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  • 29 Apr 2019 11:32 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Science & Technology Australia is offering six scholarships to the 20th anniversary Science meets Parliament this year, to be held in Canberra on 13-14 August 2019.

    Science meets Parliament brings around 200 Australian scientists and technologists to Canberra for professional development, networking, and to meet face-to-face with MPs and Senators. It is a highlight of the annual parliamentary calendar and has enhanced mutual understanding between parliamentarians and scientists as well as fostering enduring partnerships and collaborations.

    Two (2) Scholarships are open to STEM practitioners in each of the following categories:

    • Indigenous STEM Scholarships for people with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage
    • STEM Pride scholarships for people who identify as LGBTQI+
    • Regional STEM scholarships for STEM practitioners who work in remote or regional Australia (>150km from a major capital city)

    Scholarships will cover full registration including the gala dinner in the Great Hall at Parliament House, as well as travel, accommodation, meals and transfers. Financial assistance for childcare is available upon application.

    Please note that to be eligible for these scholarships you must be a member of or employed by an STA member organisation (such as SSA).

    The Indigenous STEM Scholarships are proudly supported by the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS).

    Applications will close on 15 June 2019, with recipients to be contacted by 30 June 2019 and an announcement made shortly after.

    For more information, or to apply, head to

  • 27 Apr 2019 12:57 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    It is with great sadness that we communicate the death of Associate Professor Jeff Wood who passed away last month from Motor Neuron Disease. Jeff was a member of SSA since 1974, a former SSA Canberra president, Honorary Treasurer from 1989 - 1992, Circulation Manager for the Journal from 1995 – 1998, and a regular and enthusiastic meeting attendee.

    His contributions to the wider statistical community in Canberra and nationally were substantial to say the least. They were recognised with a Service Award in 1999.

    Jeff will be sorely missed. He remained active right up until his death, assisting many post-graduate students with statistical analyses as a Visiting Fellow at the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society. Apart from his research contributions, Jeff will be remembered as one of life’s true gentlemen who graced us with his kindness and humour.

    A private funeral will be held in the near future.

  • 23 Apr 2019 3:37 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Dr Ingrid Aulike, a University of Queensland statistician, won the “Women in Big Data” data challenge for 2019. Her presentation was a masterclass in exploratory data analysis and the importance of not making assumptions about data. Participants were given a dataset with a series of numbers with no apparent meaning. By challenging typical assumptions about data e.g. columns are variables or features, and using different visualisation techniques to summarize the data, Dr Aulike uncovered the hidden figure in this dataset of numbers, an image with a message, “Data Should Be Seen”. In her interview, Dr Aulike highlighted the need for statisticians with strong technical background and consultancy skills to meet the challenges in Big Data. She  credits online courses such as Statistical Learning with Hastie and Tibshirani, Andrew Ng’s Deep Learning and Bill Howe’s Data Science at Scale courses on Coursera as professional development opportunities for statisticians to upskill to address the needs and challenges of Big Data. Congratulations to Dr Aulike!


    Jeeva Kanesarajah, PhD Candidate
    SSA-QLD Newsletter correspondent
    The University of Queensland, School of Public Health


  • 12 Apr 2019 10:04 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    WA Branch April meeting

    The April meeting of the Western Australian Branch heard Professor Inge Koch present a talk Analysis of Proteomics Imaging Mass Spectrometry Data. It was a particularly significant meeting as it also celebrated Inge taking up the role of Professor of Statistics and Data Science at the University of Western Australia.

    Mass spectrometry measures the weights of charged particles. In this case the particles are fragments of protein molecules from tissue samples and the masses provide signatures for particular proteins. The imaging aspect of the problem is that measurements in the form of mass spectra are recorded over a regular grid of points (or pixels) across the tissue sample. The resulting data is complex, with the spatial aspect of the image overlaid with the need to statistically understand the mass spectra. Effectively each spectrum is a high dimensional vector, typically around 13,000 to 15,000 values so the whole dataset can be thought of as a three dimensional array of data points, with two spatial dimensions and one mass dimension

    Inge’s work has come out of a successful collaboration in Adelaide with several biochemists, particularly Lyron Winderbaum and Peter Homann. The aim is to develop methods of identifying features such as cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in a tissue sample without the high cost of an experienced pathologist examining a stained tissue sample under a microscope (the left image below), a process that can take hours.

