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  • 19 Dec 2019 5:02 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Following the initial round of public consultations, the Australian Research Council (ARC), Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and Stats NZ have now published the ANZSRC Review Consultation Draft. The proposed changes to both the Fields of Research (FoR) and Socio-Economic Objectives (SEO) classifications are now available for comment until 10 February 2020.

    The Consultation Draft and details on how to make a submission are available on the ARC website.

    The ANZSRC Review Consultation Draft proposes significant changes to both the Fields of Research (FoR) and Socio-Economic Objectives (SEO) classifications based on initial consultations. A new Division-level (‘2-digit’) classification for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Māori, and Pacific Peoples research is proposed for both the FoR classification and the SEO classification. These new Divisions would allow for greater recognition and visibility of this important and unique sector of the Australian and New Zealand research landscape.

    Other proposed changes to the FoR classification include splitting Division 11 Medical and Health Sciences into two Divisions and removing Division 10 Technology by distributing its Groups among other Divisions. It is also proposed that the Sector level of the SEO classification be removed to align with the FoR hierarchy.

    This draft is not final and the ANZSRC Review Steering Committee is allowing time for changes before finalisation of the new ANZSRC classification. Feedback is sought on:

    • Whether the revised classifications accurately capture the current Australian and New Zealand research landscape.
    • Whether any errors or ambiguities have been introduced in the drafting process.
    • Concordance between the old and revised ANZSRC classifications, including
    • where codes have been deleted, where would that research be classified in the revised ANZSRC?
    • where new codes have been created, where would that research have been classified in ANZSRC 2008?

    To assist in a balanced evaluation of the draft, submissions in support of changes are also welcomed. This will be the last opportunity for public comment on the ANZSRC draft. It is anticipated that the final updated ANZSRC will be published in mid-2020.

    If you have any questions regarding the ANZSRC Review or the Consultation Draft, please contact the ARC on 02 6287 6755 or

    Kind regards,

    ANZSRC Review Team

    Australian Research Council I Phone: 02 6287 6755

  • 18 Dec 2019 3:02 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    I can't believe we are reaching the end of another year already. Where did the time go? This year has seen many things happening in the statistical community and within SSA. Below I have listed just a few:

    First of all we held a record number of workshops and other events. SSA’s branches and sections truly outdid themselves with their offerings to members, organising events for the many different interest groups within the society. I noticed especially the many events for our students or early career statisticians, all aimed at creating a kick-start to a successful career in statistics.

    It is the many, many volunteers at branch and section level that made this possible and we can’t thank them enough.

    The Betty Allen Travel Award was launched for the first time, and we received a good number of outstanding applications, making it very difficult to make a decision.  The lucky winner will be notified in January. Then there was the inaugural Louise Ryan Best Presentation Award, awarded at YSC2019 by the wonderful Louise Ryan herself.

    We now have a new ANZSTAT list on our very own website, drawing the statistical community closer together, which is fantastic.

    SSA’s relationship with the Australian Bureau Statistics reached a new level with an official partnership between the two organisations being contracted and recently extended into next year! This is fantastic news indeed and opens many opportunities for strategic collaboration and funding of special projects. This partnership has also supported the International Data Science in Schools Project, which aims to create a 2 year, 240 hour course in Data Science for year 11 and 12 students, and an accompanying course to train teachers to give it, to be delivered internationally.

    The SSA continues to improve its value proposition to members. We now have member discounts for Wiley, OUP, Taylor & Francis, Routledge, CRC Press, shinyapps and Significance magazine. We have created a page of videos of branch talks that are only available to members. A new webinar series started in the second half of 2019 and has proven immensely popular. One of the highlights would have to be the recent webinar with Sir David Spiegelhalter. We are delighted to be able to offer recordings of our webinars on the SSA website for our members. The link to Sir David’s webinar will be made available shortly. Please check the webinar page from time to time.

    The results of the Federal Election in May took all of us by surprise and almost seven months on we are still grappling with questions about opinion polls and how they got it so wrong, but we will try to get to the bottom of this.

    Let’s keep the momentum going into the next year!

