The growing importance of statisticians and their craft

The NYT describes the growing importance of statisticians to solving more and more of our social and business issues. The article makes clear the rapidly increasing importance of statistics, especially in making sense of the immense amounts of data we can now collect, track, and store: “The new breed of statisticians…use powerful computers and sophisticated mathematical models to hunt for meaningful patterns and insights in vast troves of data.” The author tells the poignant story of a woman trained in anthropology and archaeology who went on to get a Ph.D. in statistics because of her interest in doing data analysis for her work.

In my graduate department at Stanford University (Engineering-Economic Systems at the time, now named Management Science and Engineering), we had a saying: “Mathematical Modeling for Human Solutions.” We took pride in taking the tools and techniques of math and statistics to solve practical problems. The article correctly points out “though at the fore, statisticians are only a small part of an army of experts using modern statistical techniques for data analysis. Computing and numerical skills, experts say, matter far more than degrees. So the new data sleuths come from backgrounds like economics, computer science and mathematics.”

I was particularly encouraged to read that Peter Orszag, Director of the Federal Office of Management and Budget, has a keen interest in using statistics to drive sound policy.

In other words, if you are not taking advantage of data analysis to address some of your most vexing problems, you are probably going to get left behind!