American Statistical Association (ASA) Executive Director talks about promoting the practice and profession of statistics at UH JABSOM

The National Executive Director of the American Statistical Association (ASA), Ron Wasserstein, PhD, was the honored guest speaker for a well-attended special seminar at JABSOM on June 27, 2012. The seminar was jointly sponsored by John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Biostatistics & Data Management Core (BDMC) and the ASA Hawai`i Chapter.

After giving an overview of the national association and its activities, Dr. Wasserstein focused the talk on the critical role biostatisticians play in a biomedical research setting, and the rise of “Big Data” that drive the demand for well-trained statistical problem solvers.

Quoting a recent Science editorial, Dr. Wasserstein pointed out that for decades biostatistics as a discipline has provided the basis for learning from data while taking account of the inherent uncertainty.  Biostatisticians use mathematics to enhance science and bridge the gap between theory and practice. They are specialists, he said, in the evaluation of data as scientific evidence, guarding against bias, confounding, and false discoveries. Their expertise includes the design and conduct of experiments, the mode and manner in which data are collected, the analysis of data, and the interpretation of results.

Using national studies as examples, Dr. Wasserstein pointed out the potential disastrous outcome when proper design principles were not incorporated. He emphasized that biostatisticians should be integral members of all biomedical research teams and encouraged close collaborations between biological/biomedical researchers and biostatisticians. It is the pairing of “good science with good statistics,” he said.  It is important that this interaction occur early on in a research project, he added.

Dr. Wasserstein provided examples of academic biostatistics programs that have successful collaboration models. He concluded that the field of biostatistics is and will continue to be a profession in high demand, and there will be a need to provide and expand statistical education to future students in this field.

The event was kindly supported by several UH institutional infrastructural grants: RCMI Multidisciplinary and Translational Research Infrastructure Expansion in Hawai`i (RMATRIX), Bioscience Research Infrastructure Development for Grant Enhancement and Success (BRIDGES), and Idea Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE).

Caption: Dr. Wasserstein discusses the important role biostatisticians play in biomedical research. Article by the BDMC, photos by Arnold Kameda.

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