    Thank you for your continued support of the Statistical Society of Australia. You are the Society and you make coming to work every day a pleasure for me.

    During what is for many a holiday time, let us look out for one another, keep safe and share plenty of smiles with those around us.

    Very warm greetings and a happy, peaceful and prosperous new year.

    Marie-Louise Rankin, 
    Executive Officer, SSA

  • 18 Dec 2019 10:17 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Bayes on the Beach, the 13th biennial meeting of the Bayesian Section of SSA, was held in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, in November. It featured keynote presentations and tutorials by Prof Antonietta Mira (Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland), Prof Sudipto Banerjee (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), A/Prof Renate Meyer (University of Auckland, New Zealand), Prof Nial Friel (University College Dublin, Ireland), Prof Heikki Haario (Finnish Meteorological Institute, Finland), Prof Mark Briers (Alan Turing Institute for Data Science, UK), and Dr Jegar Pitchforth ( BV), as well as many excellent talks and posters. A particular highlight was a game of beach cricket, in memory of Prof Richard J. Boys, a previous speaker at Bayes on the Beach who sadly passed away earlier this year. Many thanks to the organising committee and to our sponsors for making this event possible, and to all attendees for their enthusiastic participation.

    A game of beach cricket in memory of Richard Boys. Photo by Cheryle Blair.

    The symposium on Data Science for Social Good at QUT featured a keynote presentation by Prof Sir Peter Donnelly (Genomics PLC and the University of Oxford) as well as talks on conservation, the environment, healthcare, genetics, data science for non-profits, food security, public policy, and artificial intelligence. This was followed in the evening by the launch of the QUT Centre for Data Science.

    Executive Committee of the Bayesian Section of SSA


  • 17 Dec 2019 1:04 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Science Meets Parliament (SmP19) – a conference run by Science & Technology Australia - has been bringing scientists and parliamentarians together since 1999. The objectives of the forum are to inform members of parliament how science can contribute to public policy, and provide insight for scientists to the political, media and parliamentary processes that govern the Commonwealth of Australia. Around 200 scientists and communicators were selected to attend this event to discuss the current and future role of science in politics. The Statistical Society of Australia (SSA) selected Carmen Lim from the University of Queensland and Janan Arslan from the University of Melbourne to represent the society at SmP19.

    The two-day event (26-27th November) was held at both Hotel Realm and Parliament House in Canberra. The first day of the conference was packed full of presentations and workshops (particularly for first-time attendees), with captivating speakers, such as Professor Fiona Wood AM (Director of Burns Service of WA & 2005 Australian of the Year) and Dr Alan Finkel AO (Australia’s Chief Scientist) taking to the podium. Day One was also a great opportunity for the 200 attendees to connect with each other, which lead to exhilarating conversations. The day ended with a Gala Dinner, which was MC’ed by SCOPE TV presenter Lee Constable. Presentations were given by The Hon Karen Andrews MP (Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology), The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP (Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry, Science, Small and Family Business), and Marina Sara (Chemical Engineer, ANSTO), who shocked our delegates by revealing we work approximately 80,000 hours in our careers. Each table at the dinner contained several scientists as well as a parliamentarian. This was our first opportunity to connect and communicate with policymakers.

    L to R:
    Carmen Lim and Janan Arslan enjoying a night out at SmP Gala Dinner.

    L to R:
    Adrian Barnett, Susanna Cramb, Carmen Lim and Janan Arslan. Statisticians storm parliament house!

    The second and final day was all about meeting our assigned parliamentarians. Every scientist was assigned to a parliamentarian based on either common scientific interests or by the electorate. Carmen was paired with Dr Mike Freelander MP while Janan was paired with Dr Adam Bandt MP. Janan also attended the National Press Club Address presented by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith – an award-winning astrophysicist and the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador - in which she discussed current gender biases and committing to bringing equity in science, engineering, and mathematics. Additional tours were made available for delegates, such as the Parliament House Geology and Beekeeping Tours. The day concluded with a parliamentary panel and discussion that, unfortunately, was short-lived when the bells began to ring throughout Parliament House. The conference was a revelation. It emphasised the importance of scientific communication, highlighted Parliamentary processes, and offered an opportunity to build strong working relationships between scientists and members of parliaments.

