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2021: A Year of Hope and Helping

1 January 2021 1,347 views 2 Comments

Rob Santos

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy, and productive new year, fellow statisticians. I don’t know about you, but I have never been more eager for a year to end than I was in 2020. Each succeeding month I would think things could not possibly get weirder, crazier, or more challenging. Yet, somehow, events continued to unfold to dash my hopes for any sense of sanity or stability. So much for 2020.

By the time you read this, we will be living in the year 2021 and the pall of 2020 will be behind us. The pandemic caused enormous suffering in our society, including reductions in housing stability for millions of families and the economic downturn and associated losses of jobs, businesses, and wealth. Hunger among our nation’s families has soared. Twenty-three percent report food insecurity. Racial injustices and health disparities continued their rise last year, and political divisiveness deepened. Finally, well more than 300,000 of our fellow US residents succumbed to COVID.

I hope neither you nor your loved ones were sick from COVID or contract it in the future. Although the distribution of vaccine promises a slow end to our sequestered lives, we very much continue to be embedded in the throes of the pandemic; times will remain difficult and uncertain for the foreseeable future. Yet here we are in a new year. There is reason for optimism and hope despite the challenges we face.

Now, more than ever, we as statisticians and human beings need to support each other. I encourage you to join me in devoting the year 2021 to building community. The ongoing COVID era—where essentially all communications are virtual—provides an opportunity for both expanding your network and strengthening existing ties. If you are engaged in your career as a statistician, think about reconnecting with your undergraduate and graduate classmates; reconnect with former job colleagues. Stay in touch with your mentees and mentor(s); ask them how they are doing, share your tips for coping with the times, and see if they have any tips for you. If you are a student, stay in touch with your classmates and professors. Share your experiences and coping strategies.

Let’s strengthen our ASA community. Say hi to fellow members of your ASA sections or chapters and participate in their activities. Speak out and contribute to our ASA Community by offering your perspective on an issue or helping a fellow statistician who has a technical question. Virtually introduce yourself to statisticians you have been wanting to meet. Bolster your social media presence by posting and following others. The ASA member directory or even LinkedIn can be a great resource for connecting. Ultimately, we will endure the pandemic and its effects on society, but the journey can be more readily navigated if we do it together, supporting each other as statisticians, colleagues, friends, and fellow human beings.

Let’s also support our local communities. The first part of 2021 will be critical in helping the public understand the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. We need a high proportion of the residents in each of our communities to be inoculated. Having a vaccine is necessary but not sufficient. We can communicate with friends, family, neighbors, and the public and deliver a message of trust based on our understanding and review of the statistical results of clinical trials.

Many of us have already done this, but much more is needed. All communications can help, be they conversations, social media postings, media interviews, op-eds, whatever. Let us do our part to spread the word that vaccines can be trusted, provided, of course, you believe that. And if you do not, let’s have open, respectful discussions about your concerns. Our communities will benefit from hearing our voices.

Be aware of and sensitive to the suffering occurring in your local community. Families are hungry and stressed out, cannot pay bills, and are dealing with difficult health events and family issues. Many of us are blessed to be able to work at home while continuing to earn a paycheck and advance our careers. But so many people and families have not been so fortunate. You can help by donating to your local food bank or a nonprofit that helps your community. You can offer support and comfort to friends and family. We are all in this together.

The pandemic also brought into stark view some of the blemishes of society, one which is of special importance to me: exacerbated racial-ethnic disparities in health, justice, and virtually all aspects of society. Our ASA commitment to inclusion and equity will continue through the pandemic and beyond. The ASA is early into the long journey of understanding and addressing issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) in statistics and data science. Please think about how you can help. As an association member, consider joining the ASA JEDI Outreach Group. The JEDI group is committed to identifying and overcoming systemic racism and hindering biases; their activities include assessing and improving JEDI efforts, developing resources for individuals and organizations in our professional community, enabling growth and appreciation for cultural humility, and communicating the group’s efforts and solutions that have been implemented. There is also self-reflection and research you can do on unconscious bias. Becoming more aware of and sensitive to the effect of one’s communications and actions on others different than you (be it race-ethnicity, gender, religion, technical expertise, language, etc.) will make you both a better statistician and a better human being.

Finally, the ASA has launched its Anti-Racism Task Force to review the association’s infrastructure and policies; assess association communications, services, and benefits; and inform the public of the responsible use of statistics and data science in systems that unintentionally contribute to racial and ethnic bias. The task force will prepare a roadmap for the ASA to follow in advancing its JEDI objectives and realizing its commitments. Inequities, racial injustice, and noninclusiveness are not going away any time soon, and we as statisticians can do our part to address these issues and help create a better society for all. Please feel free to reach out to the task force if you are available to help. There may be activities that could use a helping hand.

You can probably tell I have a passion for service to community. We exist, survive, and thrive in multiple “communities,” including our beloved ASA community; our neighborhood, city, or town; our global professional network of colleagues; our families and friends; our church (if you are religious); and our social media pals. All deserve nurturing during these challenging times. Let us do our part to help society get through the pandemic and address societal imperfections, and let’s do that with our statistical acumen and our hearts.

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  • Deborah G. Mayo said:

    Rob Santos:
    The January 2020 issue of Amstat noted that the ASA Board approved the creation of an ASA Task Force on Statistical Significance and Replicability “with a charge to develop thoughtful principles and practices that the ASA can endorse and share with scientists and journal editors.
    …The task force will report to the ASA BOD by November 2020.” https://magazine.amstat.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/JANUARY2020_web2.pdf

    Task Force members were announced in the February 2020 issue https://magazine.amstat.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/February2020_FINAL.pdf

    When will the ASA share the recommendations made by this Task Force?

    Thank you!
    D. Mayo

  • Robert Santos said:

    Greetings, Dr. Mayo,

    I recently was made aware that you posted this query so I apologize for the delay in responding. As Ron Wasserstein relayed in a separate communication, the Task Force (TF) itself will be disseminating its recommendations, and it is currently exploring different options including those affiliated with ASA and beyond. The Board was very appreciative of the work of the Task Force and are ready to assist if that is requested. While the Board declined to formally adopt the TF statement as an ASA policy statement, it welcomed the opportunity for and encouraged the TF to share its statement with the statistical community and beyond. That consideration and process is in motion by the task force. I do not know their timing but hope it is soon.


    Rob Santos
    2021 ASA President