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  • 3 Jun 2020 12:46 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The Statistical Society of Australia offers several awards to its members, honouring their contributions to the statistical community. Honorary Life Membership honours outstanding contribution to the profession and the Society. A Society Service Award may be awarded to a Society member in recognition of sustained and significant service to the Society.

    The SSA is pleased to announce the following awards for 2020:

    Honorary Life Membership:

    Dr Alison Harcourt AO

    Alison Harcourt, a lifelong supporter of the Statistical Society of Australia and contributor to the statistical discipline, was nominated for Honorary Life Membership in recognition of her inspiring career, remarkable achievements, and dedicated service. She was the founding secretary of the Victorian Branch of SSA in 1964 and served in that role for four years. Alison continued to support the VIC branch ever since, regularly attending branch events and contributing to discussion of important topics at our meetings.

    In her career, Alison made important advances to mathematics and statistics, and their application to informing government policy. The most visible ones include her seminal paper on the “branch and bound” method, her contributions to quantifying the extent of poverty in Australia and her work that led to the introduction of the “double randomisation” method in allocating positions on ballot papers (still in use today).

    Alison was working at a time when there was much less support for women. It is only in recent times that her achievements have received proper recognition. In 2018 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Melbourne, and in 2019 she was named Victoria’s Senior Australian of the Year and an Officer of the Order of Australia.

    Although she formally retired in 1994, Alison continues to work as a sessional tutor at the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Melbourne, where she is known as a passionate and knowledgeable teacher of statistics. Indeed, she has been a mentor to many great statisticians who have long-since retired!


    Honorary Life Membership:

    Professor Annette Dobson AM

    Annette Dobson was the inaugural Chair of the Medical Sciences Section of the Statistical Society of Australia when it was formed in 1983. She held that position until the AGM in 1986 and actively lobbied for greater involvement of statisticians in refereeing for medical journals (eg, via the Newsletter). At the 1984 and 1986 Statistical Conferences, Annette organised a Medical Statistics session. During this time she also supported the Compstat-Medstat ’85 symposium held at Macquarie University jointly with the Statistical Computing Section.  Throughout the years Annette has been an active participant in the activities of many of the Society’s Sections, including being an invited speaker at DATA ’86 and one of two speakers at the first Statistical Education meeting held in NSW in 1987.

    In 1986 Annette Dobson became the first President of the NSW Branch of the Statistical Society of Australia who was not based in Sydney. She was based at the University of Newcastle and commuted to Sydney for Branch meetings and events. Annette was on the NSW Branch Executive as President for 1986-88 and Past President until 1990.

    In 1998 Annette became an Accredited Statistician, serving on the Accreditation Committee from 2000-2003. She was also a member of the Data Science Accreditation subcommittee from 2019 to 2020.

    Annette Dobson has had a major influence on the standing of the statistics profession within Australia through outstanding leadership in the area of medical statistics. She is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Queensland in the Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Research. She was the founding Director of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health and held the post from 1995 to 2013.

    In 2012 Annette was awarded the Moyal Medal for her contributions to biostatistical methodology, practice and education. In 2013 she was made a Life Member of the Australasian Epidemiological Association for having contributed significantly through research or other involvement in epidemiology to the international reputation of Australasian epidemiology and the advancement of public health in Australasia.

    Annette was the inaugural Chair of the Biostatistics Collaboration of Australia (BCA) that coordinates training provided by seven universities to deliver the Master of Biostatistics degree, producing the next generation of medical statisticians in Australia. This is a highly successful program that has been operating since 2000. The BCA is regularly referred to as the model for university cooperation in delivering postgraduate training and it has provided a template for other cross institutional collaboration schemes such the Australian Technology Network’s Industry Doctoral Training program. The BCA was acknowledged in the 2016 Decadal Plan for the Mathematical Sciences and was awarded the Statistical Society’s Presidential Award for leadership in statistics in 2019.


    Service Award

    Professor Scott Sisson

    Scott was an active Chair of the Bayesian Statistics Section from 2009 to 2014, and the NSW Branch President from 2012 to 2013. He was Scientific Program Chair for the ASC/IMS joint conference in Sydney in 2014. In August 2016 Scott became the President of SSA for two years, and served as outgoing president until mid- 2019. The Presidency had been vacant for a year prior to Scott accepting the position, so he did not have the benefit of a year’s experience as Vice President before taking on the new position. Nevertheless, he did an excellent job as national President and brought great energy and vision to the role. He was passionate about increasing the membership and visibility of the SSA, and his ideas are still bearing fruit now. In particular it was Scott Sisson’s idea to create the Vice President roles in membership, media and Finance to provide the Executive with focus on key strategic issues for SSA.

