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JSM, Here We Come!

1 July 2018 No Comment

Lisa LaVange

It is July, and that means JSM is just around the corner. As a schoolkid, I could hardly wait for fall to arrive, so I could return to school and see my friends after a long summer of fun and (probably too much) sun. As an adult, that same anticipation hits me around the end of June/early July, when I start thinking about seeing friends and colleagues, sharing new experiences, and learning about the hot new statistical topics—all at JSM.

My first JSM experience was in 1978. I will never forget the San Diego venue with perfect 72-degree weather, a zoo larger than any I could imagine, and the biggest bunch of statisticians I’d ever seen! Since that time, 39 more JSMs have occurred, and I’ve missed only four.

Growing up, my daughters equated JSM with our summer vacation. As long as the home baseball team was in town, it was a pretty sure thing my family would accompany me. And more than once, one daughter had to sit through a working lunch or technical session while the other went off sight-seeing with Dad. Memorable family moments include seeing not one, but two, baseball parks in Chicago (JSM 1986); watching extra innings with my good friend and huge Red Sox fan, Maura Stokes, only to see the Sox lose to the Angels in Anaheim (JSM 1990); visiting the Make Way for Ducklings statues commemorating one of my girls’ favorite childhood stories in Boston Commons (JSM 1994); touring the MLK memorial in Atlanta (JSM 2001); visiting the emotionally moving site of Ground Zero in NYC (JSM 2002); and seeing both the Hockey Hall of Fame and Canadian production of “Hairspray” in Toronto (JSM 2004).

My family attended the Tuesday night lecture in Toronto, where I had the unbelievable honor of being elected ASA Fellow. The president’s address that night was given by Brad Efron, and my younger daughter—then in high school—took notes on his Bayes statistics talk to impress her AP Statistics teacher later that fall.

Those of you still reading might now be tempted to utter, “Get a life.” But, in my defense, I just truly love attending JSM. There is something so fulfilling about reconnecting with colleagues from every job you ever had, no matter what branch of statistics or what sector you’ve worked in. I started my career in complex sample surveys and migrated to clinical trials. At what other annual meeting can you mingle with statisticians from both fields under one roof?

Turning this affinity for JSM into action, I served on the program committee three times: once as a section representative (Dallas in 110-degree weather, 1998); once as a general methodology co-chair (a much cooler San Francisco, 2003); and once as overall program chair (with record-setting attendance in Seattle, 2006). Program committee participation is a great opportunity to affect the scientific program, and watching the inner workings of the ASA staff as they assemble another successful JSM is a sight to behold!

Now that I’ve gotten you ready to start packing for Vancouver, what’s on tap this year? The program committee, led by Christian Leger, has assembled a terrific line-up of speakers and interesting topics. Included are introductory overview lectures (IOLs) on deep learning (Sunday, 2:00 p.m.); teaching statistics (Sunday, 4:00 p.m.); leading data science (Monday, 8:30 a.m.); multivariate data modeling with copulas (Monday, 10:30 a.m.); reproducibility, efficient workflows, and rich environments (Tuesday, 8:30 a.m.); and the statistical and data revolution in the social sciences (Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.). IOLs were introduced relatively late in the history of JSM and have proven to be one of the most popular session types, offering high-level, timely overviews for busy statisticians with little time for a deep dive.

As president-elect, one of the first items on the agenda is to start thinking about the president’s invited speaker. Recent years have seen such notables as Sir David Cox, Alan Krueger, Stephen Stigler, and Christine H. Fox. Then, 2013 President Marie Davidian set a new bar with Nate Silver (JSM Montréal), drawing the largest crowd ever at the Monday afternoon session. I’ll never forget one of the questions from the audience after the talk: “Can I get a job at FiveThirtyEight.com?”

Journalists were featured speakers in the past two years, both addressing the difficult task of making statistics understandable to the general public through various media outlets, with Joe Palca from NPR in 2016 and Jo Craven McGinty from The Wall Street Journal in 2017.

My goal this year was to invite someone who could speak from a position of importance as a leader in a data-intensive work environment. I found just such a person in Laura Evans, senior vice president of data and insights at The New York Times Company. In this role, Laura oversees data science, analytics, and data operations across the organization. Prior to joining the Times, she served as vice president of audience development and data science at the Scripps Networks Interactive and held leadership positions at both The Washington Post and Dow Jones. She has a PhD in political science with a concentration in quantitative methods from The George Washington University.

Laura is eloquent, engaging, and extremely knowledgeable about the challenges inherent in trying to identify the truth surrounded by a lot of noisy data. She embodies what it means to be a strong leader in a fast-paced work environment. Her career story is relevant both to my presidential initiative of building the ASA Leadership Institute and to this year’s JSM theme, #LeadWithStatistics. Having her speak this year from the journalism world, but with more of a business and data science perspective than a writer or reporter, will be a nice follow-on to the president’s invited addresses of the past two years. Her ability to speak to workforce development and the challenges of hiring and retaining statisticians and scientists in today’s marketplace should be right on target. I believe Laura’s address will resonate with attendees at JSM and ASA members at large. I am looking forward to hosting her in Vancouver.

I have great expectations for the incredible gathering of statisticians about to commence and remain in awe of the amount of work it takes for ASA staff, the program committee, and an army of volunteers to pull off this monumental event each year. My Amstat News columns to date have carried a leadership thread through them, but so far, I’ve only focused on statisticians in leadership roles. JSM is the place where the leadership of ASA Associate Executive Director and Director of Operations Steve Porzio, ASA Director of Meetings Kathleen Wert, and the ASA meetings staff is brought to bear. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in 2018. JSM, here we come!

I will close with a shout-out to last month’s column about the Count on Stats initiative. Thanks to Ron Wasserstein and Steve Pierson’s diligence, the ASA was successful in publishing a letter to the editor of The Washington Post on June 7 concerning the early and inappropriate disclosure of employment statistics through a White House tweet. If I could have penned a story to illustrate what can go wrong when official federal statistics—and the statisticians who generate them—are not given their proper respect, it would not be as relevant as this real-life occurrence. Thanks to Ron and Steve for making sure the ASA is seen as being on the right side of the issues, all the time.

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