    L to R:
    [First person - Unknown], Dr Mike Freelander, Susanna Cramb, and Carmen. Carmen and fellow scientists meeting Dr Freelander to discuss their respective scientific projects.

    L to R:
    Tracey Ellis, Peter Baines, Dr Adam Bandt, Janan Arslan, and Amy Winship. Lots of smiles after talking about our work with Dr Adam Bandt.

    We want to thank the SSA for supporting our attendance at SmP19. We thank the ever so amazing Marie-Louise Rankin and Adrian Barnett for supporting us throughout the process and guiding us during the conference. This has truly been a remarkable experience. With meeting people across all the STEM careers and parliamentarians privately in small groups, we not only had the opportunity to share our research projects with prominent members of the community but also heard the scientific journey of many others. We connected with fellow scientists and felt completely at home during the entire event. We were reminded of the core values of being a scientist: to seek the truth and make a difference in the world. The most valuable lesson that we learnt was scientists and politicians are actually driven by common goals: we all want to make a difference. We conclude this article with some of Janan’s and Carmen’s highlights and remarkable quotes from the event.


    “You could be the best visionary in the world, but if you’re in a soundproof room, what is the point?” – Professor Fiona Wood

    “Collaborating with mathematicians and statisticians helps to shape our work.”– STEM Professionals in other fields

    “We do not need to fix women. We need to fix the system.” – Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

    “We have to show the politicians where our impact is.” – Dr Alan Finkel

    Carmen’s highlight:

    My highlight was perhaps learning how to pitch my work in a minute. We fill in existing gaps in scientific knowledge by creating solutions and that has helped me to focus my pitch when speaking with the parliamentary leaders I met in Canberra. I met Dr Mike Freelander, a paediatrician turned MP for the Labour party. I was given an opportunity to discuss the issues around my research on substance abuse in vaping and got a chance to hear his political viewpoints on this. His vision to serve his electorate was truly inspiring. I encourage all scientists to get in touch with their local MP and see how your research can be translated into impactful research. Politicians are apparently good storytellers. SSA members, please consider attending SMP in 2020. You will have an experience of a lifetime. 

    Janan’s highlight:

    The moment I walked into the Hotel Realm, I could immediately feel the buzz and energy in the air. As scientists, we sometimes find ourselves isolated from the world, for we are so focused on our own passions and research. You forget that there are others out there with similar aspirations and desires. Finding yourself with likeminded individuals who understand what it is like to wake up at 4 am and go to bed late at night all in the name of seeking scientific truth is refreshing, to say the least. While I consider myself to be an excellent communicator, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Will Grant’s and Dr Rod Lamberts’ pitching workshop, in which I had to pretend to go back in time and explain a modern piece of equipment without being burnt at the stake (e.g., mobile phone). It may seem unorthodox at first, but the lesson of speaking in relatable, reassuring, and easily understandable language came through very strongly. These lessons from the first day proved to be very effective throughout the second day of the conference. I was able to have an incredible conversation with my assigned politician, Dr Adam Bandt – co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens Party - which has since led to securing further meetings with him to discuss the projects I (and my supervisor) are currently working on. I consider myself very fortunate to have attended the conference and to have been presented with such an excellent opportunity to improve myself as a scientist, expand my network of colleagues, and build a working relationship with a member of parliament. So, thank you SSA for such an amazing opportunity.

    Janan Arslan & Carmen Lim

  • 17 Dec 2019 12:09 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    South Australian Branch SSA December 2019 Meeting

    The SA Branch was pleased to welcome Distinguished Professor Marti J. Anderson, a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and a recent recipient of a prestigious James Cook Fellowship, to give the tenth E.A. Cornish Memorial Lecture. Marti holds the Professorial Chair in Statistics in the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study (NZIAS) at Massey University in Auckland. She is an ecological statistician whose research is inter-disciplinary: from ecology to mathematical statistics. Her core research is in community ecology, biodiversity, multivariate analysis, models of ecological count data, experimental design and resampling methods, with a special focus on creating new applied statistics for ecology that can yield new insights into global patterns of biodiversity.

