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  • 13 May 2020 11:52 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a lot of interest from the statistics / data science community. On the 28th of April, we invited two Melbourne based statisticians/epidemiologists who actually advise the government on the coronavirus pandemic to share their work with us.  

    The first half was presented by Prof. Allen Cheng, who is both an AStat as well as an infectious diseases physician. Allen first described several models that have been used to inform the policy makers around importation risk, transmission risk, and potential load on the health care system — this underpinned the discussion around ‘flattening the curve’. Allen also discussed some ‘unhelpful models’ that are being used elsewhere, as well as other on-going analyses/investigations around the next step to combat the pandemic. A key perspective that Allen brought to us was the fact that the modelling work is just ‘one piece of the puzzle’, and that the policy makers have to weigh up many other factors into the decision making process. Allen ended his presentation by commenting on the feasibility of sampling the population for the virus — a proposal that got some attention within the statistics community.

    The second half was presented by Dr. Freya Shearer, an epidemiological modeller at PRISM. Freya and her colleagues were instrumental at developing the framework that quantified the importation risk from various countries. This framework helped uncover countries that have a high likelihood of under-reporting their cases, and by extension their risk posed to Australia. This ultimately helped the policy makers to decide on international travel bans during the early stage of the pandemic.

    An equally well-engaged session was the Q&A at the end, where the presenters were asked to comment on issues such as the reliability of data sources, school closure, practices in other countries, and sensitivity of some key model parameters, to list a few.

    Overall, the event was extremely well attended. We had 223 attendants (9 from overseas), which is a record for a non-named lecture.

    The recording and other resources (e.g. slides) can be found here.

    Kohleth Chia

  • 11 May 2020 10:38 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The big event in environmental statistics for the year is coming up June 22-26 – the virtual International Statistical Ecology Conference (vISEC2020), an exciting opportunity (and affordable) opportunity to catch up on the latest innovations in statistical ecology, and to explore the virtual conference format.  The SSA Environmental Statistics section has also started a seminar series, inviting excellent environmental statisticians worldwide to present virtually to our members.

    The virtual International Statistical Ecology Conference (vISEC2020) was going to be hosted in Sydney, the first time it was to be held in the Southern hemisphere.  But the virtual move means that while the organisation is still being done mostly out of Sydney, you can watch from anywhere (Phillipp, right, will watch from his kitchen!).

    vISEC2020 has a huge program, with over 250 presenters, and activities focussed around two sessions, 8-11am & 9pm-12am GMT (in Australia, this corresponds to early morning and early evening).  As with any conference there is excitement around the plenary talks, including Christl Donnelly, a leading statistical epidemiologist and member of the influential Imperial College COVID19 response team.  The conference has a focus on training, networking, and generating ideas – e.g. we will use a conference discussion forum to generate and refine ideas for a Special Issue proposal to Methods in Ecology & Evolution, and expect the virtual format to turbo-charge this conference component.  Another exciting aspect of the virtual format is its accessibility and breadth of engagement – low cost, the capacity to pre-record your talk, and to watch session recordings later, means anyone anywhere can contribute.  Many excellent researchers (especially early career) will now participate who otherwise could not due to family commitments, including some who are expecting during the week of the conference!  We are expecting over 500 attendees.  Registration is only $50, if you are curious about the virtual format, register now!

    In the Environmental Statistics committee, Scott Foster (CSIRO) has stood down, we thank him for his contributions over the last couple of years.  If you are interested in joining the committee, e-mail David, the more the merrier!

    Environmental Statistics Seminars- With everyone working at home, and physical seminar programs on hold, there has never been a more opportune time to connect environmental statisticians nationally through virtual events.  We have started a regular Environmental Statistics seminar program, aiming for monthly talks, from researchers world-wide.  Our May talk was by James Thorson (NOAA), “Forecasting nonlocal climate impacts for mobile marine species using extensions to empirical orthogonal function analysis” with 38 attendees from around the country.  If you have ideas for someone you would like to hear speak – from any continent – send them to David, and keep an eye on SSA announcements for future talks.

    the Environmental Statistics Committee

    David Warton (chair), Andrew Zammit-Mangion, Denny Meyer, Gordana Popovic, Joanne Potts, Robert Clark.

  • 11 May 2020 10:31 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Registration now open! (and it’s only $50!)

    The International Statistical Ecology Conference is a biennial meeting of researchers at the interface between ecology and statistics.  At vISEC2020 we have planned an exciting list of keynote speakers that bridge these two disciplines, as well as training opportunities for attendees, a forum for interdisciplinary collaboration, and a healthy dose of fun - all online!

