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  • 6 May 2022 12:50 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    In two weeks, Australians will head to the polls and to choose their representatives in the next Federal Parliament.

    On behalf of our members, STA has invited political parties and independent candidates across the country to respond to the STEM sector’s election priorities, developed at STA’s Presidents and CEOs Forum last year. We look forward to sharing those responses with you very soon.

    Staying with governance, STA has been further developing the next phase of work in our constitutional review and reform project as part of our long-term strategic plan. 

    Our goal is to create a new governance structure that is nimble, integrated, and inclusive to ensure STA’s leaders can realise our mission while leveraging our multi-disciplinary strengths. Our working group seeks your input via this survey.

    Have you secured your ticket to the Science meets Parliament 2022 gala dinners on 2 June? They will be held concurrently in seven of Australia’s capital cities and feature a who’s-who of the STEM sector, Parliamentary, and public service worlds. Don’t miss your chance to attend the STEM community’s night of nights, and an outstanding networking opportunity.

    Want to turn your team into expert communicators? We have a special end-of-financial-year discount available on STA’s acclaimed Super STEM Communicator training. Get in touch now to secure a 5 per cent discount on top of your STA members’ 10 per cent discount for courses delivered by 30 June - including our hugely popular ‘Marie Kondo your writing’ workshop.

    Finally, we have an exciting employment opportunity at STA as our next Executive Officer. The position plays a key role in the governance and administration of the organisation. It would suit an organisational whiz with previous experience in a similar job. We thank Kelvin Peh for his service to STA and wish him all the best with his next career move into the Australian public service. Please share information about this role to anyone in your network who would be fabulous - and encourage them to apply.

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 

  • 22 Apr 2022 4:09 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Ahead of the 21 May election, campaign commitments are now coming thick and fast. 

    This week, the first two Trailblazer Universities were announced. A consortium of universities and industry partners led by Curtin University will get $50 million to develop a research commercialisation hub for critical minerals and resources technology, and a University of Adelaide and University of New South Wales partnership was awarded $50 million to boost defence sector innovation. The others will also likely be announced in the campaign.

    Investing in Australia’s research commercialisation skills and capability will return a huge intergenerational dividend for the country, and it’s something STA has long advocated on behalf of our members. But it’s just one of the election pledges we are urging all political parties to make to support the country’s vital science and technology community. To amplify the sector’s messaging, please share our election pledges social media tiles. For inspiration, check out this great thread by STA member the Royal Society of Victoria.

    STA welcomed the announcement of Judi Zielke as the new CEO of the Australian Research Council. Judi was appointed Acting CEO for the research granting agency in February, and has shown a clear desire to engage with the research sector on key issues in her time at the helm. We look forward to working with her and her team as she leads the agency into its next era.

    It was an honour this week to host an event featuring two living legends of Australia’s science community - Nobel laureates Professor Brian Schmidt and Professor Peter Doherty. The event was part of the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of The Australian National University. As befits a university which has always engaged in public debate, the discussion was wide-ranging, deeply research-informed, and put science front-and-centre in front of a huge crowd.

    We are delighted to welcome a new member organisation to the STA family - Campus Plus. Under the outstanding leadership of Founder and CEO Nick McNaughton and Chief Operating Officer Zoe Fieldhouse, Campus Plus helps universities with their industry engagement through researcher commercialisation training and mentoring, entrepreneurship training, and strategic partnership creation. We are so pleased to have them as a member of the ever-growing STA community.

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 

  • 8 Apr 2022 12:00 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The formal start of the election campaign is now imminent. 

    STA will spend the coming weeks highlighting the science and technology sector’s election priorities. These were developed from a sector leadership dialogue at the STA Presidents and CEOs Forum in October. Your team can download social media tiles promoting the priorities here for use on your channels. Please tag us so we can amplify!

    At the outset of the campaign, STA will formally seek responses from parties and candidates on their policy commitments on the sector’s election priorities. We'll also monitor policy pledges made during the campaign and share that with our members. 

    It was terrific to see so many of you at STA’s members-only post-Budget briefing last Thursday. We’ve had great feedback about the value of the detailed analysis of Budget announcements and consultation opportunities. With gratitude to STA Director of Policy and Engagement Dr Sarah Tynan, the brief is available in the member-only section of the STA website.

    This week we’ve been so excited for Gamilaraay man and founder of STA member organisation Deadly Science, Corey Tutt, who roared onto the world stage as the first ever First Nations organisation to have its branding on a Formula 1 car. It’s a significant endorsement of the incredible work Deadly Science do to support First Nations kids to get a STEM education, and gives the organisation global exposure. Read more here.

