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E. A. Cornish Memorial Lecture - SA Branch Meeting

  • 6 Dec 2019
  • 6:15 PM - 7:30 PM (UTC+10:30)
  • Napier G04 Lecture Theatre, North Terrace, The University of Adelaide

E. A. Cornish Memorial Lecture

South Australian Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia

The South Australian Branch of the Statistical Society warmly invite you to attend the 2019 E. A. Cornish Memorial Lecture, to be given by Professor Marti J. Anderson. Held every two years, this lecture is the highlight of our speaker program and we look forward to seeing you there.

Venue: Napier Building, G04 Lecture Theatre, North Terrace, The University of Adelaide. A campus map is available at


5pm - 6pm - Biostatistics and Bioinformatics networking event

Member and non-members can attend.

Registration required. Please register, free of cost.

Hosted jointly with the SSA Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Section and the SSA SA Branch.

6:15pm - E. A. Cornish Memorial Lecture

8pm - A dinner will be held after the meeting at The Griffins Hotel, 38 Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide SA 5000. Please RSVP for dinner to Paul Sutcliffe ( by Friday 29th November.

Speaker: Distinguished Professor Marti J. Anderson, New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study (NZIAS), Massey University, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand

Topic: Nonlinear models of species-environment relationships, with modern tools for misbehaving errors


Species are being destroyed faster than they are being discovered. Despite growing repositories of global ecological data, current models of species' responses to broad-scale spatio-environmental gradients (such as temperature, latitude, depth, nutrients, moisture, or elevation), are either overly simplistic (Gaussian), or they are a "black box" without meaningful interpretable parameters. Furthermore, real ecological data are messy. Raw counts of individuals or biomass from broad-scale field surveys have no upper bound, and typically display large residual variance, over-dispersion and zero-inflation. In this lecture, I will outline a novel class of flexible models that combine new nonlinear mathematical functions for mean species' response curves with an array of modern multi-species distributions tailored to accommodate abundance, biomass or functional traits. Enhancing this even further, we can use flexible copulas to model multi-species associations in either their mean response along a given gradient, or in their (quite disparate types of) error distributions. From coniferous forests on mountain-tops to fishes in the deep blue sea, I will show a variety of key examples to demonstrate how this unique statistical framework can successfully capture and quantify global-scale responses of ecological communities to environmental change. The aim is to provide radical clarity on species' joint responses (through time and space), for important decisions that can change our world.


Distinguished Professor Marti J. Anderson (Massey University, New Zealand) is an ecological statistician whose work spans several disciplines, from ecology to mathematical statistics. A Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and a recent recipient of a prestigious James Cook Fellowship, she holds the Professorial Chair in Statistics in the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study (NZIAS) at Massey University in Auckland. Her core research is in community ecology, biodiversity, multivariate analysis, models of ecological count data, experimental design and resampling methods, with a special focus on creating new applied statistics for ecology that can yield new insights into global patterns of biodiversity. Marti is also the Director of PRIMER-e (Quest Researcher Limited), a boutique research and software development company that creates user-friendly software (PRIMER and PERMANOVA+) to implement robust multivariate statistical methods for ecological analysis and synthesis.

The E. A. Cornish Lecture Series

The Statistical Society of Australia, South Australian Branch, inaugurated a series of public lectures on statistical topics of broad interest in 2001. The lecture series has been named to commemorate Alf Cornish, a leading figure in the early years of the statistical profession in Adelaide.

The lectures are held biennially and presented by eminent statisticians from around the world. Previous presenters of the Cornish Lecture have been Professor Terry Speed on the topic "Gene expression", Professor Adrian Baddeley on "Practical analysis of spatial points patterns", Professor Kerrie Mengersen on "Making decisions based on data", Denis Trewin "Statistical critique of the International Panel on Climate Change's work on climate change", Dr Louise Ryan "Data, data, everywhere!", Professor Peter Diggle on "A tale of two parasites: model-based geostatistics and river blindness in equatorial Africa", Professor Noel Cressie "Statistical science: A tale of two unknowns", Professor John Carlin "Statistics and statisticians in real-world research: science or snake-oil" and Professor Robert Elliott, "New ideas in an old framework".

Edmund Alfred Cornish (1909-1973)

E. A. Cornish graduated from Melbourne University in 1931 with first class honours in Agricultural Biochemistry, Agricultural Engineering and Surveying. While working as an astrostologist (specialist in grasses) at the Waite Research Institute, a centre for agricultural research and development in Adelaide, he became interested in statistical issues arising in agriculture. His interest in patterns of rainfall and their relationship to the yield of natural pastures continued throughout his life.

In 1937 he took a leave of absence at his own expense to study statistics with R. A. Fisher in London. On his return, he was appointed statistician to the Waite Institute. In 1940 he was appointed as Officer-in-Charge of the Biometric Section of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR, now CSIRO) in Melbourne. Under his leadership, the Biometric Section grew, attracting such high caliber scientists as Evan Williams, George McIntyre and Helen Newton Turner. In 1944 the headquarters of the Section was moved to Adelaide and renamed the Mathematical Statistics Section; in 1954 it became the Division of Mathematical Statistics (DMS), with Cornish as its first Chief. Under his leadership DMS grew to 50 staff at his death in 1973.

During the late 1950s, the University of Adelaide had become aware of the importance of mathematical statistics and appointed Cornish as Foundation Professor of Mathematical Statistics at the University of Adelaide from 1960 until 1965, when his former student Alan James returned from Yale to take over the role.

While his name is perhaps most often heard in connection with the Cornish-Fisher expansion of quantiles of the distribution of a mean in terms of cumulants, his contributions to statistics and the profession were broad and of considerable significance for the development of statistics in Australia.

In addition to his early work on rainfall, he published extensively on experimental designs and analysis of experimental data, particularly in the presence of missing values. His work with Fisher led him to a strong interest in fiducial theory. This led him to develop ground-breaking ideas in multivariate analysis, including the development of a multivariate t-distribution to obtain fiducial distributions of multivariate means.

He was enthusiastic about the use of electronic computers in statistical work, perhaps as a result of his work on climatology, which involved the calculation and modelling of 90585 correlation coefficients. He appreciated early the potential for simulation to answer intractable statistical problems, and promoted the establishment of CSIRO's Division of Computing Research, whose successor, the Division of Information Technology joined with Division of Mathematics and Statistics (DMS) to form the Division of Mathematical and Information Sciences, which currently is known as Data 61 (the largest data innovation group in Australia).

He was a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and  Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. He also served as President of the International Biometric Society and of the Australasian Region.

Alf Cornish laid the foundations for the strong tradition of experimental and theoretical statistics in Adelaide and it is fitting that his name should be associated with a series that will bring eminent statisticians to Adelaide to support the ongoing strength of the statistical profession here.

Feel free to forward this meeting notice to colleagues, all welcome.

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