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Statistical Science for a Better World
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Acting for a Better World

Communication  in  my  career  often  involves  formulas, symbols and coding. Trying to find words to capture and convey what I’m feeling at this time is not easy.

The world has been shaken by the impact of the COVID-19   pandemic.   With   millions   of   positive   cases   and hundreds    of    thousands    of    deaths,    the    health consequences  of  this  virus  are  still  being  felt.  The economic punch with millions out of work including two of  my  children  adds  to  the  stress  many  feel.  More recently,  protests  in  my  country  and  around  the  world have  emerged  in  response  to  deaths  of  black  people from  police  violence.  Too  many  such  events  over  too many years demands attention and action.

The catchphrase of ISI is Statistical Science for a Better World. What can we do to move towards a better world? How   can   statistical   science  contribute  towards   this movement?

Nick Fisher and Dennis Trewin, former ISI Executive Committee and Association leaders, contributed to the public discussion of what is needed to better understand the details of the pandemic (SSA webinar, S+S podcast). They contributed papers to national newspapers advocating national random sampling programs to get data that will tell us what we really need to know about the extent of COVID-19 in the population, how the virus is spreading, rates of infection and re-infection, and more. Statistical colleagues from around  the  world  are  collaborators  on  the  development  and  fitting  of  infectious  disease  and epidemiological models and on the design and analysisof clinical trials for evaluating vaccines and treatments to mitigate disease. You might be interested in the web page with COVID-19 resources compiled by the ISI PublicVoice Committee.

The impact of the pandemic on the global economy is addressed by many including ISI elected member and former Council member Haishan Fu (see World Bank blog post New results from the International Comparison Program shed light on the size of the global economy). They  note “Given the immense and long-term costs to our global economy as a result of this pandemic, accurate  and  timely  economic  measurement  will  be  essential  to  global  recovery.”  Good statistics and good decisions are paired once again.

Problems associated with understanding, treating disease and developing vaccines seem very simple when compared to problems associated with racism and prejudice. How can statistics contribute to responses to racism and prejudice in our world?

What is the problem? The third item in article 2 of the United Nations Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (adopted 27 Nov 1978) states:

Racial  prejudice,  historically  linked  with  inequalities  in  power,  reinforced by  economic  and social  differences  between  individuals  and  groups,  and  still  seeking  today  to  justify  such inequalities, is totally without justification.

What can we do? We need to advocate for all in our community, particularly for those who are at  the  highest  risk  of  being  persecuted  for  appearing  or  believing  or  loving  differently  than  a majority in the community. We can collaborate with social science colleagues to collect data to understand the  magnitude  and  predictors  of racial  injustice,  police  violence  and  inequity  and analyse information associated with interventions to reduce these pathologies of society. We see groups  of statisticians  such  as  the Human Rights Data Analysis Group working  towards promoting  human  rights.  Kudos  to  them  and  a  challenge  for  us.  ISI  and  the  Executive Committee  reaffirms  our Community and Conduct policy that  denounces  unacceptable behaviour towards individuals or groups defined by gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, age, national origin, politics, culture, gender identity or expression.

I wish that I could end this column with a simple plan of action. A famous quote states: “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.” Racial injustice is not a new problem but an ongoing problem that requires our vigilance and attention. I challenge all of us to consider how we can apply our time and talents to working on the pressing problems of our day.

John Bailer (@john_bailer)
ISI President
14 June 2020

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