Event report - The ISI World Statistics Congress in Hong Kong

Written by Christopher Nam on . Posted in Features-OLD

The 59th World Statistics Congress (WSC) of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) 2013 was held this year in Hong Kong on 25-30 August. It brought together around 2,500 statistical experts and practitioners from around the world.

In addition to the usual sessions dedicated to the advances in statistical theory and applications, several sessions were dedicated to celebrating the International Year of Statistics. This included a special presentation by Ron Wasserstein [executive director of the American Statistical Association], who explained that 2013 was chosen as the Year of Statistics because it coincides with many statistical milestones such as the 250th anniversary of Bayes’ theorem. He spoke about the aims of the campaign - to celebrate the discipline and those involved by highlighting its importance across the world, thus improving the perception and statistical literacy of the general public.

Participating nations had so far celebrated the International Year of Statistics in a variety of ways, ranging from decorative banners proclaiming the celebratory occasion to Spanish statisticians embarking on bicycle road trips in order to help improve statistical literacy in the local community. More exciting activities are planned for the remaining four months of the year by participating countries.

WSC 2013 also marked the launch of the Karl Pearson Prize, an award recognising a contemporary research contribution that has profound influence on statistical theory, methodology, practice and applications. Peter McCullagh, together with the late John Nelder, were made the first recipients of the prize for their seminal monograph on ‘Generalised Linear Models’ (1983).

As well as accepting the prize, Peter McCullagh also presented a humorous lecture titled, ‘Statistical issues in modern scientific research’, which demonstrated the invalidity of statistical results presented in a recent published scientific article. This highlighted the need for statisticians to work with scientific researchers from the beginning of their proposed experiment, rather than an afterthought when analysis needs to be performed. Many of the other presentations emphasised a problem with the perception of statistics: that it is a toolbox to only be used for analysis.

Another aim of the International Year of Statistics is to improve perception and awareness of statistics in the world among young people. In light of this, Wednesday 28 August was designated Youth Theme Day with a variety of activities to showcase the research and opportunities available to  young statisticians. Activities included a designated postgraduate students' session in which the statistical societies of the UK, Spain, South Africa, Korea, Japan and Taiwan were represented by a nominated postgraduate from their country to showcase their research.

A special career development session was also organised by Byeong Uk Park which included talks by Robert Rodriquez (head of R&D at SAS Institute and former president of the American Statistical Association), Jef Teugels (professor Catholic University of Louvain), Jing Shyr (a statistical consultant at IBM) and Patrick Poon (professor at Hong Kong University). Talks covered the future opportunities available to upcoming statisticians (particularly with the big data boom and advances in computing power and affordability); the additional 'soft skills' that are necessary along with existing statistical skills to be successful statisticians; and the need to ‘go back to the basics’, occasionally in expanding one’s statistical skill set and checking whether one’s statistical analysis is appropriate.

An interesting presentation also took place on the potential differences between the term ‘statistician’ and the relatively new terms ‘data scientist’ and ‘business analyst’. All three require a certain degree of statistical skills, although often with different purposes in mind. It was generally agreed that ‘statisticians’ tend to be more pessimistic and conservative with the presentation of their results, ‘data scientists’ often have superior computing skills, and ‘business analysts’ have a specific objective in mind. One final fundamental distinguishing factor between ‘statisticians’ and the other two entities is that they always contribute to the community by sharing their research whether it be through publications or presentations at conferences.

The keynote presentation of the congress was given by Kaushik Basu, chief economist at the World Bank. The presentation, ‘World Bank goals on eliminating extreme poverty and boosting spared prosperity: Implications for data and policy’ highlighted the World Bank’s goals and why it was necessary for all nations of the world and their banks to co-operate and collaborate in achieving this goal. The final remark was how statisticians could get involved in achieving this goal by their existing statistical research and actively collaborating with the World Bank.

In addition to working hard, delegates were treated to sumptuous banquets, traditional and modern Chinese lion dances, martial arts and spectacular views of Victoria Harbour as part of their social programme.

Detailed information of the 59th WSC is available on its website (www.isi2013.hk/en/index.php).


World Statistics Congress

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