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  • 23 Feb 2021 2:00 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    A once-in-a-generation seismic investment in science in the 2021 Budget would be a defining legacy for the Government, securing the science heft needed to face the next challenges after COVID-19.

    A new $2.4 billion research translation and commercialisation fund would be a powerful vehicle to turn more of Australia’s world-class university research into products, services and jobs with deeper industry-university collaboration.

    In its pre-Budget submission, Science & Technology Australia proposes a strategic investment to boost job creation, strengthen sovereign capability and turbo-charge the economic recovery.

    Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said a research translation and commercialisation fund would secure Australia’s ability to respond to the crisis after COVID.

    “The pandemic has put into stark relief the fact that science investments made over previous decades have come into their own in this moment of national need,” she said.

    “With the crucial role of science front and centre in the public mind, it’s time to secure the science capabilities we need to face the crisis after COVID – and the ones after that.”

    “A Science Future Fund or Research Translation & Commercialisation Fund would help turbo-charge Australia’s economic recovery and maximise our bang-for-buck return from university research.”

    “What’s missing from our research funding system at the moment is a vehicle to get more of our ‘almost there’ stage research turned into products and services that create new jobs and growth.”

    “Australia has a highly-skilled STEM workforce and world-class research – our challenge is to maximise even further the returns those assets deliver to the nation and economy.”

    STA estimates the proposal would cost $2.4 billion over the Budget forward estimates.

    “A new research translation and commercialisation fund would drive deeper collaboration between universities and business, create new local jobs, and boost sovereign capability,” she said.

    “As we come out of the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enable science and technology to boost our economy, secure Australia’s intellectual property rights, and prepare us for whatever crisis comes next. A research translation fund would do all of this and more.”

    Science & Technology Australia proposes the Government use the May 2021 Budget to make long-term reforms that create a powerful legacy. These include:

    ● Secure Australia’s capability to respond to future crises by establishing a new ‘Science Future Fund’ or ‘Research Translation Fund’ to turn more of Australia’s science into rapid applications;

    ● Tackle the urgent need to stop the brain drain of young people out of STEM and boost future STEM talent for Australia with a new strategic initiative to inspire more Australian school students into science, technology, engineering and maths;

    ● Tap into deep Indigenous knowledge in science, technology, engineering and maths by investing $4 million over four years to support an Australian Indigenous Scientists/STEM Network;

    ● Invest in a comprehensive long-term national plan for Australian science and technology;

    ● Continue the commitment to nurture expert STEM advice and connections for policymakers with a long-term endowment to support Science Meets Parliament; and

    ● An initiative to track the loss of researchers and scientists from Australia’s university sector and a program to provide workforce bridging for those affected.

    Media contacts:

    Science & Technology Australia: media inquiries:
    Martyn Pearce – 0432 606 828 

  • 3 Feb 2021 1:47 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Are you an early or mid-career statistician looking for support to grow and develop your career? Or, are you a more experienced statistician looking to share your skills and experience with a new generation of statisticians? If either of these sound like you then this program may be for you!

    Following a pilot mentoring program hosted by the Biostatistics & Bioinformatics Section in 2020, the Statistical Society of Australia is excited to be launching a new mentoring program for all members of the Society. We are looking for up to 20 mentor-mentee pairs to take part in the 6-month mentoring program.

    Our aim

    This program will connect early and mid-career statisticians to experienced mentors to provide them with career guidance and to share their experiences to help them achieve their professional goals.

    Mentees

    We are looking to recruit early to mid-career statisticians to take part in the mentoring program. To be eligible to participate, you must be either a student or within the first ten years of a career in statistics, a member of the SSA, and be willing to commit to participating in the program over a 6-month period.

