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Funding Opportunities: Better Statistical Participation is Needed Across Collaborative Science

1 December 2015 1,865 views No Comment
ASA Committee on Funded Research

The ASA’s Committee on Funded Research (CFR) is working, on the one hand, to foster greater awareness of the importance of statistics at several funding agencies and, on the other hand, to help ensure agency leadership has access to statistical expertise when needed.

CFR is charged with facilitating communication and interaction between members of the statistical community and funding organizations, including federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, the technology sector, and biotechnology companies. One committee member recently served on a review panel for proposals with substantial statistical content—but with no statisticians listed in the proposal. This seems to be an all-too-common issue and results in a double loss: The science in these proposals was weak in statistical rigor and our profession lost an opportunity to make a substantial contribution to an important area of science.

Committee on Funded Research

Ming-Wen An, Chair, Vassar College
William F. Christensen, Brigham Young University
Debashis Ghosh, University of Colorado
Sujit Kumar Ghosh, North Carolina State University and SAMSI
David M. Higdon, Virginia Tech
Scott H. Holan, University of Missouri
Karen Messer, University of California, San Diego
Cynthia Rudin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Marina Vannucci, Rice University

Based on such experiences and what we hear from other science societies, we are concerned that statisticians participate in these outreach activities less than other scientists, and that this may have an adverse effect on our discipline. As part of our efforts, we want to remind the ASA research community of the importance of participating in scientific review and generally conveying the importance and benefit of engaging statisticians in research.

Statisticians’ involvement in the interdisciplinary research and proposal review process is key to scientific progress and the vitality of our discipline. Specifically, serving on a study section or review panel is especially important. First, it ensures the statistical perspective is represented, which, in turn, improves the quality of scientific research and helps other study section members see the importance of statisticians’ involvement as scientific partners. For example, study sections/panels that do not include statisticians may fail to make appropriate recommendations regarding inclusion of statistical rigor and/or co-investigators, when such inclusion is likely to improve the quality of the scientific problem being addressed in a proposal.

Second, it helps to ensure proposals involving a good deal of statistical methods and applications receive a fair review. In particular, a study section/panel that does not include a statistician may lack the expertise to adequately review proposals that have statisticians as principal investigators (PIs); this may, in turn, discourage members of the statistical community from submitting proposals in the future.

On a personal level, statisticians who serve on study sections/panels associated with funding agencies find it has been one of the most important factors in their professional development and expansion of their professional networks. They gain not only a broader perspective on emerging scientific methods, but also invaluable perspective on the proposal review process; in particular, they learn what is necessary to have their own research funded.

For junior researchers, involvement in the funding review process is increasingly valued as evidence of professional stature and professional citizenship when a candidate is considered for promotion or tenure. Moreover, while serving on such sections/panels, junior researchers can expand their professional networks by meeting not only lead researchers in their field, but program officers as well.

The need for and importance of a more active role of statisticians in the collaborative sciences is clear. If we as members of the ASA community engage ourselves in these areas of service, then, together, we can greatly benefit the scientific process, maximize our influence on allied sciences, and play active roles in developing newer modes of scientific collaborations.

We encourage every statistical researcher to become involved. Here are some ways to help:

  • Serve on study sections/review panels. Accept an invitation to serve or, if you’re unable to serve, recommend a colleague who has similar expertise. It is especially important that seasoned statisticians and those with a broad range of knowledge or experience be available to help review larger, collaborative research proposals; more junior researchers can cut their teeth on more statistically focused reviewing.
  • Help to convey information to the broader scientific community on research issues where statistical methods can play an important role. You can do this through your networks, your university, blog writing, and/or participation with ASA efforts. The ASA has whitepapers and/or one-pagers relating to the BRAIN Initiative, Big Data Initiative, precision medicine, and climate change. The board has also just released a statement, “The Role of Statistics in Data Science.” We ask your help in sharing these documents broadly. If you have ideas for other whitepapers or one-pagers, we ask you to contact our committee.
  • Another important mechanism is responding to requests for information (RFIs) when strong statistical engagement would benefit the science in the RFI.
  • If you serve as a PI, engage in scientific discussions with your funding officers, keeping them updated on how statistics is benefiting their work and other investigations. It is highly encouraged that a PI on a funded research project send a brief note (e.g., within a page) with illustrative figures that exemplify the outcome of the funded project(s) while submitting an annual report to a funding agency. In many cases, such brief and effective research outcomes are used by the program officers (e.g., at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH)) to showcase the effect of research at their respective divisions and ultimately to Congress.
  • Connect statistical colleagues to appropriate scientific collaborative efforts; for example, by forwarding funding announcements to appropriate colleagues or announcing such information while giving seminars/talks at other campuses, institutions, workshops, or conferences.

Learn more about serving on a study section or review panel, including how to become a reviewer with (e.g., NIH or NSF). The ASA CFR also maintains an external funding website, hosts the ASA Community Funding Opportunities group (which circulates funding solicitation notices), and organizes an annual meeting at JSM, Funding Opportunities for Statisticians.

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