Interdisciplinary statistics lab to highlight global outreach efforts as part of World Statistics Day
October 19, 2015
Virginia Tech’s Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA) will host an event Oct. 20, World Statistics Day, highlighting its in-progress effort to teach statistical and data science methods in developing countries in a bid to help scientists solve real-world problems and make data-based decisions.
The event, “Envisioning the 21st Century Global Land Grant University to Build Research Capacity in Developing Countries,” is scheduled for 5 p.m. in 190 Goodwin Hall. Provost Thanassis Rikakis will provide opening remarks, followed by LISA Director Eric Vance, an associate research professor with the Department of Statistics, part of the College of Science. Additional speakers include Ian Crandell of Valley Center, California, a doctoral student in statistics who taught in Nigeria this summer, and Karl Markgraf, associate vice president of international affairs at Virginia Tech. Ron Fricker, head of the Department of Statistics, will emcee the event.
The event is free and open to the public.
World Statistics Day is celebrated every five years. The first event place Oct. 10, 2010, or in a global numeric format, 20.10.2010. LISA predates by one year the department, itself founded in 1949 and considered the third-oldest university-housed department of statistics in the nation. LISA, once known as the Statistical Consulting Center, was founded to help faculty, staff, and graduate students collect, analyze, plot, and interpret data in research projects, from collection of data that covers injuries suffered by athletes to agricultural crop yields. Vance said the laboratory helps “make statistics useful for solving problems and making decisions.”
Launched in 2012, the LISA 2020 program is designed to take that model worldwide, with statisticians from developing countries being trained at Virginia Tech. Those statisticians then return to their home countries to create new statistical labs to train more local statisticians who then can collaborate with regional scientists, government officials, and businesses to collect and sort data to address regional difficulties.
LISA graduate students then travel to these overseas stat labs to help grow and sustain the local programs. Vance said his goal is to create a network of 20 labs worldwide, including as-yet planned locations in Asia, by Oct. 20, 2020, the planned third celebration of World Statistics Day. Currently, the five labs in the LISA 2020 Network are in Brazil, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
“Statistics is a major stumbling block for researchers, and so the idea of LISA 2020 is to create a resource for researchers to go get help and turn that statistics from a stumbling block to a stepping stone for innovation, research, and development,” said Vance.
Crandell added that his time in Nigeria made immediate, impactful good on the ground. During his talk Tuesday, he will be dressed in traditional Nigerian clothing.
With LISA’s mentoring network, Vance and his students say a single statistician trained to communicate and collaborate with non-statisticians can enable and accelerate 50 or more research projects per year with each project impacting hundreds or even thousands of people. Furthermore, those statisticians trained by Virginia Tech students can themselves train more local statisticians, thus spreading the impact.