    Inge described several approaches, including images corresponding to the spectra at a single mass (termed feature maps), through to conventional multivariate methods such as principal components, clustering techniques and mixture models. However the feature maps based on a single mass tended to be poor at identifying features in the tissue while the multivariate methods tended to also produce poor images.

    The solution was to convert the mass spectra to binary data (presence or absence at each mass), applying a spatial smoothing to the mass data and replacing the Euclidian norm (L2) with the cosine distance. The last is a technique perhaps better known amongst data scientists rather than mainstream statisticians, but its use is growing with high dimensional data. The results are promising in identifying different tissue types as in the central image below.

    A final step has been to incorporate knowledge of what actually are cancerous cells to train the methods and select variables (masses) that best distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous cells. The principle is to find masses that occur predominantly in cancer spectra but not outside, by looking at differences in proportions (DIPPS). The right image below shows the effectiveness of this.

    The stained tissue sample with cancerous areas marked (left), the results of cluster analysis (centre) and the prediction from masses chosen by the DIPPS principle (right).

    After the meeting a number of members joined Inge for an enjoyable meal at a local restaurant, where the null hypothesis that statisticians are boring and unsociable was firmly rejected.

    John Henstridge 

  • 8 Apr 2019 10:01 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    South Australian Branch SSA Meeting: March 2019

    The speaker for the March meeting of the SA Branch was Claire Clarke, a methodolgist at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Claire gave an engaging talk on the methods being developed at the ABS to improve coordination of samples selected for its household and business surveys.

    The ABS conducts a wide variety of sample surveys on social and economic topics. Since different ABS surveys often sample from the same population, sample selection needs to be coordinated in order to manage the survey load placed on individual households and businesses. Also, sample coordination does not always seek to minimise overlap: for surveys which produce estimates every month or every quarter, it is desirable to have high overlap between the samples selected in successive periods. Under the design-based sampling framework used for ABS surveys, a requirement of the sample coordination method is that it preserves each unit’s selection probability specified in the sample design.

    For many years the ABS has applied the ‘synchronised selection’ method to achieve sample coordination of its business surveys. Claire explained the method is not particularly flexible, and so the goals of sample coordination are not achieved when units change strata or there are extensive changes to the structure of the sampling frame.

    The general ‘Conditional Selection’ method which the ABS has been developing largely addresses the limitations of synchronised selection. Under Conditional Selection, units belonging to the same sampling stratum are selected with different probabilities according to their history of selection across previous surveys. For example, assuming it is desirable to minimise the extent of overlap between the sample for an upcoming survey and the samples of previous surveys, for the upcoming survey the units in the population which have not been previously selected will have highest conditional probability. Claire used an example to explain the calculation of the conditional probability. She illustrated how the probability associated with each potential selection history can be used to ensure each unit is selected with the desired unconditional probability.

    In the second half of her talk Claire discussed practical issues for implementation. One such issue is controlling the sample size within each stratum. If it is necessary to control the sample size in each stratum, the selection method needs to be adapted and it is not possible to precisely preserve the desired unconditional probabilities. Another issue is managing the selection history data. Although the selection history (and associated probability the history) must be tracked for every unit in the population, the storage requirements are manageable because the number of possible histories for each unit increases linearly with the number of prior surveys being tracked.

    The ABS is in the process of adopting the Conditional Selection method, and it has already been applied for selection for some ABS household surveys.

    By Julian Whiting

  • 4 Apr 2019 1:46 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    On March 19 the Victorian Branch held its first meeting of 2019. The Branch’s AGM was followed by Dr Shirley Coleman discussing how she has demonstrated the impact of her work with industry partners.

    Dr Coleman’s seminar on demonstrating impact was a great insight into the mutually beneficial relationship between the Industrial Statistics Research Unit (ISRU, Newcastle University, UK) and small to medium enterprises (SMEs). In order to maintain funding, one of the requirements of university departments in the UK is to demonstrate the impact of the research they conduct. Dr Coleman walked us through a few examples where the research unit she directs has engaged industry to apply statistical thinking and methods to help SMEs make sense of their data.

    Examples included working with a gas utility company to improve supply forecasting, and analysing auto parts lookup data to determine the average lifecycle of particular auto parts and how this varied by brand. The results of the ISRU’s work with industry partners meant there was a tangible figure to demonstrate the impact of their research – such as the amount of money saved by the utility provider due to the better estimates of supply.