    Mentors

    We are looking to recruit mentors who have at least five years’ experience working as a statistician. Note that mentors will be paired with mentees with less experience working in statistics (i.e., those with less than five years’ experience will not be paired with mentees with more than five years). To be eligible to participate, you must be a member of the SSA and be willing to commit to participating in the program over a 6-month period. Prior mentorship experience would be beneficial but is not a requirement for participation.

    Program details

    The SSA Mentoring Committee, a sub-committee of the Continuous Professional Development committee, will match mentors to mentees and contact the mentee to seek approval to introduce them to the proposed mentor. Each mentor will only be assigned one mentee. Mentees are responsible for arranging the initial meeting and establishing ongoing meetings with their mentor. Ideally, mentors and mentees should aim to meet at least monthly for one hour during the program, with a minimum of four meetings over six months. There is no requirement that mentors and mentees live in the same city; meetings do not have to be face-to-face and may be held via phone or Zoom as necessary. A member of the Mentoring Committee will be in touch throughout the program to learn how things are progressing and to help resolve any issues that arise. There is no expectation that the relationship continue beyond the 6-month program. However, we would be delighted if mentor-mentee pairs continue to keep in touch!

    In addition to the paired mentoring, mentees and mentors will be given the opportunity to participate in a peer mentoring group of up to five participants to share experiences and build greater connections within the SSA community.

    Further details about the program will be provided before the program commences.

    Interested?

    To register your interest in participating in the mentoring program, please complete the form by Monday 1 March. Successful applicants will be notified by the 15th March, with the program running from April to September 2021.

    Check out our recent webinar "Introducing the SSA Mentoring Program" to see an overview of the benefits of a mentoring program for the SSA, a discussion of the findings from the mentoring pilot program and an introduction to the Mentoring Program Committee and the program to be launched in March 2021.

    If you have any questions about the mentoring program, please email Karen Lamb, SSA Mentoring Program Committee Chair at klamb@unimelb.edu.au.

    Dr Karen Lamb
    SSA Mentoring Program Committee Chair

  • 29 Jan 2021 6:30 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Science & Technology Australia - Media Release 

    Australia must apply the same expert science-led approach to climate change as it has to the coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s peak body for science and technology has urged.

    Science & Technology Australia says the nation’s success at navigating the pandemic and managing risks proactively is a model for how to tackle climate risk and transition to a net-zero economy.

    STA President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said Australia’s COVID strategy was among the best in the world, using scientific evidence to inform policy, save jobs and protect the public.

    “The last year has clearly demonstrated that to protect lives and livelihoods, we need to listen to the scientific evidence and use it to guide policy,” he said.

    “That’s a lesson we also need to apply to the increasingly urgent challenge of climate change.”

    “The terrifying bushfire season last summer in Australia was a sign of things to come.”

    “If we don’t transition to a net zero emissions economy, we’ll see further lives lost, lasting damage to our unique flora and fauna, and more local communities devastated by fire and drought.”

    “An orderly transition to a net-zero economy will save both lives and livelihoods.”

    STA is the peak body representing more than 88,000 scientists and technologists in Australia. Its membership base includes geologists and mining engineers as well as scientists working in renewable energy and environmental sciences.

    STA has made a submission to an inquiry into two climate change Bills currently before federal Parliament.

    Associate Professor Brownlie said the Bills propose a long-term national approach to the issue and an orderly transition to a net-zero economy.

    “These Bills enshrine an evidence-based approach to climate change. That approach has been the key to Australia’s success in tackling COVID-19,” he said.

    “It particularly recognises the need for an orderly transition that supports workers in industries as they move to net-zero carbon emissions.”

    Recent research from Deloitte highlighted stronger action on climate change could add $680 billion to the Australian economy and create 250,000 new jobs by 2070.

    Associate Professor Brownlie said business, scientists, and investors are increasingly united in calling for stronger climate action and further proactive management of climate risk.

    This boost to the overall national economy modelled by Deloitte need not come at the cost of local communities and individuals.

    “A move to net-zero emissions does not have to result in job losses and does not mean an end to mining or Australia’s resources sector.,” he said.

