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May 28, 2014

Celebrating Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month

April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. At JMP, we are especially happy about the inclusion of statistics this year, as formerly, it was just Mathematics Awareness month.


Thanks to the collaboration of several professional organizations, including the American Statistical Association, we are celebrating both, as you can see from this screen grab from the ASA's website:

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Including statistics along with mathematics for this month’s celebration is important. Many still view statistics as a branch of math (in 2012, I wrote a blog post about that). While some may consider it a philosophical issue, recognizing that they are separate fields of study lets us appreciate that deterministic and probabilistic thinking are both valuable. 


Here is a timely case in point that celebrates the intersection of math and statistics. The recent and significant news that a retired German statistician, Thomas Royan, proved the Gaussian correlation inequality (GCI) shows the importance of both deterministic and probabilistic thinking. The GCI proof had eluded many — mathematicians and statisticians alike — for decades.  


I reached out to a few subject-matter experts I thought were well-suited to share their thoughts about this first-ever Mathematics and Statistics Awareness month.


David Salsburg, retired statistician and author of The Lady Tasting Tea:  How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century (and many other things), has a new book due out at the end of the month, Errors, Blunders, and Lies:  How to Tell the Difference. I am looking forward to reading it! He shares his thoughts on the first-ever Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month:


“George Udny Yule, the author of the first statistics textbook, once wrote, ‘In our lust for measurement, we frequently measure that which we can rather than that which we wish to measure — and forget that there is a difference.’


Statistical analyses start with some kind of measurement, the volume of skulls found in an ancient burial site, the forced expiratory volume of asthma patients, the time to death of mice injected with melanoma cells, the overall output of shoe factories, the number of searches of a specific kind made on Google, etc. Whenever I was brought into a problem, I would immediately look for three things: what did they measure, what did they wish to measure, and what did they want to find out.

The British statistician David J. Finney described the consulting statistician whose client says, ‘Here is my mountain of trash. Find the gems that are in it.’ Even if there are no gems in the trash, with the easy availability of statistical software, someone is bound to 'find' them and send scientists off looking for nonexistent concepts like the 'accident prone' worker. 'Finding something' is fraught with danger unless there was a good prior reason to be looking for it.

In this 21st century with its vast hordes of data and the existence of statistical software to analyze that data, we need experienced statisticians who can ask: What did they measure? What did they wish to measure? And, what did they want to find out?”

Christine Anderson-Cook, Research Scientist at Los Alamos National Labs, shares this:


“In an era where numeracy is growing in importance as an essential skill for life, being a good citizen and at work, a month to celebrate mathematics and statistics highlights how our world is changing. Being able to understand and interpret the wealth of data that surrounds us, gives us a competitive advantage and equips us to make sound choices.”

Professor David Meintrup, a pure mathematician by education who has been working in applied statistics for more than a decade, states:


“Mathematics and Statistics have in common to approach problems purely based on logic and evidence: the former using theorems, the latter data. In a world that seems dangerously influenced by beliefs rather than facts, we definitely need more of both.”

Philip J. Ramsey, PhD, Principal Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New Hampshire, says:


“As a longtime professional statistician and scientist, it is gratifying to see the increased awareness of the importance of mathematics and statistics to all aspects of life. Like most scientific disciplines, statistics necessarily makes great use of mathematics, but there the similarities end. Statistics is unique among the STEM disciplines in that it has no one natural area of application or focus. Whether one is manufacturing designer apparel, conducting experiments to find new cures for diseases, or perhaps 3D-printing innovative products, statistics is omnipresent and essential. This unique facet of statistics is what drew me to the discipline in the first place and what continues to excite me professionally; the whole world is ours to explore and study. I believe we may be entering a Golden Age of statistics, and I strongly encourage young people to consider statistics as a potential career. You will not regret the decision!”

And from our own Russ Wolfinger, Director of Scientific Discovery and Genomics at SAS:


"Statistical concepts, graphics, and models are everywhere now, and have become increasingly and vitally central in our data-driven world. For this month at least, let's make the popular acronym plural: STEMS."

If you have thoughts you’d like to share as we celebrate Mathematics and Statistics Awareness month, we would love to hear from you!