    Doing this work with industry was not without its challenges however, as Dr Coleman discussed. Often the industry partners were hesitant when it came to publications, a key requirement of demonstrating impact, voicing their concerns about their operational data and conclusions drawn from it being available in the public domain. Not only does the ISRU have to placate their industry partners, they also have to work within strict rules on which journals can count towards demonstrating impact. Dr Coleman’s seminar was particularly timely with the renewed focus of Australian funding bodies on the demonstration of the impact of research: her lessons on how to do this will surely be heeded by many audience members!

    The seminar was preceded by the Victorian Branch’s AGM, at which Dr Damjan Vukcevic was welcomed as incoming President of the Branch, and Dr Rheanna Mainzer and Ben Harrap were welcomed to the council. Prof Ian Gordon and Dr Nick Tierney were farewelled, and we thank them for their hard work on the council.

    Ben Harrap

  • 3 Apr 2019 2:51 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Back in the black, but vision for science veers off track

    The 2019/2020 Federal Budget has missed the opportunity to invest in solution-making scientific and technological research and Australia’s world-class institutions and agencies that make it possible.

    President of Science & Technology Australia, Professor Emma Johnston AO, said the Federal Budget was a mixed result for Australia’s science and technology driven future. Read more here

  • 13 Mar 2019 7:30 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Dr Michael Waller, BCA Program Coordinator at the University of Queensland, accepts the Award on behalf of member universities, from Prof Adrian Barnett

    Dr Michael Waller, BCA Program Coordinator at the University of Queensland, accepts the Award on behalf of member universities, from Prof Adrian Barnett

    The Statistical Society of Australia has awarded the 2019 President’s Award for Leadership in Statistics to the Biostatistics Collaboration of Australia (BCA).

    This award is for the BCA’s outstanding contribution to statistics based on their sustained work since 2001 to provide Australia with much needed skills in biostatistics, which includes research in genetics, clinical trials and public health.

    The BCA has a great national reputation and its students are highly prized for jobs in health and medical research, an area that has a growing need for statistical skills because of the increasing size and complexity of data.

    The President of the Statistical Society of Australia, Professor Adrian Barnett, said, “The BCA has been of enormous national value for the field of statistics. It has brought together some of our most experienced statisticians to pass on their skills to students. I know that other fields have aimed to copy the BCA’s collaborative model, which is the ultimate form of flattery.”

    The BCA is a consortium of biostatistical experts from across Australia with representatives from universities, government and clinical practice who have combined to offer a national (and international) program of postgraduate courses via an alliance of six universities, being The University of Adelaide, Macquarie University, Monash University, The University of Queensland, The University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne (affiliate member).

    It was established because of the national shortage of statisticians with expertise in the health industry and medical research, and has served to raise the standard of scientific rigour in health and medical research.

    The BCA has graduated 552 students since 2001 and at the start of semester one, 2019, there were 387 students enrolled in the BCA program.

    “The BCA has filled an important gap in our national skill set, and at the 2018 national Statistical Society conference there was a strong consensus that Australia needs more investment in biostatistics to meet the growing demand.” Professor Barnett said. 

  • 12 Mar 2019 12:44 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    South Australian Branch Meeting, February 2019

    Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos is a visiting research fellow at the School of Psychology and casual lecturer at the School of Education, both at the University of Adelaide. From November 2014 to December 2016, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University (Sweden). His research interests include the embodiment of language and emotions, cross-modality, and statistics/methodology. So it was good to have Fernando give an informative and interesting talk about making the most of your curves, with a sub-title towards robust and distributional approaches to data description and analyses.

    The goal of Fernando’s talk was to highlight how the shape of the data can be better described by identifying their location, scale and shape parameters. Across many fields it’s canonical to describe data in terms of means and standard deviations. While such estimations of location and scale are appropriate for normally distributed data, more often than not data tend to follow non-normal shapes (e.g. reaction times). Fernando used a range of datasets from different fields to highlight his points. Indeed, most statistical tests assume normality and homogeneity of variance in order to output unbiased results; therefore, biased results occur when data do not meet those assumptions.

    For more information contact .

    By Paul Sutcliffe

  • 28 Feb 2019 2:15 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Outstanding contributions to science have been recognised by the Australian Academy of Science with 20 of Australia’s leading scientists receiving a 2019 honorific award. One of them is our very own Professor Alan Welsh FAA, Australian National University. Read more here.

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