    “While there will be changes to fossil fuel industries, a transition that safeguards jobs is not only possible – it’s achievable,” he said.

    “For a country as rich in renewables as Australia, climate change can be an opportunity to open up new markets and new technologies.”

    “Climate change is a major challenge, but as the pandemic has demonstrated, if we have science at the heart of our response, Australia can meet this challenge.”

    Media contacts: Science & Technology Australia: media inquiries: Martyn Pearce – 0432 606 828

  • 21 Jan 2021 12:48 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Seppo S. Laaksonen, ISI Elected member and Professor Emeritus of Social Statistics in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki, passed away on 20 December 2020.

    SSA Chair of the Official Statistics Section, Stephen Horn, reflects on an Australian and a personal link to Laaksonen, which may be of interest to the Official Statistics community.

    In 1993 I travelled to the 4th international workshop on survey nonresponse - a rather informal gathering, then of about 30 people organised by a core of north Atlantic methods people, in the wake of the 1982 multivolume review of response in survey by Hansen, Hurwitz and Madow and the alarming collapse in response rates in represented agencies. I used this rare opportunity to seek out experience on weighting, particularly for periodic household expenditure surveys, notorious for layers of missed data. Seppo, then working for Statistics Finland, had recently completed his thesis on the topic with an offprint reaching me in Canberra.

    This motivated a whistle stop call on him and colleague Kari Djerf at SF. We crossed paths a few times in next years at the increasingly grand successors to the workshop, and the increasing interest at European level in survey inference under missingness. Seppo attended the 2006 ISI gathering hosted by ABS in Sydney and agreed to travel to Canberra afterwards to give a seminar at my then workplace the Department of Family and Community Services - host of a stable of longitudinal surveys exploring the social condition of Australians.

    The subject of his talk was imputation in panel surveys, bringing up to date his thinking on survey adjustment, and timely for us as we were sorting out quality issues with HILDA. Statistics Finland had been collaborating with the Finnish DFaCS equivalent on welfare series and inference binding survey results with administrative data. Their experience in the mid-1990s would come in handy with the big push for harmonised statistics for the European Union over the next decade, and the launch of a European panel on income.

    The informal workshop on nonresponse had evolved in the meantime to a full-blown European Conference on Quality in Official Statistics; with the 2010 round being held in Helsinki. This pooled the gamut of methods challenges of individual agencies, transforming an internal concern with declining response to household surveys into a continental push for new techniques and technologies for collecting information from businesses and households. Agencies became incubators for both practice and theoretical advance, with some levening from academics. By the end of the decade small teams from across Europe, drawn from agencies and universities were commissioned to reinvigorate statistics collection. It was an exhilarating prospect from an agency perspective, given the wide remit, resources and determination. We may not yet have seen its full flowering, although I suspect that the current fascination with data analysis and statistical integration at the expense of a good inferential base may spell the end of that wave.

    Seppo, like me, had a career in the shadow of ‘The yellow book'.

    Särndal, Swensson and Wretman's text Model Assisted Survey Sampling, appearing in 1992 was instrumental in the long reforms in survey design and adjustment.  Li-Chun Zhang has been invited to give this year’s Foreman Lecture at the 2021 ANZSC. This will be an important marker in the next chapter for survey inference applied to official collections. I look forward to Professor Zhang's lecture. Like Seppo Laaksonen Li-Chun is a hybrid, with a solid agency background (Statistics Norway) and dedication to the foundations of inference through an academic career. Seppo's 2006 Canberra seminar, a friendly gesture at the time, reminds me of the peculiar blend among agency methods people of borderless deep thinking, and pragmatic application.

    It is a small and loose convocation, but no signs of diminishing; it was personified for me by Seppo Laaksonen.

