The Longitude Prize: a new (old) way to stimulate innovation

This post from the Cooperative Research Centres Association newsletter fired up my imagination. I hope it fires up yours!

“The British public has voted for antibiotic resistance research to be the subject of the “first” Longitude Prize. The Longitude Prize 2014 is a prize fund of £10 million to tackle one of the biggest issues facing humanity, with the British public voting for antibiotic resistance over the field that also included flight, food, paralysis, water and dementia. The Longitude Prize 2014 commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act of 1714, which was eventually awarded in 1765 to John Harrison for his chronometer (as well as sparking many other innovations).

The announcement of the public vote was made live on the BBC by British Prime Minister, David Cameron last month. The award is administered by the innovation charity Nesta, with the prize fund being put up by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board. Lord Rees, the English Astronomer Royal, chairs the Longitude Committee, which is still working out final rules for awarding the prize.

What a magnificent way to capture the public’s imagination and highlight the importance of innovation.”

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What financial loss means

The July meeting of the Canberra branch of the Statistical Society of Australia took place on 29 July. It was a pleasure to hear Aaron Bruhn, ANU, speak on the meaning of financial loss: he’s a great presenter and had us all thinking and interacting with questions that he posed along the way of his talk. Here’s the abstract.

“The Australian system of financial provision, particularly for retirement, is progressively moving to one where individuals are expected to be self-sufficient. The Australian system is also very complex in terms of regulation and product options. As such, individuals either need to be well aware of the numerical, financial and risk implications of such complexity and self-sufficiency, and/or rely on the advice of others, to have appropriate financial provision into their later years. Recent experience demonstrates that there is very real vulnerability, in very human terms, to poor financial outcomes, especially when those outcomes arise from individuals having to make decisions to navigate the complexity before them. We refer to the high-profile collapse of Storm Financial to highlight the human costs that can occur when such outcomes eventuate.”

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Statistical Society Awards ceremony at ASC2014

The Pitman medal for 2013 went to Matt Wand, and for 2014 to Noel Cressie. Now these are the kind of statisticians I would like to emulate. There were also three Service Awards: Gary Glonek for services to the Awards Committee, Ian Saunders for service to the Accreditation Committee, and me!! For service to the Newsletter. I was so chuffed when Doug Shaw rang me the day before to advise me of the award, and so happy to shake the hand of the Statistical Society President, John Henstridge, at the ceremony on 10 July. A certificate will follow, to be presented in Canberra at a Branch meeting.

ASC2014 Service Award 01 compress



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ASC2014: Statistics Education session

There were three more presentations in the Statistics Education session, after my one on learning Statistics and learning French.

Peter Howley, University of Newcastle, “Total quality management in teaching an introductory statistics course”
Peter had a subtitle too: “Know your customer”. He also has an OLT grant for inspiring mathematics and statistics in teachers – sounds like an excellent idea, with eight institutions from up and down the eastern seaboard.

Michael Martin, ANU, “How do we create the next generation of statisticians?”
Michael opened a discussion about what the Statistics Education section could be doing to better serve its members. Participation in the International Statistical Literacy Project poster competition was raised, and I was able to remind Peter about the existing Australian Statistics Competition.

Olivera Martanovic, Uni of Sydney and James Enoch, SAS, “Addressing the analytical skill shortage via the cloud”
I found two interesting things to follow up on from this talk – the Teradata University Network and SAS Virtual Analytical software.

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What do learning Statistics and learning French have in common?

On 10 July I was at ASC 2014. The question above is the title of my talk, and I answered this question in the sub-title of my talk: they are both a foreign language to many. My talk was a report on the two lexical ambiguity papers by Peter Dunn, Rene Hutchins and myself. Questions centred around whether there is evidence for the usefulness of the word find activity given that it doesn’t involve definitions; and which is the lesser evil, scientists attempting to communicate using jargon or scientists attempting to communicate using ambiguous terms.

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ASC2014: Statistical challenges for analysis of genomic data

There were four speakers in this session at the Australian Statistical Conference.

Kim-Anh Do, MD Anderson Cancer Center, “Pressing statistical challenges in cancer research”
I particularly liked Kim’s comment that dense longitudinal data will be needed if treatment groups consist of a single individual. I also will recycle her ideas about the dual purpose of models – both prediction and system understanding. I also learnt a new -omics term: immunomics! Kim also set me thinking about how one might go about training next generation biostatisticians. Communicating the differences in measuring success for statisticians compared to other scientists – not even Terry Speed has a first author paper in Nature or Science!

Geoff McLachlan, UQ, “Applying mixture models to high-throughput data”
Geoff actually decided to concentrate his talk on his Biostatistics paper published 2014. It involves clustering genes on the basis of tissues (n genes =rows, p tissues = columns) leading to another method for moderating the denominator of a t statistic. His R package is EMMIX-contrasts.

Jean Yang, University of Sydney, “Network-based approaches to classification and biomarkers identification in metastatic cancer”
Jean spoke at Goulburn a little while ago on similar material. She has gene expression data for only 79 Stage III melanoma patients, and is using the R package VAN.

Sue Wilson, UNSW, “Exploring genomic data with BCMI”
This was actually Chris Pardy’s talk, but given by Sue. Data came from a mouse model of obesity, liver tissue data specifically. The sample size was135 mice. He proposed the use of mutual information to replace correlation, with a bias correction. Chris has an R package too, mpmi.

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ASC 2014 poster session

I was delighted to present a poster at The Australian Statistics Conference, ASC 2014, with a former student of mine, Bo Cui. His work on “Australian teachers’ intent to leave teaching profession through logistic regression analysis” formed part of a project unit in the Graduate Diploma of Statistics offered at the University of Canberra. Well done Bo!

ASC 2014 Bo poster 02 compress

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Pi Day

Hapy Pi Day (22/7) everyone! Here’s the batch of pi-kelets I made for the Pi Day event at the University today.


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ASC 2014: Keynote speakers

I’ve got a series of posts now about the Australian Statistics Conference, held in Sydney from 6 – 10 July. Firstly, the two keynote speakers that I heard.

Terry Lyons, University of Oxford

His example was writing the précis of a text. Stochastic differential equations got an airing as did the miraculous shuffle product.

James Brown, UTS, “Measurement of” and “adjustment for” census coverage
James presented the 2014 Ken Foreman Lecture on this topic. His wide-ranging talk on the UK 2001 and 2011 censuses included the notion of dual-system estimation, like capture-recapture estimation. His funniest comment was the way imputation into the census database could provide husbands for likely-looking ladies so that Bridget Jones need not have worried so much as she did in the movie!

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Building capacity in statistics majors: drawing strength from a diverse region

I used the ESTeM Friday 4 July seminar spot as an opportunity to practise the talk I’ll be presenting at ICOTS in two weeks’ time. A cold day in the winter term did nothing to encourage quantity of audience but I was very happy with the quality. In this talk I drew on my experiences in Vietnam last year to put together experiences teaching statistics around the Pacific Rim. Then I tried to draw together the recommendations from the Vietnam conference into a coherent set of goals that have worldwide relevance.

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