U·biq·ui·ty. The word ubiquity aptly characterizes how statistics permeates society. Our scientific knowledge, our governance, even our daily lives are enriched thanks to the ubiquity of statistics. Yes, statistics make our lives better, they improve society. Take any field – biology, psychology, music, whatever. Infusing statistics adds value, facilitates insights. Ditto for social aspects of our lives, e.g., policy, health, education. Ubiquity holds the key to our future as a field of study, career, and professional community.
Increasingly, we live in a data driven society where people live their lives through the consumption of statistics, be they through such things as ratings of restaurants, availability of affordable rental housing, commuter travel times, or election poll frontrunners. Most if not all such consumed data are accompanied by uncertainty that is all-too-often misunderstood. Yes, we as statisticians are obliged to do our part to help consumers of statistics understand both their nuggets of knowledge and their limitations. By realizing this obligation, we seize the opportunity to advance our field. It’s as simple as this formula: (something + statistics) > (something). Statistics make things better, they can advance society. The scholarly advancement of just about any field of study can be facilitated with statistical training. This is clearly the case in the physical and social sciences as well as the health and medical sciences, but it also holds for the humanities. Everyday life includes a heavy reliance on statistics. Initiatives and programs to promote public understanding and appreciation of statistics will strengthen our statistics community. By the way, this includes advocacy to advance the federal statistical system we rely on heavily to strengthen our democracy.
My ASA Candidacy Statement (in AmStat News) can be seen here
As statisticians, we get to play in everyone’s backyard. It’s fun and very rewarding. But being a good statistical neighbor is necessary but not sufficient; we should be good partners. In addition to exercising our wondrous statistical acumen to facilitate relevant insights, we are specially poised to be the wise partner who contributes value-added critical thinking, scholarly input and even camaraderie. Being a good partner transcends quickly cranking out a sample size for a minimal detectable difference at some conventional level of power and significance. That should be the last step in a thoughtful, deliberate process to understand the research question, how the design addresses it, why the analytic approach is appropriate and whether they produce relevant insight, and why that is important (i.e., answers the “so what?” question). Statisticians are in an ideal position to think through and advise a research team in this fashion. But we need the right training and practical experience to be good partners. ASA has programs to help: training in leadership, communications media, etc. There is also the excellent Conference on Statistical Practice that offers short courses. Yet, more could be done. As ASA president, I’d work with you to develop member programs and benefits to makes us better research partners and enrich our careers.
I am an ardent supporter of the sustainability of the statistics profession. But sustainability cannot be achieved without specific initiatives to promote the statistical profession in our society, especially among students who, after all, represent our future. To this end, I am interested in building a pipeline from elementary school through the university and into the statistics industry. I think it is important to adopt a systemic approach that exploits multi-disciplinary and multi-association involvement. My premise is that it is a good thing if we simply engage a student’s interest in statistical applications regardless of their specific career preferences. If nothing else, garnering their interest enhances the status and importance of statisticians! A second premise is that we can more easily engage student attention through a coalition of professional associations that reflect a broad use of statistical practice, such as public policy, health, pharmacy, computing, economics, demography, and so on. Essentially it involves coalition-building and results in a shared effort that would allow ASA (as well as other coalition members) to engage more students for a modest resource commitment. That is, we could “do more with less.” Another important aspect of this effort would be the creation of ‘student ambassadors.’ Student ambassadors could be provided resources (e.g., JSM conference registration for a graduate student ambassador) in return for participating in outreach efforts to other students (e.g., undergraduate students or high school students). Embedding a ‘pay it forward’ component multiplies our outreach capacity. It could also help address perhaps the biggest barrier to pipeline efforts of any discipline: the substantial portion of the student population (in the U.S.) who do not graduate from high school.
EQUITY -- My experience on the Sexual Harassment and Assault Task Force has been profound. Equity cannot be taken for granted. Our members deserve a safe and nurturing place to learn and grow, both at ASA events and at work. I will further develop policies so that our members are empowered, always feel safe, and benefit from ASA activities regardless of sex, gender, race/ethnicity, age, religion, national origin, or disability status.
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION -- Over the course of my career I have found great value from the perspectives team members with diverse backgrounds, be it personal diversity (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, national origin, gender, sex), substantive diversity (e.g., computer science, economics, psychology, sociology, public health, statistics, etc.), or diversity of sectors (e.g., commercial, government, nonprofit, local community). Yes, logic and mathematical theory is universal, but there are distinct learning opportunities from obtaining diverse perspectives in the framing of problems, designing and implementing solutions and interpreting results and implications. That is why I am a fervent believer in community engagement for policy research. But equally importantly, I believe that ASA would greatly benefit from initiatives and even infrastructure to increase the diversity of its membership, especially in race/ethnicity, national origin and gender. I also would advocate for some form of student representation on the ASA Board of Directors. We need to do all we can to hear from our future leaders and our future core membership. Their sustained participation in ASA is the key to our ultimate success as an assocaition.
My career and devotion to the statistic community is one thing. But all that pales when it comes to family. We lead better lives when putting family before work.
A busy career is no excuse to avoid time for some fun. I have fun being a photographer for SXSW Music/Film/Interactive/EDU festivals each year in March.
Urban Institute biography: Find it here
Rob's Resume: here
This is Statistics! ASA promotional video advocating for a career in Survey Research, includes me: here
2016 LA Times Op Ed: "Why the polls get it wrong" -- Read it here
2018 LA Times Op Ed: "Should you trust the polls? Can they account for external meddling?" -- Read it here
View it here