    Stephen Horn
    Chair, SSA Official Statistics Section


  • 17 Dec 2020 2:48 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    University of Sydney statistics professor, Gillian Heller, delivers the New South Wales branch 2020 annual lecture on her career-long journey though regression modelling and computing, followed by a vibrant end-of-year dinner at a pub around the corner. 

    Professor Gillian Heller spent 28 years in the statistics group at University of Macquarie before recently moving to the University of Sydney Clinical Trials Centre. Prior to that she was a graduate student at the University of Cape Town in her home country of South Africa. During this time flexible regression modelling and computing has been a theme that permeates her work – most recently driven by clinical trials studies and their data. Gillian described her career-long journey on this topic in a talk titled "The New Normal: Flexible Regression Models". It was the 2020 Annual Lecture of the New South Wales branch - and the first one to have a tele-audience because of pandemic restrictions.

    An early figure plotted log(computing efficiency) against time for the period 1946-2010. The signal was linear and consistent with exponential increase since the ENIAC computer of the late 1940s. Gillian told us about being exposed to the package GLIM as a graduate student and made its use
    sound quite painful from a 2020s standpoint. Later in the talk R packages such as gamlss, VGAM and mgcv were mentioned - which allow very flexible regression analyses to be carried out on laptops for large data sets.

    A key paper that was highlighted early on is the 1972 one by Nelder and Wedderburn titled "Generalized Linear Models", that extended Gaussian response models to those with general response and has had a profound effect on many of us, including Gillian. A quote from esteemed Australian statistician, Murray Aitken: "Theoretical and applied statistics were both convulsed by the publication of the GLM paper by Nelder & Wedderburn (1972)" was shared with the audience.

    The theme of parameter orthogonality ran through most of the talk. It is well-known that location and scale parameters are orthogonal in Gaussian response models. This matter is less clear in generalized response models and speaker Heller showed the importance of this aspect via analysis of some clinical trials data with the Poisson Inverse Gaussian family and a particular reparameterization.

    Gillian also told us about her work with Mikis Stasinopoulos and Bob Rigby on the gamlss package. This has involved yet another extension: nonparametric regression approaches for flexible functional location, scale and shape effects. The talk finished with a statistical version of the song "It ain't necessarily so" such by Gurdeep Stephens and fellow South African statistician Michael Greenacre from a conference held in Spain in the mid-200s.

    The speaker and almost the entire live audience then headed down to the Duck Inn pub in Chippendale and had an appetizing and lively three-course meal together. It was a great way for the branch to say good-bye to 2020.

    Matt Wand
    University of Technology Sydney

  • 10 Dec 2020 12:52 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    University of Technology Sydney mathematician, Steve Woodcock, describes the controversial alternative statistical inference culture within the field of sports science.

    Elite sport is a multi-billion dollar industry and data analyses involving sports decisions are prone to abuse. This is one of the main messages from Dr Steve Woodcock's talk to the New South Wales branch of the society on 25th November 2020. Steve is a senior lecturer within the mathematics group at University of Technology Sydney.

    The talk started by pointing out that out of Australia-based researchers who describe themselves as a statistician within the Google Scholar system, one that has among the highest number of citations is Victoria University employee Will Hopkins. His work is almost exclusively applied in sports science and he pioneered a concept known as magnitude-based decisions. According to the talk, Hopkins is best known for, in his words, "rejecting statistical inference and replacing it with a clinically and practically more relevant method of inference based on uncertainty in the magnitude of effects". It was then pointed out that several prominent statisticians - including big contributors to our society such as Adrian Barnett and Alan Welsh – have strongly criticised and debunked the magnitude-based decision approach.

    The speaker gave us the following quote from former society president Barnett ``If I was ever to peer review a paper using magnitude-based inference then I would reject it and tell the authors to completely redo their analysis''.

    Speaker Woodcock expressed at least some sympathy for magnitude-based decisions and said that in the context of small sample studies and potentially skewed risk-reward payoffs - which he defined loosely as "this won't do any harm and may be beneficial" - the approach may be a useful decision-making tool.