    Scott began the work on increasing equity and diversity in the Society which led to an updated Code of Conduct. It was also Scott Sisson’s idea to create a southern version of the Joint Statistical Meeting and this will happen in Darwin in 2022. He is an active member on the program committee for JSSM.

    Scott represented the Society nationally on the National Committee for the Mathematical Sciences and on the methodology advisory committee for the Australian Bureau of Statistics.


    Service Award

    Professor Ian Gordon

    Professor Ian Gordon of the University of Melbourne has a long history of service to the Society. After 11 years of service on the Victorian Branch Council, he stepped down in 2019. Ian led the Victorian Branch as President from 2009 to 2010, taking on the role in the wake of the 2008 conference debacle: his steady leadership helped to ensure that the Victorian Branch, and the Society as a whole, was able to recover. For example, Ian was instrumental in carrying out a survey of Victorian Branch members to canvas opinions about strategies for recovery, and he led the Branch in a resurgence of activity: increasing the number and variety of Branch activities, thereby increasing the participation of members. In 2012 the Victorian branch was incorporated; during his tenure as President, Ian oversaw the process of revision of the Constitution and application to achieve this important outcome.

    Ian’s ability to gently guide new branch council presidents, vice-presidents and members, and his exhaustive knowledge of the Branch Constitution and Regulations made him an incredibly valuable member of the Council. Since stepping down from the Council, he accepted an invitation to join the newly convened Advisory Committee for the Branch, and thus he has continued to provide advice to the Council on important and strategic matters.

    Further to this formal service for the Branch, Ian supported archiving the history of the Branch; for example, as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2014, he accessed the archives to provide the SSA with insights from the very beginnings of the Vic Branch. He has regularly accepted invitations to present monthly branch seminars and was named the Belz Lecturer in 1995.

    Ian has contributed more broadly to the Society and the statistical community as a whole. He was on the SSA’s Accreditation Committee from early 2008 to late 2013. In addition to his keen mentorship of junior statisticians, in 2018 he chaired the E. J. G. Pitman award prize committee at the Australian Statistical Conference (joint with the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics Annual Meeting) in Melbourne.

    Ian is passionate about promoting the value of quality statistical science to the broader community. For example, he has played an important role in the resolution of high profile issues, including legal cases, such as the landmark class action over transvaginal mesh implants (Johnson and Johnson, and Ethicon, 2019), Hazelwood mine fire enquiry (2015), and the Haile-Michael case against Victoria Police (2013).


    Congratulations to these outstanding members of the Statistical Society of Australia, who, through their tireless work, have helped to steer and shape the Society into the vibrant community that it is.

    The names of all SSA Honorary Life Membership recipients are available here. A list of Society Service Award recipients can be viewed here.

    Remember that any member of SSA can be nominated for an award. SSA has awards for service, contributions to statistics, and outstanding achievement in statistics.

    For more information, see our Awards page on the SSA website.

  • 28 May 2020 12:58 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Email received Misha Schubert, CEO of Science & Technology Australia on 28 May 2020:

    "The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone. But now the early evidence of its impact on the STEM sector reveals women in STEM have been disproportionately hard hit.

    Australia’s scientific and technical services industry recorded job losses of 5.6% from mid-March to mid-April 2020, with jobs down 6.3% for women compared with 4.8% for men.

    Science & Technology Australia and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering partnered to gather evidence for the report for Industry and Science Minister Karen Andrews.

    It was prepared by the Rapid Response Information Forum chaired by the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. The report’s lead author is Professor Emma Johnston.

    It shows us the impact of the pandemic has been particularly acute for women in STEM with children under 12, given their greater share of caring responsibilities and domestic work. The combination of juggling working from home while supervising distance learning for children has made women’s double burden even greater again.

    Further, there are early signs that women’s submission rates for publishing research may have declined. With publication records being a factor in career promotion and grant funding, a reduction in research publications is likely to harm women’s job and funding prospects.

    STA has worked hard to help advance greater representation of women in STEM. Now we fear the pandemic will reverse some of the hard-won gains of recent years.

    The impact of this uneven burden could be felt for years to come – with potential long-term consequences for Australia’s social and economic future.

    So our plea to all STEM employers is to keep a very close eye on and mitigate the gender impact of the pandemic on jobs and careers – or the hard work over many years to recruit and retain more women in STEM could be undone.

    We cannot afford to go backwards. 

    Until next time, Misha"

  • 27 May 2020 10:26 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Are you/do you know a young statistician or data scientist from the ACT or regional NSW interested in presenting their recent research and winning some prize money?

