Advocating for Your Profession: Being a Statistical Ambassador

Pierson-color copySteve Pierson earned his PhD in physics from the University of Minnesota. He spent eight years in the physics department of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and later became head of government relations at the American Physical Society before joining the ASA as director of science policy.

According to the 2011 survey by the BBVA Foundation, fewer than half of Americans are “personally acquainted with someone who is a scientist.” With statistics making up a small percentage of scientists in the United States, it’s safe to say the fraction of Americans personally acquainted with a statistician is minute.

I believe the most effective way to advocate for statistics is for more of you to be involved in activities that include nonstatisticians so more people are personally acquainted with a statistician. Through more individual outreach, more people would learn what statisticians do and what statistics is, which is the foundation of advocating for our profession. This involvement could take many forms, including the following:

Multidisciplinary research: Those of you in the research community know well there could be more engagement of statisticians (or use of cutting-edge statistics) by the broader scientific community. No doubt there are endless examples of statisticians integrally involved in multidisciplinary research teams, but there’s room for many more of the community to reach out to domain scientists and help solve key research challenges. What better way to advocate for statistics than to show firsthand what statisticians can contribute to science?

Volunteering: Volunteering your expertise as a statistician is a great way to demonstrate to nonstatisticians how statistics can help them. Some ways to get involved include Statistics without Borders, On-call Scientists, DataKind, and Statistics in the Community.

Fellowships: There are many fellowships that place scientists in organizations so they benefit from scientific thinking. A couple prominent examples include the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellowship.

Writing: Writing for other audiences is another important area in which statisticians can advocate for our profession. The writing takes the form of blog entries, whitepapers, op-eds, or letters to the editor.

Social media: Like in the other categories, there are many examples of statisticians successfully networking with nonstatisticians through social media.

Data meetups/hackathons: Go to a local data science event and identify yourself as a statistician. Just as we hope the broader data science community is open to what a statistician can contribute, be open to what you can learn from others.

Community involvement/service: Get involved in your community, whether judging at a science fair, making schools aware of the ASA This Is Statistics campaign and Statistical Significance, running for the school board, or weighing in on school curricula.

Communicate to your elected officials: Communicating with your elected officials to provide a statistical perspective on topics of the day is also an important way to advocate for your profession. One should keep in mind that the staff with whom you speak may have had statistics in graduate school or may think of statisticians as people who collect data.

In short, the most important people for advocating for statistics are you all! The statistical community knows well the many invaluable contributions of statisticians to science, policy, business, and society, but it’s up to us to make others aware. The ASA, of course, has many programs—including science policy—whose goal is advocacy for statistics. If you have comments about these activities or ideas for other activities, contact ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson at or add a suggestion in the comments below. 

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