    Moving away from Hopkins and the magnitude-based decisions controversy, Steve then described some dodgy sports science analyses and claims - such as one involving concussion evaluation in the Australian Football League. Another one concerned the claim of a sweet spot for reduced industry risk which relied on a dubious quadratic regression model.

    The talk concluded with the question "An unmissable opportunity?" concerning how high quality statistics can permeate into Australian sports decision-making. He concluded by making the observation that the stumbling block is not from an unwillingness to improve statistical practice in the field, but rather a lack of dialogue between practitioners and statisticians about possible improvements to employed methodology.

    Matt Wand

    University of Technology Sydney 

  • 8 Dec 2020 3:30 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Australian school students elevated into global top-10 for mathematics performance

    Data released overnight from the latest quadrennial TIMSS testing reveals Australian students at Year 8 level have achieved significantly improved performance levels compared to previous surveys, and compared to their peers worldwide.

    TIMSS – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – is administered every four years assessing the effectiveness of teaching in mathematics and science at Year 4 and 8 levels, enabling comparison over time, and across states and countries.

    The 2019 TIMSS results released this evening are the sixth iteration of this influential assessment, showing that Australia has improved academic achievement in mathematics by Year 8 students. Only six countries included in the survey achieved higher outcomes than Australia, placing it ahead of 25 nations, with another 7 performing at the same level as Australia.

    “An improvement of this magnitude validates the commitment of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) to promoting the attraction and career relevance to students and parents, developing resources for teachers of mathematics in primary and secondary schools, and advocating for heightened qualifications and professional development needed by mathematics teachers”, said Professor Asha Rao, AMSI’s interim director.

    “We urge governments to heed AMSI’s calls for mathematics teachers to possess specific qualifications in the discipline, recognising the importance of educating a future workforce equipped to innovate through application of mathematics, statistics and data sciences”, Professor Rao added. “The current pandemic illustrates the risk to Australia’s wellbeing if a basis of informed advice from epidemiologists with mathematical modelling capabilities are not sustained.” mongst Australian Year 8 students, 68 percent achieved the TIMSS Intermediate international benchmark for proficiency in mathematics, with Singapore continuing to dominate at the top of the global table with an outcome of 96 percent.

    “The increased result at Year 8 level is highly encouraging and shows the value of AMSI’s work across the sector” said Professor Rao, “but static performance by Year 4 students shows that investment in mathematics education at primary and secondary levels needs to be increased.”

    “AMSI research confirms continuing inequity exists across socio-economic groups, and between cities and the regions” warned AMSI advocacy and policy manager Dr Maaike Wienk. “These results are encouraging but heavily skewed by improvements in the achievement of Year 8 students in New South Wales, and do not necessarily reflect national trends. AMSI remains a vocal advocate for redressing inequalities and ensuring every Australian child has access to high quality mathematics education.”

    14,950 students from 571 schools across Australia participated in the 2019 TIMMS study spanning 64 countries.

    See the original media release here


  • 26 Nov 2020 9:10 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Announcing the winners of the commendable Young Statistician Presentations


    First place

    Fu Shi Ching

    Mr Shi Ching Fu from Curtin University

    Using Bayesian Networks to Identify Significant Crime Events in WA


    Second Place

    Duffin Connor

    Mr Connor Duffin from the University of Western Australia

    A Statistical Finite Element Method for Nonlinear PDEs


    Third Place

    Malone George

    Mr George Malone from Murdoch University

    The L2 Method for Robust Estimation of Mixtures: An Application in Diagnosis

    of Equine PPID


    Poster Presentation Winner

    Ng Kenyon

    Kenyon Ng from Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development; and Department of Mathematics and Statistics, UWA

    Predicting Oats Cutting (Flowering) Time with Semiparametric Additive Models


    Congratulations from all of us at SSA!