    Then luckily for you, SSA Canberra has extended nominations for the 2020 Dennis Trewin prize until 19th June! The Dennis Trewin prize, named after the former Australian Statistician Dennis Trewin, seeks to award young statisticians from the ACT and regional areas of NSW outside Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong for outstanding research in the fields of statistics and data science. It is open to postgraduate students in their final year of study, or who have graduated in the last 12 months.

    If you are interested in applying, please submit an abstract of your research work to by 19th June. You will also need to demonstrate that you are undertaking/undertook a research degree from a university with a campus in the ACT or in a regional area of NSW outside Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong.

    If you know someone that would be interested in the prize, please get in touch with them about this prize!

    Applicants who are shortlisted will be invited to record a 15-20 minute talk on their research. The winner of the Dennis Trewin prize will receive a $1,000 cash prize + invitation to present their research as part of SSA Canberra's branch meeting in October. Dinner will also be provided, along with travel + one night's accommodation costs if the winner cannot travel from their current address and return on the day of the meeting.

    If you have any further questions regarding the nature/format/scope of the prize, please contact


    SSA Canberra Council DT prize committee 

  • 14 May 2020 1:52 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    From SMRI Executive Director Anthony Henderson (

    The current application round of the International Visitor Program of the University of Sydney Mathematical Research Institute (SMRI) closes on Wednesday 26 August 2020 (at 11.59pm Sydney time). This program provides funding to support visits to Australian universities by international researchers in the mathematical sciences. The current application round is for visits of at least 1 month taking place within the period April - December 2021 and including at least 2 weeks spent at SMRI. For full terms and conditions, selection criteria and the application form, and for the current list of SMRI visiting researchers, see the website.

    Applications from female and gender-diverse researchers, from researchers employed in developing countries, and from researchers belonging to other groups which are underrepresented in the mathematical sciences, are particularly encouraged. In cases where an arranged visit cannot go ahead as planned because of disruptions to international travel or other unexpected factors, it is generally possible to reschedule the visit for a later period subject to consultation. Please direct questions about the conditions to the Institute's Executive Director Anthony Henderson at

  • 13 May 2020 11:52 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a lot of interest from the statistics / data science community. On the 28th of April, we invited two Melbourne based statisticians/epidemiologists who actually advise the government on the coronavirus pandemic to share their work with us.  

    The first half was presented by Prof. Allen Cheng, who is both an AStat as well as an infectious diseases physician. Allen first described several models that have been used to inform the policy makers around importation risk, transmission risk, and potential load on the health care system — this underpinned the discussion around ‘flattening the curve’. Allen also discussed some ‘unhelpful models’ that are being used elsewhere, as well as other on-going analyses/investigations around the next step to combat the pandemic. A key perspective that Allen brought to us was the fact that the modelling work is just ‘one piece of the puzzle’, and that the policy makers have to weigh up many other factors into the decision making process. Allen ended his presentation by commenting on the feasibility of sampling the population for the virus — a proposal that got some attention within the statistics community.

    The second half was presented by Dr. Freya Shearer, an epidemiological modeller at PRISM. Freya and her colleagues were instrumental at developing the framework that quantified the importation risk from various countries. This framework helped uncover countries that have a high likelihood of under-reporting their cases, and by extension their risk posed to Australia. This ultimately helped the policy makers to decide on international travel bans during the early stage of the pandemic.

    An equally well-engaged session was the Q&A at the end, where the presenters were asked to comment on issues such as the reliability of data sources, school closure, practices in other countries, and sensitivity of some key model parameters, to list a few.

    Overall, the event was extremely well attended. We had 223 attendants (9 from overseas), which is a record for a non-named lecture.

    The recording and other resources (e.g. slides) can be found here.

    Kohleth Chia

  • 11 May 2020 10:38 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The big event in environmental statistics for the year is coming up June 22-26 – the virtual International Statistical Ecology Conference (vISEC2020), an exciting opportunity (and affordable) opportunity to catch up on the latest innovations in statistical ecology, and to explore the virtual conference format.  The SSA Environmental Statistics section has also started a seminar series, inviting excellent environmental statisticians worldwide to present virtually to our members.