    Home base for the conference will be a Slack workspace, where registered participants can mingle, watch live-streamed talks (and recordings of talks you missed, or want to watch again!), browse poster presentations, interact with presenters and other attendees via text or video chat, plan papers for our Special Issue proposal, check our Twitter stream, or compete at trivia night!  There will be two conference sessions each day, no more than three hours in length, set at opposite ends of the Sydney day to better align with timezones around the world (8-11am & 9pm-12am GMT).

    Prior to the conference opening, you can enrol in interactive short courses (20-21st June) to train up in a specific area, registration for these is $75AUD each.  Each short course will be delivered using video conferencing tools, across two days, in one of the two regular conference session times (8-11am GMT or 9pm-12am GMT).

    The first day of the conference (22nd June) is a Skills Showcase, with hands-on tutorials run in parallel on topics as diverse as high-dimensional data visualisation, hidden Markov models, deep learning, passive acoustics and more.

    The remaining four days (23-26th June) will be an exciting mix of plenary talks, contributed and speed talks, poster sessions and discussions, and social mixers.

    Registration for the conference is just $50AUD, giving you access to the Slack workspace where talks and discussions are stored for the duration of the conference and for two weeks following the conference close. 

    If you are experiencing financial hardship, conference registration fees can be waived, by selecting the appropriate item during registration.  Please contact us if unsure whether this applies to you.

    For further details, see the vISEC2020 website.

    Questions?  Send us an email at

    See you in June,

    the vISEC2020 Local Organising Committee.

  • 11 May 2020 10:15 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The SSA has established a new body – the SSA Consulting Network.  The goal of the network is to provide a forum to support and advocate for statistical consultants, and to provide training and professional support opportunities.

    You can join our mailing list from the SSA website; just edit your membership profile and check the box.  If you would like to join the committee, please contact either of the Co-chairs. 

    Our first activity will be a Q&A panel on remote consulting – tips on how to consult effectively under the physical distancing and work-from-home constraints we have all been negotiating of late.  We have all learnt a lot about how to do this over the last couple of months, so this will be an opportunity for practice-sharing.  This event will be held within the next month, stay tuned for an SSA announcement.

    What would you like the Consulting Network to do?  Please tell us your thoughts using this short form.

    This will help shape priorities in network activities. 

    We look forward to hearing from you.

    David Warton and Sue Finch

    Co-chairs, Statistical Consulting Network

  • 11 May 2020 10:08 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The Statistical Society of Australia’s (SSA) Young Statisticians Network (YSN) has organised the biennial Young Statisticians Conferences (YSC) since 2009. The conference is designed for students and early-career statisticians. The next YSC will run alongside ANZC2021 during 5th-9th July 2021 in Gold Coast. We are looking for some energetic members interested in helping to shape the YSC21.

    Really, stating that the conference will be held in the Gold Coast should be enough of a reason to join the committee. But if you need more convincing (shame on you, dear reader, for making me do more work), then let me outline the many facets of the YSC that will show you how rewarding it is to be a committee member. 

    On a more professional note, listing your YSC position will look impressive on your resume. It shows you are capable of planning and organising a major event. It also illustrates that you are an excellent communicator and collaborator. In addition to your existing role on the committee, you will also get a chance to Chair or Co-Chair sessions at the conference.  

    L to R: Louise Ryan and Sarah Romanes. Sarah won the Louise Ryan Award for best presentation at YSC19. The conference offers delegates a platform to share their latest research, with statistical applications being presented from a range of areas, including agriculture, computer science, and bioinformatics. Delegates can win the Louise Ryan Best Presenters Award. At YSC19, Sarah Romanes from the University of Sydney won the award for the presentation titled ‘Using Variational Approximations to efficiently build a generalised discriminant analysis (genDA) algorithm’.

    It does not end there. Delegates are further spoilt through speeches given by seasoned professionals and have the opportunity to ask career-related questions to an amazing careers panel. For YSC19, we were honoured to hear presentations from keynote speakers Teresa Dickinson (ABS), Calvin Hung (QuantumBlack), Alison Presmanes Hill (RStudio), and Margarita Moreno-Betancur (VicBiostat). The YSC19 careers panel consisted of Louise Ryan (UTS), Teresa Neeman (ANU), Warren Muller (CSIRO), and Smitha Ramaswamy (Teachers Mutual Bank/UniBank). Sounds like a red-carpet event, right?

