Statistics: Losing Ground to CS, Losing Image Among Students

Norman Matloff:

The American Statistical Association (ASA) leadership, and many in Statistics academia. have been undergoing a period of angst the last few years, They worry that the field of Statistics is headed for a future of reduced national influence and importance, with the feeling that:

The field is to a large extent being usurped by other disciplines, notably Computer Science (CS).

Efforts to make the field attractive to students have largely been unsuccessful.

I had been aware of these issues for quite a while, and thus was pleasantly surprised last year to see then-ASA president Marie Davidson write a plaintive editorial titled, “Aren’t We Data Science?”

Good, the ASA is taking action, I thought. But even then I was startled to learn during JSM 2014 (a conference tellingly titled “Statistics: Global Impact, Past, Present and Future”) that the ASA leadership is so concerned about these problems that it has now retained a PR firm.

This is probably a wise move–most large institutions engage in extensive PR in one way or another–but it is a sad statement about how complacent the profession has become. Indeed, it can be argued that the action is long overdue; as a friend of mine put it, “They [the statistical profession] lost the PR war because they never fought it.”

In this post, I’ll tell you the rest of the story, as I see it, viewing events as statistician, computer scientist and R activist.