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Stats4Good: Peace Award Recognizes Biostatistician, Teacher, and Mentor Michael H. Kutner

1 October 2021 No Comment

David CorlissWith a PhD in statistical astrophysics, David Corliss is lead, Industrial Business Analytics, and manager, Data Science Center of Excellence, Stellantis. 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.

Distinguished biostatistician, teacher, mentor, and consultant Michael H. Kutner has been named the recipient of the ASA’s Karl E. Peace Award for Outstanding Statistical Contributionsfor the Betterment of Society. The award was established in 2012 with the mission to recognize persons “who have made substantial contributions to the statistical profession and to society in general.”

A photo of Michael Kutner, a white man, wearing a suit and smiling slightly

Michael H. Kutner received the ASA’s Karl E. Peace Award for Outstanding Statistical Contributions for the Betterment of Society.

Presented each year at JSM, the award is one of the highest honors a statistician can receive. While many honors and awards focus on scientific achievement and service within the statistical profession, the Karl Peace award looks at the broader impact to society as a whole.

Kutner’s long and distinguished career has received many accolades. Endowed Rollins Professor of Biostatistics at the Emory University School of Public Health since 2004, he also served as the school’s executive associate dean for faculty affairs in the 1990s. Named an ASA Fellow in 1984, his service and leadership was recognized with the ASA Founders Award in 1996.

One important area of leadership has been his work improving the statistical process by developing other statisticians through collaboration and mentoring. This led to receiving the ASA’s W. J. Dixon Award for Excellence in Statistical Consulting in 2011 “for outstanding lifetime contributions to the field of statistical consulting and collaboration” and the ASA Mentoring Award in 2018. His leadership in these areas continues today, including serving on the committee for the Dixon award. Kutner has received numerous other awards throughout his distinguished career, as well.

The scientific focus of much of Kutner’s work has been in clinical trials and study design. With a career spanning almost 60 years, he has written more than 170 peer-reviewed papers. Reflecting his desire to teach, collaborate, and develop other statisticians, Kutner has written two textbooks—including the widely used Applied Linear Regression Models, now in its fourth edition.

Get Involved
In opportunities this month, Carol Blumberg has been maintaining a treasure trove of statistics-related competitions, grants, and scholarships, which is available through STATtr@k, but be sure to check out the rest of the great resources on the site.

With the COVID pandemic continuing, the need for Data for Good projects continues, as well. As one source of inspiration, I would like to give a shout out to a fabulous interactive data visualization by Kara Gavin of the University of Michigan. It is a map of COVID practices and rules by school district, with drill-down for details for each district. It’s just for Michigan, so there is a lot of room to create one for your own state or any other public data you want to include.

Biostatistics has always represented a tremendous opportunity to serve the public good. This is especially true of Kutner’s work on the process of designing and conducting research using biostatistics, where innovations and insights gained can be applied to other research projects.

Of all Kutner’s diverse contributions to the greater good, his work in teaching and mentoring stands out the most. From the beginning, the direction of his career was set toward training and mentoring new generations of statisticians. Teaching was the focus from the start, beginning with his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics. (A teacher, statistician, and physicist—a man after this statistical physicist’s own heart!) I expect him to be one of only a few university professors holding a certificate to teach junior high school math and science.

Wanting to do more for students, Kutner undertook graduate work in statistics, joining William & Mary upon completion to teach statistics and math classes. He fell in love with academic teaching and began a doctoral program in biostatistics. Graduating from Texas A&M in 1971, he started at Emory, where he was involved in founding the school of public health. His work continues to this day as a leader in the education, development, and mentoring of statisticians.

Kutner’s contributions to the statistical community are many and varied. I think it especially noteworthy that the 2021 Karl Peace award honors a person with such a focus on developing future generations of statisticians. In a world where publications and grants often take first place and too little attention is given to the slow, patient work of developing students, such an honor is world-changing. It is a useful reminder that statistical sciences are always only one generation away from extinction. In Michael H. Kutner, the ASA has honored a person dedicated to strengthening the statistical profession and statisticians for generations to come.

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