    L to R: Rushani Wijesuriya, Adrian Barnett, and Nicholas Tierney. Winners Rushani and Nicholas won multiple drink vouchers for winning the normal distribution competition. But it is not all work work work with the YSC. There are multiple social events to organise and attend, such as the pre-conference trivia night and the conference dinner. To illustrate how much fun these events can be, we will again refer back to YSC19. The YSC19 dinner included a Wiki-a-thon; the objective of this event was to create a Wikipedia page for influential women in statistics using your smartphone. Simultaneously, a mini competition was held where we had to draw the perfect normal distribution. Sadly, I did not win (boo). However, the very talented Rushani Wijesuriya and Nicholas Tierney took home the prize that day.

    Have I convinced you to join the YSC committee? Great! We still have several positions available, including Program Chair, Graphic Designer, Event App Liaison, Social Events Manager, Treasurer and Sponsorship Manager. For more information on each role and to apply, just click here. If you have experience in any of these areas that would be great, but it is not a prerequisite.

    Have any questions? Do not hesitate to reach out to me! You can send me an email, or message me via Twitter.

    Janan Arslan.

  • 7 May 2020 9:58 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Murthy Mittinty, Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics at the University of Adelaide, spoke at our April meeting on his work about targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE) for causal inference in observational studies. This is the topic of his current research, following on from many years of work on causal inference. At the beginning of his talk, Murthy described the targeted maximum likelihood estimation, which is a semiparametric doubly robust method that improves the chance of true parameter estimation by allowing for flexible estimation using (nonparametric) machine learning methods, or super learner. He provided a step by step guided implementation of TMLE and illustrated it in a simulation scenario based on dental epidemiology.

    To attain causal inference from observational studies, methods such as G-estimation, inverse probability treatment weighting, or targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE) are preferred over traditional regression approaches, which are biased under misspecification of a parametric outcome model. He claimed that the assumptions such as positivity, consistency, exchangeability, and faithfulness needs to be made when using TMLE. Doubly robust methods, which require correct specification of either exposure or outcome model have been proposed as an improvement over simple IPTW methods. He demonstrated that the assumptions about correct model specification and positivity (ie, when a study participant has zero probability of receiving the treatment) were nearly violated when implementing TMLE to a realistic scenario based on dental epidemiology.

    In conclusion Murthy demonstrated that his research provides a concise and reproducible educational introduction to TMLE for a binary outcome and exposure. The user should gain sufficient understanding of TMLE from this introductory tutorial to be able to apply the method in practice. It was an entertaining and engaging presentation through our first zoom meeting in the SA Branch.

    Key reference: Schuler & Rose (2017). Targeted maximum likelihood estimation for causal inference in observational studies. AJE; 185(1): 65-73

    Shahid Ullah

  • 7 May 2020 9:55 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The Statistical Society organised an online meeting of statisticians and epidemiologists to discuss the statistical issues concerning how Australia is battling COVID-19. Below are the five recommendations that resulted from the meeting.


    IN THE SHORT TERM (i.e. over the next month)

    1.        The tests to date have been on a ‘self-selected’ basis. They will not be representative of the population at large and so care needs to be taken on what inferences can be made about the population at large. For example, NSW and Victoria are encouraging testing to anyone who wants it. This will have a bias towards those people who have the time and capacity to drive to a site. Young adults and children are less likely to be tested. The better educated are more likely to be tested. Statisticians could provide advice on how get the best possible population inferences from the active virological (self-selected) testing regime (by geo-demographic reweighting?) and the likely limitations (biases). They could explain what the estimates mean (e.g. possible upper bound rather than actual ratio of infected persons). The extent of advice depends on the amount of geo-demographic information that is associated with individual test results.

    2.     At first glance, the self-selected sample might seem to produce an upward bias because people who are symptomatic are more likely to be tested. However, it is also likely that the self-selected sample will under-represent children and young adults especially males. These may be more likely to be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic although not tested and, if so, this would provide a bias in the opposite direction. Statisticians could provide advice on how to best supplement the active testing sample with populations that will be under-represented.

    3.      Statisticians could review procedures for estimating R0 (the basic reproduction number). This is a crucial statistic for future planning but the statistical science behind it might be able to be improved (Methodology available on the Doherty web site). Also, there are a number of assumptions in the calculations such as all asymptomatic cases actually being pre-symptomatic. It would be importance to know the extent of uncertainty created by these assumptions through tools such as sensitivity analysis.

    IN THE MEDIUM TERM (Until the virus is under control but should start work in the short term)

    4.     As soon as feasible, a national survey be conducted jointly by the ABS and health authorities to estimate the number of infections after restrictions start being released. This information is very important for monitoring the potential for a second wave that is difficult to contain. It is may become more important in the winter months when there will be more overlap between COVID-19 symptoms and other winter ailments. Also, the number of asymptotic infections is unknown. International studies show the percentage is much higher than what health experts believe is the case in Australia. Statisticians might be able to assist the ABS with the analysis of the data. The survey should be repeated until there is confidence the virus is under control.

