, Energize Our Future,” and the ASA focused on three efforts in support of this theme: StatSharp, StatGrowth, and StatImpact.

    The aim of StatImpact is to highlight how statisticians have successfully tackled the world’s biggest problems and inspire future efforts. The motivation for StatImpact came from Roger Hoerl’s call to action in his 2011 Deming Lecture.

    “Given the types of problems the world faces, such as AIDS … we might ask why statisticians are not working on these problems,” Hoerl said. “The short answer, of course, is that they are. … They are doing precisely what I am suggesting. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are enough of them. We need to do more, and I think we can do more.”

    As an applied science, statistics is all about impact, and the expertise of our profession is needed as the world confronts the enormous societal, medical, environmental, and technological challenges taking shape. The magnitude of this opportunity was articulated again by Sallie Keller at JSM 2014 when she asked that we “… [C]onsider the health and welfare of the next billion people on earth. How do we fully understand the human condition and accommodate the needs this group?”

    In that spirit, StatImpact set forth several objectives that leverage the ASA’s meetings, journals, and public outreach efforts. First, infuse the 2014 Joint Statistical Meetings with the ideas and inspiration of StatImpact. Second, publish articles in our 2015 ASA journals that highlight the impact of our profession. Finally, communicate the power of our profession as a way to influence science, policy, and the growth of the ASA.

    JSM 2014:ASA President Nat Schenker’s support for driving the impact of statistics was reflected in his chosen theme of “Statistics: Global Impact—Past, Present, and Future,” for JSM 2014. Many of the StatImpact-themed sessions described significant past accomplishments. In addition, several sessions focused specifically on the future impact of the profession, outlining emerging opportunities in medicine, education, public health, and the sciences. To learn more about the conference, visit the JSM 2014 website.

    Journals:Currently, The American Statistician will publish articles commemorating the anniversary and celebrate the impact of statistics. The ASA 175th Committee continues to work with other journals, as well.

    Outreach:The ASA has been busy with outreach efforts, and several of these initiatives focus on communicating our impact. First, the ASA is building collaboration with other scientific societies. As an example, working with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has led to renewed collaboration with Section U–Statistics, the addition of statistics reviewers to raise the quality of published statistical work, and Science columns focused on statistics topics. Second, the ASA has published a series of white papers to help drive research funding by demonstrating we are vital partners who bring essential expertise. Finally, a nationwide campaign, “This Is Statistics,” has been launched, centered on thisisstatistics.org. Aimed at students, parents, and educators, the site’s main message is that statistics “is not what you think it is.” It is broader and deeper and more impactful than many people realize.

    All of these StatImpact activities are raising the visibility of the power of statistics. ASA Past President Bob Rodriguez often talks to students about this power, saying that, as a statistician, “You can find the power to remain in demand, the power to become purpose driven, and the power to reach higher. What could you do with this power?” As the StatImpact efforts have demonstrated, we can make a tremendous difference in our society with that power.

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