Statisticians have not always been great self-promoters. I think in part this comes from our tendency to be arbiters rather than being involved in the scientific process. In some ways, I think this is a good thing. Self-promotion can quickly become really annoying. On the other hand, I think our advertising shortcomings are hurting our field in a number of different ways.
Here are a few:
- As Rafa points out even though statisticians are ridiculously employable right now it seems like statistics M.S. and Ph.D. programs are flying under the radar in all the hype about data/data science (here is an awesome one if you are looking). Computer Science and Engineering, even the social sciences, are cornering the market on “big data”. This potentially huge and influential source of students may pass us by if we don’t advertise better.
- A corollary to this is lack of funding. When the Big Data event happened at the White House with all the major funders in attendance to announce $200 million in new funding for big data, none of the invited panelists were statisticians.
- Our top awards don’t get the press they do in other fields. The Nobel Prize announcements are an international event. There is always speculation/intense interest in who will win. There is similar interest around the Fields medal in mathematics. But the top award in statistics, the COPSS award doesn’t get nearly the attention it should. Part of the reason is lack of funding (the Fields is $15k, the COPSS is $1k). But part of the reason is that we, as statisticians, don’t announce it, share it, speculate about it, tell our friends about it, etc. The prestige of these awards can have a big impact on the visibility of a field.
- A major component of visibility of a scientific discipline, for better or worse, is the popular press. The most recent article in a long list of articles at the New York Times about the data revolution does not mention statistics/statisticians. Neither do the other articles. We need to cultivate relationships with the media.
We are all busy solving real/hard scientific and statistical problems, so we don’t have a lot of time to devote to publicity. But here are a couple of easy ways we could rapidly increase the visibility of our field, ordered roughly by the degree of time commitment.
- All statisticians should have Twitter accounts and we should share/discuss our work and ideas online. The more we help each other share, the more visibility our ideas will get.
- We should make sure we let the ASA know about cool things that are happening with data/statistics in our organizations and they should spread the word through their Twitter account and other social media.
- We should start a conversation about who we think will win the next COPSS award in advance of the next JSM and try to get local media outlets to pick up our ideas and talk about the award.
- We should be more “big tent” about statistics. ASA President Robert Rodriguez nailed this in his speech at JSM. Whenever someone does something with data, we should claim them as a statistician. Sometimes this will lead to claiming people we don’t necessarily agree with. But the big tent approach is what is allowing CS and other disciplines to overtake us in the data era.
- We should consider setting up a place for statisticians to donate money to build up the award fund for the COPSS/other statistics prizes.
- We should try to forge relationships with start-up companies and encourage our students to pursue industry/start-up opportunities if they have interest. The less we are insular within the academic community, the more high-profile we will be.
- It would be awesome if we started a statistical literacy outreach program in communities around the U.S. We could offer free courses in community centers to teach people how to understand polling data/the census/weather reports/anything touching data.
Those are just a few of my ideas, but I have a ton more. I’m sure other people do too and I’d love to hear them. Let’s raise the tide and lift all of our boats!