Provost's committee examining state of statistics on campus

A small faculty committee convened by Provost Billy Frye and chaired by Betz Halloran, associate professor of biostatistics, is looking to improve Emory's research environment by assessing the level of statistical expertise that exists and making recommendations on how Emory should move forward in that area.

"I created the group because the interest and expertise in and the need for statistical capability is scattered throughout the campus, and before we can make an intelligent decision about whether we ought to change anything, for example, invest in more faculty or create some kind of center to pull it all together, we need to know both what our current strengths are, and what our needs are," said Frye.

Halloran said that a good foundation in statistics and biostatistics could strengthen the overall research capacity at Emory. "We're looking at four points," said Halloran. "First, statistics as scholarly work, that is research and the Ph.D. program. Second, the creative interaction of statistics with applied science. Third, the bread and butter statistical consulting that needs to go on to advise faculty on statistical analysis of their research. And fourth, the teaching of statistics."

Halloran said the group likely will be bringing in at least one consultant, and possibly more, next semester to advise Emory on how to develop statistics at Emory. "Statistics is a hidden cost of doing research; Emory's trying to recruit good researchers and it must have this basic support," said Halloran. "Support for statistics is a fundamental decision that Emory must make to strengthen the research enterprise and the intellectual atmosphere of the University," she added.

Dwight Duffus, professor and chair of mathematics and computer science; William Eley, associate professor of epidemology; Susan Frost, vice provost for institutional planning and research; Dennis Liotta, vice president for research; Howard Rollins, professor of psychology; and Doug Wallace, Woodruff professor of molecular genetics, are serving on the committee. They are interested in hearing from faculty who are concerned with this issue.

Frye said the state of statistics is a typical case of the fragmentation and lack of community that comes from the autonomy and isolation of Emory. "Greater awareness of and collaboration with one another should be a consequence of the study," said Frye.

"Statistics of high quality, in both application and original scholarship, is a vital tool to excellent research in many fields," Frye continued. "Thus, while we can look at academic statistics as a field in its own right, it is also an essential part of the teaching and research infrastructure that any great university must attend to. This study is intended to bring that fact to the fore in such a manner that we can more confidently determine whether there is more that we ought to be doing in this regard."

--Jan Gleason

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