    The virtual International Statistical Ecology Conference (vISEC2020) was going to be hosted in Sydney, the first time it was to be held in the Southern hemisphere.  But the virtual move means that while the organisation is still being done mostly out of Sydney, you can watch from anywhere (Phillipp, right, will watch from his kitchen!).

    vISEC2020 has a huge program, with over 250 presenters, and activities focussed around two sessions, 8-11am & 9pm-12am GMT (in Australia, this corresponds to early morning and early evening).  As with any conference there is excitement around the plenary talks, including Christl Donnelly, a leading statistical epidemiologist and member of the influential Imperial College COVID19 response team.  The conference has a focus on training, networking, and generating ideas – e.g. we will use a conference discussion forum to generate and refine ideas for a Special Issue proposal to Methods in Ecology & Evolution, and expect the virtual format to turbo-charge this conference component.  Another exciting aspect of the virtual format is its accessibility and breadth of engagement – low cost, the capacity to pre-record your talk, and to watch session recordings later, means anyone anywhere can contribute.  Many excellent researchers (especially early career) will now participate who otherwise could not due to family commitments, including some who are expecting during the week of the conference!  We are expecting over 500 attendees.  Registration is only $50, if you are curious about the virtual format, register now!

    In the Environmental Statistics committee, Scott Foster (CSIRO) has stood down, we thank him for his contributions over the last couple of years.  If you are interested in joining the committee, e-mail David, the more the merrier!

    Environmental Statistics Seminars- With everyone working at home, and physical seminar programs on hold, there has never been a more opportune time to connect environmental statisticians nationally through virtual events.  We have started a regular Environmental Statistics seminar program, aiming for monthly talks, from researchers world-wide.  Our May talk was by James Thorson (NOAA), “Forecasting nonlocal climate impacts for mobile marine species using extensions to empirical orthogonal function analysis” with 38 attendees from around the country.  If you have ideas for someone you would like to hear speak – from any continent – send them to David, and keep an eye on SSA announcements for future talks.

    the Environmental Statistics Committee

    David Warton (chair), Andrew Zammit-Mangion, Denny Meyer, Gordana Popovic, Joanne Potts, Robert Clark.

  • 11 May 2020 10:31 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Registration now open! (and it’s only $50!)

    The International Statistical Ecology Conference is a biennial meeting of researchers at the interface between ecology and statistics.  At vISEC2020 we have planned an exciting list of keynote speakers that bridge these two disciplines, as well as training opportunities for attendees, a forum for interdisciplinary collaboration, and a healthy dose of fun - all online!

    Home base for the conference will be a Slack workspace, where registered participants can mingle, watch live-streamed talks (and recordings of talks you missed, or want to watch again!), browse poster presentations, interact with presenters and other attendees via text or video chat, plan papers for our Special Issue proposal, check our Twitter stream, or compete at trivia night!  There will be two conference sessions each day, no more than three hours in length, set at opposite ends of the Sydney day to better align with timezones around the world (8-11am & 9pm-12am GMT).

    Prior to the conference opening, you can enrol in interactive short courses (20-21st June) to train up in a specific area, registration for these is $75AUD each.  Each short course will be delivered using video conferencing tools, across two days, in one of the two regular conference session times (8-11am GMT or 9pm-12am GMT).

    The first day of the conference (22nd June) is a Skills Showcase, with hands-on tutorials run in parallel on topics as diverse as high-dimensional data visualisation, hidden Markov models, deep learning, passive acoustics and more.

    The remaining four days (23-26th June) will be an exciting mix of plenary talks, contributed and speed talks, poster sessions and discussions, and social mixers.

    Registration for the conference is just $50AUD, giving you access to the Slack workspace where talks and discussions are stored for the duration of the conference and for two weeks following the conference close. 

    If you are experiencing financial hardship, conference registration fees can be waived, by selecting the appropriate item during registration.  Please contact us if unsure whether this applies to you.

    For further details, see the vISEC2020 website.

    Questions?  Send us an email at

    See you in June,

    the vISEC2020 Local Organising Committee.

  • 11 May 2020 10:15 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The SSA has established a new body – the SSA Consulting Network.  The goal of the network is to provide a forum to support and advocate for statistical consultants, and to provide training and professional support opportunities.

    You can join our mailing list from the SSA website; just edit your membership profile and check the box.  If you would like to join the committee, please contact either of the Co-chairs. 

    Our first activity will be a Q&A panel on remote consulting – tips on how to consult effectively under the physical distancing and work-from-home constraints we have all been negotiating of late.  We have all learnt a lot about how to do this over the last couple of months, so this will be an opportunity for practice-sharing.  This event will be held within the next month, stay tuned for an SSA announcement.

    What would you like the Consulting Network to do?  Please tell us your thoughts using this short form.

    This will help shape priorities in network activities. 

    We look forward to hearing from you.

    David Warton and Sue Finch

    Co-chairs, Statistical Consulting Network

  • 11 May 2020 10:08 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The Statistical Society of Australia’s (SSA) Young Statisticians Network (YSN) has organised the biennial Young Statisticians Conferences (YSC) since 2009. The conference is designed for students and early-career statisticians. The next YSC will run alongside ANZC2021 during 5th-9th July 2021 in Gold Coast. We are looking for some energetic members interested in helping to shape the YSC21.

