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About the Prize

“Statistics are the poetry of science.”
- F. Emerson Andrews

The above quote by American writer F. Emerson Andrews clearly articulates the integral role of statistics in the advancement of both scientific discovery and our global society over the last 200 years of world history.

Statistics is the soul of scientific enquiry. It is applied by researchers across a wide spectrum of science, engineering, business, technology, medical, government, economic, and financial settings. These research projects ultimately produce tangible benefits—such as developing new drugs for diseases and improving agriculture crop yields—that significantly improve the well—being of the world’s population.

At the same time, statistics is an invisible science—unknown to the general public and, perhaps more troubling, not valued as a key contributor to research by most scientists in other fields. The uninformed scientists in this category view statistics as a “tool box,” totally eschewing the quantum leap in statistical methodology that has occurred in recent years and overlooking completely the experience and skills of statisticians to develop new, tailored methodology that would make their research project significantly better. Because there is vast value to engage statisticians from the earliest phases of research projects, we often say, “Statistics and statisticians make the science better.”

Statistics has grown and is continuing to grow in its importance to and impact on modern life. With the increasing role of information technology, our society has been inundated by a data deluge, and statistics professionals are society’s true experts for extracting usable information from the mass of clutter and noise in these vast data sets.

Despite this rising importance, the statistics profession is poorly understood by the public, media, and many in leadership positions in the public and private sectors. For example, most in these aforementioned groups understand the role of information technology in gathering data and managing databases. However, the role of statistics in correctly making inferences from large data sets is less widely recognized.

Yet, the contributions of statisticians to the advancement of humankind are practically endless. Here are but a few key examples:

  • Statisticians, by developing the theory of experimental designs and associated data analysis tools, facilitated the efficient development of new strains of crops that powered the green revolution and now provide sustenance to billions of people worldwide.

  • Statisticians, by formalizing the process of clinical medical research and the accompanying methods of data analysis, developed a research protocol that is now followed by thousands of research teams worldwide in attacking hundreds of diseases and treatment issues. As a result, medical science makes discoveries more quickly and reliably than would have been the case using protocols in place prior to statistical formalization and the quality of life for millions of people afflicted with a disease has been improved greatly.

  • Several Nobel Prizes in economics essentially were awarded for the introduction and development of revolutionary statistical methodology that supports economic and financial research activities.

  • Much of the activity in computer science recognized as “machine learning”-machine translation, web search, or recommendation systems-is based deeply on statistical methods and thinking.

  • A great deal of the work in computational biology today concerns statistical modeling of large databases of genomic and proteomic measurements.

  • In the field of astronomy, statisticians are collaborating with astronomers to develop a new subfield called astrostatistics. This collaboration has resulted in a correlating surge in significant new discoveries and advancements, including the Planck telescope establishing the age of the universe, the identification of cosmic microwave background, the investigation of dark energy, and the discovery of new exoplanets.

In all these examples, shared credit should be given to statistics for creating the ideas and tools supporting research advancements in each of these fields.

On the upside, statistics enjoys an increasing popularity among young people worldwide. For example, yearly enrollment in the Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics exam is growing faster than all other AP exam enrollments in the United States. Additionally, the number of statistics degrees conferred in the U.S. continues to grow each year. It appears young people are becoming increasingly comfortable in the data-centric world we live in and are interested in pursuing a career in statistics.

Introducing...the International Prize in Statistics

The biennial International Prize in Statistics is stewarded and managed by a foundation comprising representatives of the five major statistical organizations working cooperatively to develop this prestigious award: the American Statistical Association, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, International Biometric Society, International Statistical Institute, and Royal Statistical Society.

Mirroring the successful approach employed by other prestigious scientific prizes, the International Prize in Statistics recognizes an individual statistician or team of statisticians (groups of individuals working on similar ideas as teams of individuals or organizations) for “a single work or body of work.” This approach better enables the foundation to present the recognized work of each honoree to the public in a way that enhances understanding of the depth and scope of statistics and engenders widespread appreciation for its beneficial impact on modern life.

Powerful and original ideas will be the focus of the award, but a corollary practical and positive effect on the world’s population will be factored into the selection criteria. Examples could include the implementation of statistical surveys or analyses or the development of groundbreaking software systems that are of great benefit to mankind.

The goal of the foundation is to present the honoree(s) with a level of monetary award that will give the statistics prize credibility with the media and public around the world and put it on par with other prominent science awards, including the Nobel Prizes, the Clay Millennium Prizes, the Abel Prizes, and the Shaw Prizes. These aforementioned awards annually garner significant attention from the media and public, as well as significant respect from other scientists.

The International Prize in Statistics will be awarded every other year at the International Statistical Institute-hosted World Statistics Congress. Media outreach and government leader and celebrity involvement in the award ceremony will be pursued aggressively, with the ultimate goal being to enhance public understanding of the depth and scope of statistics.