    Her talk was based on a fundamental question in ecology – How do species respond to spatial or environmental gradients? To answer this question, one needs to think about how to best model these responses. A typical response is unimodal and a couple of classical models including generalized linear models (GLM) with one or more polynomial term(s) and a bell-shaped (Gaussian) curve were discussed to fit unimodal response patterns in ecology. However, there are problems with polynomial models because they are quite constrained and can generate unrealistic predictions (even yielding negative numbers). Meanwhile, Gaussian models don’t account for asymmetry.

    Instead, something more flexible like generalized additive models, e.g. splines may be considered, but these do not provide interpretable parameters. Such flexible spline-type models also have only previously been applied to binary-type data.

    Marti showed examples of real data of depth gradient distributions of different fish species in the NE Pacific. She explained her first principle of modelling is to re-visit data-types commonly encountered and re-visit genuinely observed patterns in such variables along large-scale gradients. The data were very messy and contained large numbers of zero values at certain depths.

    The goal was to decide on a flexible nonlinear parametric mathematical form to model the mean response of species to environmental gradients. This needs to be coupled with a suitable statistical distribution to model the error structure. Model frameworks were discussed and four mean functions were introduced: Beta (modified), Sech (modified), HOF (Huisman, Olf, Fresco) and Gaussian mixtures. Various error distributions which could account for excess zeros and overdispersion were coupled with these four mean functions and models were compared using the AICc. Marti showed an example of the best fitting model for the Shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus), which was the Sech function combined with a zero-inflated negative binomial (ZINB).

    Visualisations of these models for multiple species simultaneously were also discussed, including overlays of mean distributions, ordered ‘floating’ distributions and ordered ‘strip’ distributions.  A further example was given using data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) from the North Atlantic. Beautiful visualizations displayed northern shifts in the latitudinal distributions of plankton species, showing how these have changed between 1960 and 2005: a cold-water species has contracted polewards, while a warm-water species has extended its range northwards.

    Developments and extensions of these models are an area of current research and include cross-validation, estimation of variation in parameters, Bayesian approaches; extension of error distributions to include linked zero-inflated models, contagious distributions, under-dispersion, etc; modelling simultaneous responses of multiple species(Y), accounting for inter-specific associations; consideration of more than one gradient (X), including interactions; and ordination of species (modes, dispersions) in environmental space.

    For more information contact

    Yiwen (Wendy) Li

  • 17 Dec 2019 11:51 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    We're pleased to report that our two-day series of workshops in Nov 2019, covering both Python and R, was a success.  Our Python workshops proved to be particularly popular. 

    We started on 18 November with Machine Learning with Python, hosted jointly with Eliiza and delivered by a team of presenters from Eliiza led by Patrick Robotham.  This was the first time we have offered these workshops and they proved to be popular, with over 30 attendees.  For those who missed out, don't worry, we plan to run them again next year. There was a lot of interest particularly in image classification techniques, for which we plan to develop some more material for next time.

    We continued on 19 November with a repeat of our 
    R skills workshops, hosted jointly with MIG.  This year we were joined by Emi Tanaka from Sydney who delivered the R Markdown workshop, while Damjan Vukcevic presented on Building R packages.  We had almost 20 attendees for each one and many requests for more workshops, both at a more introductory as well as a more advanced level.

    Patrick Robotham & Damjan Vukcevic

  • 17 Dec 2019 11:44 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    VIC Branch final event for 2019

    The Victorian branch final event for 2019 was a series of short talks and panel discussion on current activities within Australia and globally to promote strengthening stats and maths through gender diversity.

    The first presentation was by SSA Vice President Dr Jessica Kasza on her work to establish a Safe SSA committee and updated code of conduct to prevent and respond to harassment within the statistics community. She led a response team (females and males from all career stages) at the joint meeting of the International Society of Clinical Biostatistics and Statistical Society of Australia (Melbourne 2019), a first for the SSA conference, where delegates could report to team members any unacceptable behaviour.