    Really, stating that the conference will be held in the Gold Coast should be enough of a reason to join the committee. But if you need more convincing (shame on you, dear reader, for making me do more work), then let me outline the many facets of the YSC that will show you how rewarding it is to be a committee member. 

    On a more professional note, listing your YSC position will look impressive on your resume. It shows you are capable of planning and organising a major event. It also illustrates that you are an excellent communicator and collaborator. In addition to your existing role on the committee, you will also get a chance to Chair or Co-Chair sessions at the conference.  

    L to R: Louise Ryan and Sarah Romanes. Sarah won the Louise Ryan Award for best presentation at YSC19. The conference offers delegates a platform to share their latest research, with statistical applications being presented from a range of areas, including agriculture, computer science, and bioinformatics. Delegates can win the Louise Ryan Best Presenters Award. At YSC19, Sarah Romanes from the University of Sydney won the award for the presentation titled ‘Using Variational Approximations to efficiently build a generalised discriminant analysis (genDA) algorithm’.

    It does not end there. Delegates are further spoilt through speeches given by seasoned professionals and have the opportunity to ask career-related questions to an amazing careers panel. For YSC19, we were honoured to hear presentations from keynote speakers Teresa Dickinson (ABS), Calvin Hung (QuantumBlack), Alison Presmanes Hill (RStudio), and Margarita Moreno-Betancur (VicBiostat). The YSC19 careers panel consisted of Louise Ryan (UTS), Teresa Neeman (ANU), Warren Muller (CSIRO), and Smitha Ramaswamy (Teachers Mutual Bank/UniBank). Sounds like a red-carpet event, right?

    L to R: Rushani Wijesuriya, Adrian Barnett, and Nicholas Tierney. Winners Rushani and Nicholas won multiple drink vouchers for winning the normal distribution competition. But it is not all work work work with the YSC. There are multiple social events to organise and attend, such as the pre-conference trivia night and the conference dinner. To illustrate how much fun these events can be, we will again refer back to YSC19. The YSC19 dinner included a Wiki-a-thon; the objective of this event was to create a Wikipedia page for influential women in statistics using your smartphone. Simultaneously, a mini competition was held where we had to draw the perfect normal distribution. Sadly, I did not win (boo). However, the very talented Rushani Wijesuriya and Nicholas Tierney took home the prize that day.

    Have I convinced you to join the YSC committee? Great! We still have several positions available, including Program Chair, Graphic Designer, Event App Liaison, Social Events Manager, Treasurer and Sponsorship Manager. For more information on each role and to apply, just click here. If you have experience in any of these areas that would be great, but it is not a prerequisite.

    Have any questions? Do not hesitate to reach out to me! You can send me an email, or message me via Twitter.

    Janan Arslan.

  • 7 May 2020 9:58 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Murthy Mittinty, Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics at the University of Adelaide, spoke at our April meeting on his work about targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE) for causal inference in observational studies. This is the topic of his current research, following on from many years of work on causal inference. At the beginning of his talk, Murthy described the targeted maximum likelihood estimation, which is a semiparametric doubly robust method that improves the chance of true parameter estimation by allowing for flexible estimation using (nonparametric) machine learning methods, or super learner. He provided a step by step guided implementation of TMLE and illustrated it in a simulation scenario based on dental epidemiology.

    To attain causal inference from observational studies, methods such as G-estimation, inverse probability treatment weighting, or targeted maximum likelihood estimation (TMLE) are preferred over traditional regression approaches, which are biased under misspecification of a parametric outcome model. He claimed that the assumptions such as positivity, consistency, exchangeability, and faithfulness needs to be made when using TMLE. Doubly robust methods, which require correct specification of either exposure or outcome model have been proposed as an improvement over simple IPTW methods. He demonstrated that the assumptions about correct model specification and positivity (ie, when a study participant has zero probability of receiving the treatment) were nearly violated when implementing TMLE to a realistic scenario based on dental epidemiology.

    In conclusion Murthy demonstrated that his research provides a concise and reproducible educational introduction to TMLE for a binary outcome and exposure. The user should gain sufficient understanding of TMLE from this introductory tutorial to be able to apply the method in practice. It was an entertaining and engaging presentation through our first zoom meeting in the SA Branch.

    Key reference: Schuler & Rose (2017). Targeted maximum likelihood estimation for causal inference in observational studies. AJE; 185(1): 65-73

    Shahid Ullah

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