    We are delighted that STA President Professor Mark Hutchinson has been appointed to the expanded Australian Research Council Advisory Committee. Mark will make a powerful contribution to the work of the Committee and brings deep insight from the research sector. 

    It was great to attend the Women in AI Awards last week in Melbourne. The top award was won by radiologist and breast cancer clinician Professor Helen Frazer, who is using AI for breast cancer detection. It was terrific to see so many brilliant and diverse women innovators recognised for their groundbreaking work.

    The National Research Infrastructure Roadmap was released yesterday – and current projected funding of $900 million for existing NCRIS capabilities was reaffirmed. The Government says it is “considering further investment identified in the roadmap such as in digital research infrastructure, synthetic biology, research translation infrastructure, environmental and climate research infrastructure, and collections”.

    Finally, this morning I spoke with a sizeable business audience for an Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry event: ‘How becoming more sustainable can make Australia more prosperous’. It was an honour to connect the worlds of business, science and technology - and highlight our community’s desire to work with industry to help them make the transition required by the mounting risks, scale and pace of climate change.

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 

  • 7 Apr 2022 2:09 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

     Data is the sword, those who wield it the Samurai” – developing the future STEM workforce.

    Statistics + X: what’s your X?

    The NSPC is a fun, project-based learning activity which encourages Stages 2 to 6 school students to develop, implement and creatively report upon an investigation on any topic of interest to them (the 'X')... for prizes! 

    • Students conduct small-scale versions of real-world investigations in teams, developing core STEM and cross-functional skills. They create an informative e-poster presentation communicating their investigation clearly, concisely and creatively and submit within one of the five divisions (Stages 2 – 6). 

    A Community Division (for families, friends, colleagues) also exists – why should kids get all the fun! 

    TIPS and NOTES: 

    In addition to the five Division winners and honourable mentions (Stages 2 to 6) prizes are also awarded to:
    The School submitting the most entries!
    A randomly selected winner in National Science Week (August) based on

    submissions made by 10 August (so consider entering early)!

    Whilst the focus is engaging students and developing their interests and abilities, this year’s Stage 5 and Stage 6 winners may also be forwarded to an international leg of the competition (which Australia has won in the past).

    Please inform friends, family, schools and anyone who’ll listen about the NSPC! Happy investigating! 

    We welcome early online registrations and (even rough) estimated submission numbers to assist with administration, and so you receive updates –

  • 6 Apr 2022 1:08 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Summary of Talk by Elvezio Ronchetti, Research Center for Statistics and GSEM, University of Geneva, Switzerland, presented at the 2022 March Meeting of the WA Branch of the SSA. This summary is written by Brenton R Clarke.

    In introducing Elvezio I noted that he had published several important books on Robust Statistics and has visited La Trobe University, the Australian National University and Sydney University in the past.  This time we hosted him virtually in Perth, Western Australia,

    Elvezio outlined his talk with an introduction giving some motivation and then detailing three examples to illustrate the advantages of robust methods. He then outlined the infinitesimal approach based on what is known as the influence function and then related that to M-estimators known for their usefulness since they often include maximum likelihood estimators as a special case. Elvezio alluded to optimal robust estimators and then concluded with reference to new papers on penalization methods and machine learning

    In his introduction he gave a summarizing slide to say that Robust Statistics

    • deals with deviations from ideal models and their dangers for corresponding inference procedures.
    • the primary goal is the development of procedures which are still reliable and reasonably efficient under small deviations from the model, i.e. when the underlying distribution lies in a neighbourhood of the assumed model.

    Robust statistics is an extension of parametric statistics, taking into account that parametric models are at best only approximations to reality.

    Elvezio asserted that Robust Statistics was about stability theory for statistics just as in other fields such as differential equations stability theory is exemplified by Lyapunov Theory, and similarly stability of mechanical structures is studied in engineering. In numerical analysis the computation of

    is considered stable on the left hand side but not so on the right (I was surprised by this as usually we get students in first year classes to use the formula on the right to reduce the risk of miscalculation due to punching in a wrong number, but obviously the computer is more efficient when there are many large numbers in terms of reducing rounding errors and also not going out of bounds if you use the formula on the left.)