    5.      Assist with the design, calibration and analysis of sewage testing. It could be combined with the national survey in the first instance to provide a ‘calibration experiment’. This would allow calibration with what we see in the population, reducing the need for large scale surveys in the future.

    Dennis Trewin

  • 14 Apr 2020 5:09 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The SA Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia held its branch meeting and AGM on March 25 2020. Outgoing President Shahid Ullah presented the annual report for 2019-20 calendar year. Murthy Mittinty was elected as President for the new council, along with Vice President Barbara Toson. Aarti Gulyani remains as Secretary, Paul Sutcliff as Treasurer and Wendy Li as the Young Statistician representative. Other council members elected were existing members Kylie Lange, Helena Oakley and Lan Kelly.

    Shahid Ullah presented the results of an online survey of members’ and non-members’ feedback about past and future  activities such as meetings, workshops, networking and memberships. The survey was conducted during the month of March before the AGM via an email to everyone on the SA Branch mailing list. Of 24 responses, 71% of respondents were full members and 28% of these had been for more than 10 years. 12.5% were not current members but had been in the past and 8.3% had never been members. 67% of respondents were employed at a university or academic institution, while 21% were employed outside these areas. The remainder were students or retired.

    The primary reason for joining SSA was networking (74%,) followed by training events such as conferences/workshops/seminars (39%). 79% of respondents had attended some or all of the meetings in the past year, mainly because they were interested in the seminar content. The main reason for not attending the branch meeting was due to other commitments (76%).

    Regarding future content of the meetings, applied statistics (83%) and data visualization (61%) were the most popular. And despite the survey having been designed before face to face meetings were cancelled due to COVID-19, 83% said they would consider attending meetings by Zoom!

    Lan Kelly

  • 14 Apr 2020 11:56 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The Statistical Society of Australia is pleased to offer the new membership option of Perpetual Member. If you are 50 years or older you can pay a one-off fee of 15 times the current full membership (currently 15 × $250 = $3,750) and then never have to pay again.

    For the next 12 months, members over 55 years old who have been a member for at least 10 years can pay a one-off reduced membership of 10 × $250 = $2,500 for those aged 55 to 60 years, and 5 × $250 = $1,250 for those aged 60 years or over.

    We chose not to call this a “Life Membership” because we did not want it to be confused with the title of “Honorary Life Member” which is awarded to those members who provide outstanding service to the discipline of Statistics.

    We hope some of you will take up this option to reduce your paperwork and support the Society!

    To take advantage of this offer just log into your membership account, and where it gives your membership level click on "change" and the new options will come up. During the upgrade-process you'll be asked to upload proof of your age to confirm your eligibility.

    Members upgrading to this membership type who are AStat accredited or who want to subscribe to "Significance" will be invoiced annually for these extra items.

  • 6 Apr 2020 12:41 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    On the 31st of March we held our Annual General Meeting and Public Lecture by the Former Australian Statistician, Dennis Trewin AO FASSA. Due to the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, both events were held online via Zoom, where both sessions were conducted successfully without technical hitches.  

    The AGM was well received by the 30 members of the Victorian SSA who attended. A general review of the previous year was provided and our plans for the future were discussed. Most importantly, the services of outgoing council members Geoff Adams, Luke Prendergast, Jess Kasza, Julie Simpson, and Georgia Tsambos, who have all dutifully served the branch, were recognised. For 2020, the members have elected Emi Tanaka as the Vice-President, and have elected as council members: Ben Harrap, Patrick Robotham, Rheanna Mainzer, Elizabeth Korevaar, Daniel Fryer, Lidija Turkovic, Kohleth Chia, and Hien Nguyen. 

    The Public Lecture was well attended, with 58 people logging into the session. Dennis spoke eloquently and with authority on his work regarding the construction and calculation of well-being indices. In particular, he gave a broad introduction to the history of indexation and critiqued the current prevailing state-of-the-art of such methodologies. A review of the Measures of Australia's Progress (MAP) report series by the ABS was provided as well as an introduction to the ongoing Australian National Development Index (ANDI) project. He also provided a comprehensive comparison of Australia's approach, in comparison to those of other nations, such as New Zealand and the OECD. Although the talk was largely non-technical and general, Dennis was also open to answering specific questions by the audience regarding the methodology. The audience was particularly interested in the specifics of regarding the computation, interpretation, and construction of the indices that were discussed.

    Hien Nguyen (Twitter: @tresbienhien)

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