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The ASA Recommends Chief Statistical Scientist at NSF

By Steve Pierson posted 03-05-2013 20:02

In response to the call for comments from StatsNSF - the NSF panel tasked with exploring how the NSF could better support the statistical sciences - ASA President Marie Davidian submitted a letter in which the association recommended the appointment of a chief statistical scientist in the office of the NSF Director.

As explained in the letter, "the purpose of this position would be to leverage advances in the statistical sciences across all NSF divisions to support the agency’s mission of advancing sciences as rapidly and economically as possible. The responsibilities would include:
  1. Interacting with all directorates on statistical sciences (i.e., what statistics is, the limitations of data, the design of experiments, the analysis of data, the interpretation of the analysis, the limitation of the methods, etc.)
  2. Strengthening every application area of science by promotion of interdisciplinary research (through the interaction of scientists who specialize in data with those who specialize in the application area)
  3. Leveraging investments (and advancements) in the statistical sciences by coordinating among directorates
  4. Regular reporting on opportunities, successes, and funding of statistical sciences
  5. Promoting the statistical sciences across the federal government and within the NSF
  6. Chairing a funded intra-agency working group of program officers from all the directorates tasked with creating cross-cutting programs involving statistics."
After considering various suggestions from ASA members and other options, the chief statistical scientist (CSS) position quickly emerged as the most viable and effective recommendation the ASA could make. Those involved in the development of the letter and the review the comments felt it was imperative that the ASA recommendation be able to provide agency-wide impact given that statistics is intertwined with all facets of NSF's work. The group also was convinced any ASA recommendation would have to have the authority of the director's office in order to address the challenges and opportunities for the statistical sciences at the NSF (and more broadly).

In the letter, Davidian emphasized "The field of statistics is ideally situated to translate methodological advances from one application area to another, thereby benefiting all areas of science, and doing so in an economically prudent way." She also stressed that "Better recognition of and support for the statistical sciences at NSF would better position the foundation to carry out its mission."

The ASA letter also contained a selection of comments received from ASA members in responses to two calls for comment. The first call was issued in November and asked how NSF could better support the statistical sciences. The second call was made in January and requested responses to specific questions suggested by StatsNSF.

StatsNSF is an ad-hoc committee of the Advisory Committee for the NSF Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate (MPS AC). The next step is for StatsNSF to present its recommendation to the MPS AC. (StatsNSF is co-chaired by Iain Johnstone while the MPS AC is chaired by Jim Berger.)

For background on StatsNSF, see these two ASA Community blog entries and links therein:

See other ASA Science Policy blog entries. For ASA science policy updates, follow @ASA_SciPol on Twitter.