    The basic premise in studying stability is that models are only approximations to reality, which is a basic tenet of science.  Elvezio noted John Tukey’s discussion showing the dramatic loss of efficiency of optimal location procedures in the presence of small deviations and also in his first example illustrated the classical ‘dispute’ of Eddington and Fisher as to whether one should use the mean absolute deviation or the standard deviation based on efficiency in very small contaminated neighbourhoods of the normal model.  (Personally, these studies were taught to me by Noel Cressie at Flinders University during my honours year when Noel was fresh out of doing a PhD at Princeton. I am forever grateful)

    Example 2 considered the robustness of the Wilcoxon test in comparison to the two-sample t-test illustrated on 2 samples taken from normal distributions and allowing on sample point to vary.  This illustrated that while the t-test is known to have robustness of validity it does not possess robustness of efficiency. It is noted the Wilcoxon test has robustness of validity, but as a nonparametric test loses power in small deviations from the assumed model.

    Example 3 considered ARCH effects in financial time series given in Mancini, Ronchetti, Trojani (2005, JASA). The argument was that the ARCH parameter  showed no significance when doing a classical Wald test implying acceptance of the homoscedasticity hypothesis whereas the robust test shows a highly significant . It is argued that because the estimation of the volatility by classical techniques is inflated, the potential ARCH structure is hidden by the presence of a few outlying observations.

    Elvezio went on to discuss the functional approach to estimation where one, for example, writes their statistic as a function of the empirical distribution and more generally on the set of distributions so that one can set up the infinitesimal approach to estimation based on the influence function.  In summary he explained that what was wanted were procedures that had bounded influence functions for which the reward was robustness.  This is related to the theory of differentiability of statistical functionals for which my paper in Clarke (2000 PINSA) got a mention.

    Elvezio pointed to M-estimators introduced in a famous 1964 paper by Huber in the Ann. Math. Statist., for which the empirical distribution is given by  and the estimator can be written  which is a solution of

    From these subject to Fisher consistency the influence function at the model F is

    It is seen that bounding   leads to a bounded influence function. Elvezio pointed to eleven bookson robustness, to see how the field has progressed.   I was pleased to see the most recent book listed was Clarke (2018) Robustness Theory and Application, John Wiley & Sons.

    In concluding his talk Elvezio canvassed penalization methods. He covered penalty methods for dealing with what is called sparsity and noted that estimating a regression parameter yields an M-estimator. In particular, the Huber estimator corresponds to the lasso penalty.  Several references on the penalization literature were given with a statement that a popular approach to the Machine Learning literature is to enforce robustness in available algorithms.

    Elvezio suggests we look for estimators with bounded influence functions.  His approach would be to “huberize” the score function.  Robustness is an issue in the big data world and there is an equivalence between robustness and penalization.

    Brenton Clarke

  • 5 Apr 2022 4:03 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Bill McLennan, a former Australian Statistician who had also headed the UK Government Statistical Service, died in Canberra on 19 March 2022 at the age of 80.

    Bill was born in 1942 in Grafton, New South Wales.  As a child, Bill moved with his family to Wollongong. Bill’s family would have done it tough during these formative years, but it clearly had a big influence on his approach to life and work. He was quick to understand issues that were really important, clear on his goals and tenacious in achieving them. Despite the impression of being a hard head he was very empathetic to his staff when they had personal issues.

    He joined the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (which become the ABS in 1975) in 1960 as a statistics cadet.  Bill gained a degree in Statistics and Economics from the ANU and started working at the Bureau full time in 1964.  He spent all his career there, apart from his time in UK.

    Initially he worked as a mathematical statistician on sampling and methodology, rising to become head of branch in 1973 at a remarkably young age. Bill helped to expand the capability of the ABS to conduct a greatly enhanced population survey program. This had a long-standing influence on the availability of social statistics in Australia. Early in his career Bill’s strong leadership qualities were recognised and subsequent postings nurtured that potential and broadened his experience. 

    Bill oversaw the establishment of the corporate planning system, leading to production of ABS's first Corporate Plan in 1987. Despite considerable resistance by the IT professionals at the time, he led the use of microcomputers and internet technologies, because he could see opportunities to reduce costs and improve flexibility in administrative and statistical activities.

    In 1986, Bill was appointed Deputy Australian Statistician and the de facto leader of the ABS. The ABS earned a very strong reputation for how it was managed, its effective use of technology and for the quality of its outputs.

    In 1987 ABS was given the choice of taking sizeable budget cuts or raising the equivalent in revenue from sales of products and services. Bill choose the latter, seizing the opportunity to focus on the needs of customers of ABS products. With a more professional approach to product design, marketing and service delivery, the changes resulted in a very substantial improvement in the ABS’s customer focus.

