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2018 Stewardship Report: A Big Impact on Data for Good

1 June 2019 No Comment
This column is written for those interested in learning about the world of Data for Good, where statistical analysis is dedicated to good causes that benefit our lives, our communities, and our world. If you would like to know more or have ideas for articles, contact David Corliss.

David CorlissWith a PhD in statistical astrophysics, David Corliss leads a data science team at Fiat Chrysler. He serves on the steering committee for the Conference on Statistical Practice and is the founder of Peace-Work, a volunteer cooperative of statisticians and data scientists providing analytic support for charitable groups and applying statistical methods in issue-driven advocacy.


The American Statistical Association’s annual stewardship report, published in April, serves a necessary function in reporting how the ASA spends the money members have contributed to programs and the causes we care about. While this fiduciary role makes it come across as a financial report, it also shines a light on some of the most important ASA Data for Good activities. When individual programs and projects are seen through the lens of Data for Good, focus is given to the ASA’s beneficial effect on statistical science and society as a whole.

The report is filled with inspiring examples of statistics making a difference. One highlighted program is the inaugural Florence Nightingale Day. While most people justly remember Nightingale as a pioneering nurse, her story also is a powerful example of using statistics to save lives. When it comes to Data for Good, surely Nightingale is the mother of us all.

This event was especially important because it provided role models for women in STEM—especially statistics—through the participation of ASA 2018 and 2020 presidents, Lisa LaVange and Wendy Martinez, carrying forward Nightingale’s statistical vision and dedication to serving humanity to a new generation.

Another program playing a vital role in securing the future of Data for Good is ASA support for student chapters. This resource means more students becoming connected to D4G at the start of their career, providing the examples, role models, and opportunities needed to make Data for Good a regular part of their entire career—maybe even the focus of it!

Hand-in-hand with support for student chapters are ASA travel awards for students and early-career statisticians. These awards, supported by ASA donors, provide opportunities to attend and present at conferences, learn new skills, and jump-start a network of connections to help their careers prosper.

The report also brings us up to date with many of the wonderful ASA programs. The Leadership Challenge from the Leadership Institute works with students to develop future leaders. Education programs are creating materials for the classroom, including the video “Why Students Need Statistical Literacy” from ThisIsStatistics. The ASA’s advocacy for better use and understanding of statistics in public policy led to the launch of the Count on Stats program in 2018, creating a nonpartisan voice for statistics—and, by extension, all of science—so needed in today’s highly polarized political climate.

The ASA’s vision and mission statements, printed on the right-hand side of the stewardship report, struck me right away. I have written before that the mission of the ASA can be summed by (1) do good statistics, (2) do good for statistics, and (3) do good with statistics. These three points distil a complete picture of the important work we share as members.

The ASA’s official vision and mission statements are good as far as they go, but don’t go far enough. They overlook #3, making no mention of our calling to have a beneficial impact. The stewardship report makes clear what we do, and that a dollar donated to the ASA is a dollar well spent. We would do well to consider adding a few words to the end of the mission statement underscoring our calling to use statistics for the betterment of society.

Of course, adding a few words to the mission statement wouldn’t change the substance of what we do—D4G is in our DNA—but it would better describe what we do and what inspires us in our actions. No science is an island, separated from its impact on humanity. Because of this, advocacy for and with statistics is as much a part of what we do as the mathematics itself.

The stewardship report is so much more than fiduciary reporting. By lifting up just a few outstanding examples of analytics making a difference, the report helps us brainstorm about our own, personal work going forward. For the D4G community, it’s really an inspiration report, full of opportunities to get connected, programs to support, and projects for emulating elsewhere. In this way, the ASA’s stewardship report is an annual look back that helps us better see how and where we can move forward.

Get Involved

Kaggle competitions have addressed a number of Data for Good issues, including services for schools, policing equity, poverty research, and environmental projects. The search engine on Kaggle’s site does a good job of connecting with current and past projects in a particular area of interest. In most cases, the data from past competitions are still there, making Kaggle a great place to get data and connect to D4G projects.

Have you ever wished Kaggle would feature a competition in your particular area of interest? Here’s your chance. Go to Kaggle’s Data Science for Good page to check out how to get started with your own Kaggle event to foster data-driven solutions for the causes that matter to you most.

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