Significance:The magazine – and why you should join ASA

I admit that some months I am so busy that I toss Significance out without reading it – this is the magazine of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and Royal Statistical Society. No, I don’t pile up things to read later because I never do read them later.

Anyway … taking two days off work, I have been doing a lot of reading. Here is just one example of why Significance is a treat, from a discussion of how many school playing fields really had been sold, was it 5,000 or 10,000 or 500? Where did these published numbers come from?

“It seems almost literally the case that someone made a flagrant guess, added some wild assumptions, extrapolated from a year and a half’s wrong data to 20 years of even wronger data, then divided by 2 for luck and rounded it down. For further details of this rather wonderful method of not getting anything right, see the Royal Statistical Society’s Getstats website. ... “

Wins the prize for combining scholarly and snarky. One article on research on anti-depressants, I copied and sent to a mental health advocate with a special interest in this area.  A second article on yelling at the radio and twelve criteria for judging the value of a health study, I scanned and uploaded as recommended reading for my class. There were other articles, like the use of data “sonification” as well as visualization – which is something you have engaged in any time you took your car in because the engine “sounded funny”.

In my opinion, ASA has come a long way in popularizing statistics. The magazine is one example. I had signed up for ASA in January because I went to a local chapter meeting where the new president, Bob Rodriguez gave a talk. Since then, I went to a data hack-a-thon I heard about on an ASA email group – as an interested observer, because it was close by, and attended JSM in San Diego, was even a discussant on a panel.

My personal opinion is that ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A STUDENT, it’s worth signing up. The student membership is $15 ! There is even a $50 membership for the year after you graduate.

They offer a number of meetings each year. I’m still debating on whether I have time to take off to go to the Joint Statistical Meetings next year in Montreal. There is a Conference on Statistical Practice that has a very applied focus. It looks like it would be recommended for people starting out in the field.

I run into a lot of people who ask me how they could learn more about statistics, because they are in graduate school or working in a field outside of statistics but it would be very helpful for them to understand statistical analysis, results and caveats. My advice for today is to join ASA, especially if you are a student. Hell, you probably spent more than $15 on lattes to pull on all-nighter for that last exam.


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