    In 1992, Bill was appointed Director of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) and head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) of the United Kingdom, the first person from outside the UK to hold this post. The UK statistical system had been through a challenging period. Bill’s arrival signalled a much stronger role for the office. He recognised the fundamental role of official statistics for democracy and that the work of the GSS needed to be better understood. 

    He produced the Official Statistics Code of Practice, first published in April 1995, which set good practice and principles for statisticians producing official statistics with the aim of promoting high standards and maintaining public confidence in official statistics. He led work leading to the establishment of the Office of National Statistics. Bill’s time in UK was relatively short, at 3 years, but he certainly left UK statistics in a different and much improved state than when he started.

    In 1995 Bill returned to Australia to become Australian Statistician. Bill’s many achievements and strong leadership style are typified by the shift to disseminating statistics through the internet and the website. He also pushed ABS to take a constructive interest in the statistical activities of other government agencies and the use of administrative data for official statistics.

    In the 1980s, Bill first developed a stronger interest in international statistical activities. He personally led a reawakening of the relationship with Statistics New Zealand and later took leadership roles across the Asian Pacific region more widely. Bill was elected Chairman of the UN Statistical Commission from 1994 to 1995. It was during this time that the Commission endorsed the first version of the Fundamental Principles for Official Statistics.

    Bill retired as Australian Statistician in 2000. He was awarded a CBE and an AM for significant contributions to UK and Australian statistics respectively.

    Bill always had plenty of interest outside work. He was an avid reader and a very capable sportsman, representing the ACT at both rugby and squash. In more recent years his focus was on golf. He loved Australia and travelled widely, especially the rural areas. He bought a motor home which he used frequently, usually accompanied by the golf sticks and always some good quality red wine.

    Dennis Trewin

  • 29 Mar 2022 11:22 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Science & Technology Australia welcomes new investments in research commercialisation in the 2022 Budget, while urging deeper investment in discovery science to secure our research pipeline for coming decades and Australia’s long-term safety and prosperity.

    The extension of the new Patent Box tax break for Australian companies to manufacture clean energy technologies onshore - powerfully advocated by STA - is great news. 

    A $2 million investment to extend Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM program for another four years will help to deepen diverse women role models in STEM. 

    Science & Technology Australia President Professor Mark Hutchinson said new investments in science and technology would help turn more great Australian research into jobs.

    “Stronger science and technology commercialisation is crucial for our country - and these investments, long championed by the science and technology sector, will be pivotal to prosperity,” he said.

    “The next task is to deepen our nation’s investments in essential discovery and blue sky science - to deliver major research breakthroughs that can catapult Australia’s capabilities.” 

    “The extension of the Patent Box tax breaks to low-emissions technologies in this Budget will help entice onshore manufacturing of climate transition technologies - and is a smart move that Science & Technology Australia has advocated for consistently.”    

    “The scale of the climate change challenge for humanity is sobering - the grave safety risks driven by climate change will mean more floods, bushfires, cyclones, storms and droughts on a scale never witnessed before.”

    “Science will be our lifeline as we face all these threats - and further deep investments in Australia’s transition strategy are imperative over the next year.” 

    The nation’s peak body representing more than 90,000 scientists and technologists thanked the Government for its investment in the Superstars of STEM program for four more years.

    “Superstars of STEM is a game changing program to transform the visibility of diverse women role models and inspire girls to pursue STEM study and careers.”

    STA is pleased to see the further investment in this Budget in Indigenous rangers programs - backing in the deep scientific and engineering knowledge of Australia’s First Scientists.  

    Media contact: Martyn Pearce, STA: 0432 606 828

    Key budget measures for science and technology in the 2022 Budget include:

    • $505.2 million over five years from 2021-22 (and crucially around $182.3 million ongoing) to establish Australia’s Economic Accelerator to support projects to take university research to proof-of-concept and proof-of-scale.
    • $295.2 million over five years from 2021-22 ($142.8 million a year ongoing) to create new research training pathways for students and researchers in Industry PhDs and Industry Fellowships
    • $150 million in equity funding over five years from 2021-22 to expand CSIRO Innovation Fund (Main Sequence Ventures)
    • $37.4 million over four years from 2022-23 to establish CSIRO Research Translation Start program to build entrepreneurial skills in the research workforce. 
    • $5.3 million over two years to support science and technology advice to Government via the National Science & Technology Council
    • $4.7 million over 4 years from 2022-23 to support the Women in STEM Ambassador and Future You campaigns
    • $2 million over four years from 2021-22 to extend Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM program to build the profile of women in STEM
    • Expanding the Patent Box tax concessional rate of 17% tax rate to low emissions technologies.  
    • $839.2 million for East Antarctic exploration.