  • 26 Nov 2020 9:06 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    On 30th September and 1st October 2020, the Western Australia branch held its 11th biennial Western Australian Young Statisticians Workshop. The workshop aimed at supporting Young Statisticians and students to further their professional career in statistics. The workshop was held online this year to safely engage and assist Young Statisticians in collaborating with local professionals amongst the pandemic disruptions. This free workshop was held over two half-days, with a morning session on the first day and an afternoon session on the second day. On the first day, we had four invited speakers present as well as three Young Statistician talks. The morning concluded with a breakout session. Between sessions, attendees could view a poster presentation. On the second day, we held an afternoon session where three invited speakers presented, and four Young Statisticians gave oral presentations. The afternoon ended off with a breakout session followed by the announcement of the Young Statistician prize winners.

    Seven invited speakers from industry and academia presented during the workshop, namely; Nazim Khan, Ross Taplin, Alex Maund, Anna Hayes, Emi Tanaka, Brenton Clarke andNoel Cressie. We gratefully thank our invited speakers for volunteering their time to talk and participate in breakout sessions.

    We were delighted to hear from seven worthy Young Statisticians who expertly presented their work, namely; Sofina Begum, Joseph Sigar, Audrey Yeo, Alexander Rohl, George Malone, Connor Duffin, Shih Ching Fu and Kenyon Ng. The SSA awarded prizes to four excellent Young Statistician presentations. We also had a draw for survey respondents, with Parsa Amid being the lucky winner.

    We would like to thank our sponsors, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Statistical Society of Australia and Murdoch Guild for supporting our Young Statisticians Workshop. Their generous sponsorship allowed us to have a free event with prizes and gifts for invited speakers.

    A huge thanks goes out to our Young Statisticians sub-committee: Barbara Kachigunda, Alun Pope, David Urginov, Rick Tankard, Torben Kimhofer, and led by Deneegan Subramanian. We also thank our Young Statistician presentations judges Brenton Clarke, Ross Bowden and Berwin Turlach.

    by Deneegan Subramanian

    SSA WA Branch Young Statisticians Representative

  • 26 Nov 2020 8:30 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Laura Edney, Research Fellow in Health Economics at Flinders University, spoke to our October meeting on her own work about the motivation for the use of Instrumental variables (IVs), the assumptions they make and how these can be appropriately tested either directly or through sensitivity analyses by examining the impact of assumption violation. This is the topic of her current research, following on from many years of work on various fields on health economics.

    At the beginning of her talk, Laura described the IVs and their application to make causal conclusions from observational data when randomized controlled trials are not feasible. IV methods have been widely used to estimate the impact that spending on health has on health outcomes due, in part, to historic health outcomes representing an important unmeasured confounder that, if unaccounted for, will result in biased coefficients on spending in standard regression models. She addressed few examples of IVs and illustrated to determine variation that is exogenous in treatment and to estimate causal inferences. In particular, smoking and health outcome relationship, an IV cigarette price is not logically directly related to health. The only logical relation is an indirect one: price affects cigarette use that, in turn, affects health.

    To illustrate the key concepts of IVs, Laura reviewed the application of IVs to estimating the impact of health spending on health outcomes focusing on eight publications that have estimated this relationship nationally. Using two-stage least squares estimation (2SLS), health spending has a significant impact on health outcomes in presence of IVs. IV quantile regression, an extension of IV approach, was also discussed about estimating across the full distribution compared to unweighted IV 2SLS estimates of the mean effect.

    In conclusion, Laura mentioned two key questions to consider: (i) Is the instrument meaningfully related to the predictor variable? (ii) Does the instrument directly or indirectly

    influence the outcome variable? Merits and demerits of IVs were also highlighted at the end of the presentation. The meeting was held in virtual platform Zoom video communication with almost 25 attendees in the meeting.

    By Shahid Ullah

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