Looking back at the success of the WSC and starting my term as ISI President

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Starting a term of office at the end of the WSC feels very strange.  But in some ways it is ideal.  I have always found the WSC an uplifting experience and always go home with lots of notes about ideas to follow up and of new people I have met to keep in touch with.  Not so much of the latter this time, given its virtual nature, but plenty of highlights.  I will be using future blogs to set out some thoughts for the future but thought I would use this first blog to reflect on the WSC just past.

I have always found the WSC an uplifting experience …

It would have been even better if we had been able to meet in person in The Hague, as planned.  Because that is the home of the ISI, where our Permanent Office (PO) is located, and it would have been a great chance for people to meet the PO staff in their home town.

I was pleased at the high number of participants at the sessions.  I hope you managed to catch up – if only virtually – with many people you had not met for some time, and also met some new faces.

For me the WSC began on the day before the Opening Ceremony, when I had a session with the Young Statisticians.  It was stimulating to meet so many enthusiastic young people, and they asked a lot of tough questions, including – when does a young statistician become a not-so young statistician?  Well, I think I am in the latter category, but hopefully many of us remain ‘young at heart’? 

ISI Young Statisticians’ Event

The highlights for me included a fascinating session on official statistics and the pandemic.  I heard about the issues with household survey response rates, and the work done to ensure the continued supply of critical statistics.  The current crisis has brought us to the fore.  Participants spoke of the need for statisticians to improve our communications skills, but also to remember that it’s our job to explain the numbers, not the policy.  And adding uncertainty to our presentation of the figures does not lose us trust – in fact it could help gain it.

Data science featured heavily, as would be expected.  The public expect us to know about data science, which has caught their imagination.  One quote I picked up: ‘Data science without statistics is not interesting’!  It’s more difficult to focus completely on a virtual WSC in the way that you do when you are there in person, and, like many I expect, I listened in to sessions while travelling – in my case while being driven down to visit family.  That was how I heard about the findings of the Working Group on Data Science.  If you want to know more about this go to here.  A Special Interest Group has now been set up.

The public expect us to know about data science …

Nan Laird’s International Prize in Statistics lecture taught me a lot about the different kinds of longitudinal studies and their application.  A thunderstorm caused me to lose my internet connection in the middle – one of the perils of virtual conferences!  A special issue of the International Statistical Review is planned to celebrate Nan’s work.

Nan Laird’s International Prize in Statistics lecture taught me a lot about the different kinds of longitudinal studies and their application.

In another key session I heard about the need for some kind of monitoring system to assure the integrity of official statistics.  Does ISI have a role here?  I am sure we will discuss this further.

If you registered you will be able to access all the recordings until 16 August, so please do catch up on any you missed.  We plan to make some sessions, e.g. Nan Laird’s, available to all through the ISI website, so do look out for that.

I really liked the photographic competition and the photos on the website.  It reminded me of the true diversity and breadth of cultures of our membership; and maybe this is an idea to continue in future WSCs.

The General Assembly is the members’ meeting where you get a chance to give the Executive Committee your feedback.  So, should we have regional chapters (or networks)?  If so, what would their role be?  And I got a clear message that the next WSC – in Ottawa, Canada in 2023 – currently planned as a face-to-face meeting, should also be available on-line.  But how far should that go?  And what would the impact be on attendance in Ottawa?  I think it raises real questions about what kind of WSC we want.  But clearly members want some form of virtual attendance.  The incoming Executive Committee will need to resolve this and many other issues in the coming weeks.

… I got a clear message that the next WSC – in Ottawa, Canada in 2023 – currently planned as a face-to-face meeting, should also be available on-line.  But how far should that go? 

I look forward to reporting back on all these issues, and more, over the next few months.

Best wishes,
Steve

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4 comments on this post

  1. Looking forward to working with you, Steve, via the ISI Statistical Capacity Building Committee. Helping ISI members to get the most out of conferences like the WSC is something where the ISI can add real value, particularly in the current times.

  2. Excellent post, Steve, and full of wisdom and good questions for the new EC and membership. Congratulations and all the best wishes for your term in office. Cheers, Pedro.

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