  • 17 Mar 2022 4:41 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    …and needs you! The Random Sample is a podcast that shares stories all about the impact of statistics, data science, and maths, and the statisticians, data scientists and mathematicians behind the impact. The SSA is now teaming up with the Random Sample, and is looking for an enthusiastic person to drive the organisation of stats and data science-themed episodes.

    No podcasting skills are required: all that is required is enthusiasm! This is an opportunity for you to upgrade your communications skills. You will be paid for your time (expected to be around 2 to 3 hours a week). To express your interest and for more information please get in touch with SSA’s President, Jess Kasza.

  • 11 Mar 2022 10:16 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    This week, STA President Mark Hutchinson and I gave evidence to the Senate hearing on the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence Bill). Our full submission is here.  

    On your behalf, we made a strong case that there is no need for a Ministerial power to approve individual research grants for funding because Australia has a rigorous and robust system of expert peer review and national science and research priorities set by the Government.

    There always needs to be accountability for public spending – that’s an important principle. 

    But the best way to achieve that doesn’t require Ministerial involvement in approving hundreds and hundreds of individual grants in specialised fields of knowledge outside of their expertise.

    Indeed, the Westminster traditions on which Australia’s democracy was modelled enshrine the Haldane principle of research independence. In the UK, Governments and Ministers set the overarching strategic research priorities, but individual grants are decided by expert peer review.

    The Australian Research Council has rigorous and robust grant assessment procedures guided by the top experts in each field. Given this, there is no need for a Ministerial power of approval. 

    We also reiterated our call for fixed dates for ARC grant applications, approvals, and recipient notifications to be set and published three years ahead. This is key to bring certainty to both industry and researchers. 

    Views were strongly aligned across the sector, including the Australian Institute of Physics, the learned academies and university peak bodies and vice-chancellors.  

    This year’s Science meets Parliament was a triumph - our biggest and most successful event ever. Our huge thanks to everyone who supported it as a delegate, speaker, or sponsor. A record-breaking 528 delegates had an incredible week of professional development, networking, and skills building.

    Some of the many highlights in 2022 included:

    • A fireside chat with Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty on the power of science in our era;
    • Global media stars Professor Brian Cox and Wiradjuri astrophysicist Kirsten Banks in conversation on the importance of clear science communication to tackle misinformation and disinformation; and
    • STA President Professor Mark Hutchinson outlining a vision for how Australia can take more of our great science and technology breakthroughs from the lab “bench to boardroom”.  
    This week, Science meets Parliament delegates met with MPs and Senators to discuss their science. This included an inspiring meeting with Science and Technology Minister Melissa Price MP.

    Huge thanks to the whole team at STA who brought together the 22nd Science meets Parliament with such skill, talent and a prodigious amount of work. Here’s a tiny glimpse from behind the scenes.  

    And it’s not over yet! On 2 June, we’ll bring together STEM leaders and policymakers for in-person dinners in all eight capital cities across Australia hosted by our MC, ABC star Nate Byrne – tickets are open to the whole STEM community. 
    If you haven’t yet done the SmP2022 delegate survey, please do so. This feedback ensures Science meets Parliament will continue to be a great success connecting the science and technology community with decision-makers.

    Finally, the 2022 Federal Budget will be handed down on Tuesday 29 March. Please join us for our STA members-only post-Budget briefing on Thursday 31 March at 2pm AEDT. Register here.

    Until next time, 

    Misha Schubert 
    CEO, Science & Technology Australia 

  • 10 Mar 2022 3:13 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    We are looking for a student or early career statistician to take on the role of Early Career & Student Statisticians Network (ECSSN) Chair from April 2022.

    The ECSSN Chair is an important position on the Society’s Executive Committee (EC). The holder of this position will work closely with the ECSSN Branch representatives, consider important issues facing early career statisticians and report back to the EC at their monthly meetings.  Traditionally, the ECSSC Chair helps with organising events, including SSA’s signature event for early career and upcoming statisticians, the biennial ECSS Conference.

    Being the Chair of the ECSSN will provide a fantastic opportunity to broaden your own experience while helping your fellow student and early career statisticians and promoting statistics. Contribute to your field and build your CV! This is an honorary two-year role; find more details 

    Please contact the current Chair, Janan Arslan or the SSA President, Jess Kasza if you have questions about the role.

    To apply, please email your CV and a brief description of what you think you could bring to the role to the SSA Executive Officer before 1 April 2022.

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