NSF Assistant Director Ed Seidel yesterday released a document announcing plans to "address the best ways to support statistical sciences at NSF and in our communities" and to “examine funding for statistical sciences research at NSF including organizational alternatives and new initiatives.” The two measures in the document are to specifically mention "statistics" alongside "mathematics" in budget requests and in solicitations when appropriate and to form a group to examine funding for statistical sciences research at NSF including organizational alternatives and new initiatives.
Shortly after the announcement the ASA issued a statement titled, “ASA Commends NSF for Initiative, Commitment to Increase Profile of Statistics within Agency,” in which ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein stated: “We believe that increasing the profile of statistics will help the agency fulfill its mission to support scientific advancement, discovery and innovation.”
Yesterday’s announcement was set in motion by a letter last summer to NSF Director Subra Suresh from an outside individual urging the recognition of statistics in the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) name. That led to a proposal last fall to change the name of the DMS to the Division of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee (MPSAC) at the NSF, Seidel said the division name will stay the same and then described the broader plans for addressing the profile and funding of the statistical sciences at NSF. He reported extensive conversations on the topic with all the NSF directorate heads and office directors and said these key NSF officials will remain involved in the undertaking going forward.
Seidel’s decision was informed by a report of the MPSAC on the name change proposal that summarizes comments received. In addition to reasons for and against changing the name, the extensive document also summarizes how the responding statisticians view statistics as a separate discipline from mathematics and what many see as next steps after the name change decision. The reports also lists comments received about the current situation of statistics at NSF and the reorganization of statistical research within NSF
As an aside, this is not the first mention of concern for statistics at NSF. The 2004 paper, “A Report on the Future of Statistics,” by Bruce G. Lindsay, Jon Kettenring, David O. Siegmund, included this recommendation:
Increase support for, and the autonomy of, the NSF statistics program. To avoid stifling the momentum evident today in statistics (and partially documented in this report) and to reap the benefits of the multitude of opportunities presenting themselves, there are compelling reasons for providing a substantial boost in resources that support statistics at the NSE (See below for some specific needs.) In addition, we suggest that the NSF provide the DMS statistics program with increased autonomy within its current organizational structure. This would be a logical step toward full division status that many feel is already overdue.
Seidel, MPSAC Chair Jim Berger and others thanked DMS Director Sastry Pantula for his work on this effort. Sastry participated in yesterday’s meeting by phone and said, “I am excited with today's decision to include 'statistics' along with 'mathematics' in all our solicitations and have a group of distinguished folks to examine funding for statistical sciences research at NSF.” (See his full comments below.)
We at the ASA also extend our gratitude to Sastry for his role in this positive outcome.
See my other blog entries.
Sastry Pantula’s comments at the 8/16 MPSAC meeting:
I want to thank Ed, MPS AC, especially Fred [Roberts] and Jim [Berger] for their report, and our DMS program officers for their support. As you may know, the name change was originally proposed to recognize the distinct discipline of statistics and a large community of statisticians looking for a change. I thought that the timing was right in terms of it being the age of Big Data, new funding opportunities, and the upcoming International Year of Statistics.
Changes like these take time.
I am excited with today's decision to include 'statistics' along with 'mathematics' in all our solicitations and have a group of distinguished folks to examine funding for statistical sciences research at NSF.
I am happy that the process opened worthwhile discussions within the communities. I look forward to working with the external committee that the MPS AD has appointed, and chair the internal committee to provide support for them. I also look forward to working with both mathematical and statistical sciences communities to look for collaborative opportunities for future. There is strength in the union, and there is strength in numbers. Thank you.