    Next up was Professor Claudia Czado from the Technical University of Munich who spoke about the Global Challenges for Women in Math Science program. Here awards for scientific and entrepreneurial achievements are given to female students and ECRs to promote them to continue in the mathematical sciences disciplines. Professor Jessica Purcell from Monash University then introduced the Women in Mathematical Sciences Special Interest Group (WIMSIG) which was established in 2013, and held a highly successful conference in Adelaide in 2017. WIMSIG has launched a pilot mentoring program and is running a conference at Monash University in 2020 to celebrate women in Australian Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. The last speaker was Anna Quaglieri, one of the former main organisers of R-Ladies Melbourne. The R-Ladies Melbourne meet up group has now over 1300 members, and as well as events, has an active discussion board. To finish off the evening all speakers contributed to a lively panel discussion regarding the initiatives/groups/awards that each speaker has established.

    Professsor Julie Simpson

  • 17 Dec 2019 11:20 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Western Australian Branch SSA Meeting article October 2019

    Dr John Henstridge (Chief Statistician and Managing Director of Data Analysis Australia) spoke on “Presenting Uncertainty and Risk” at the WA Branch meeting on Tuesday 8th October 2019. This was held in the Cheryl Praeger lecture theatre (named after John’s wife) at the University of Western Australia. He outlined areas where uncertainty is often misunderstood by non-statisticians and gave suggestions for statisticians to more effectively communicate uncertainty to non-statisticians. 

    John based his talk around work performed for a client that presented challenges as how to report uncertainty and risk. He outlined that most statistics is performed for the benefit of non-statisticians; while statisticians are good at handling uncertainty, many non-statisticians are not and may assume statistical methods give certainty. It is up to statisticians to communicate uncertainty clearly to others.

    In official publications, data is often presented as fact where the uncertainty is unquantified. This approach is often seen in accounting, where immaterial differences are allowed, when it “doesn’t make much difference” to the overall data. There may be uncertainty to the underlying mechanism giving rise to the numbers, but not the numbers themselves. 

    In some areas, it is argued that “there are too many numbers” such that it is impractical to represent the uncertainty. John stated the in reality this view is wrong, and uncertainty can be dealt with regardless of the complexity of the data. Where data can be generated, then you can almost always provide uncertainty estimates using bootstrap methods. John gave an example where he’d worked on the Western Australian Travel Survey. A jackknife (instead of the bootstrap for technical reasons) had been performed on the estimates produced by an automated report, where 10 sub-sampled reports were compared character-by-character to generate standard-errors. This was an extreme case, and not one he might suggest in the future, but it does illustrate that bootstrapped standard errors are virtually always possible. The issue is what to present and how to present it. 

    John then gave a brief history of error bars. Error bars have their origin in metrology (the science of measurement [1]) that interprets them as absolute limits, that is, the true value is always within the error bars. Statisticians later appropriated error bars, where they usually denote confidence intervals. Confidence intervals exist for mathematical convenience but are misinterpreted by most users. He suggested it would be worthwhile for statisticians to read standard texts from international metrology organisations. 

    John Henstridge showed the audience several XKCD webcomics. This webcomic, Error Bars, was obtained from

    In some publications it’s not always clear how this uncertainty displayed in error bars is derived. Examples were provided where the numbers were certain, but error bars were provided. When uncertainty is given without stating what the model is, it’s hard to know if the uncertainty has been calculated correctly. 

    Next, John questioned the practice of presenting an interval when we don’t mean it. While error bars have been borrowed from metrology, statisticians rarely think of error bars as giving the full variation, with the true value allowed to lie outside of the interval. When John Tukey invented boxplots, technological limitations enforced vertical and horizontal lines. We now have access to other ways of presenting variation with diamond, violin, fan and density strips plots. John Henstridge prefers representing variation with violin plots as these give a better idea of the full distribution and are more robust to display and printing methods. 

    Related to this is the “p-value problem”, where uncertainty is interpreted with certainty. This is in part the fault of statisticians in not effectively communicating the appropriate interpretation of p-values. Too often, significant/not-significant p-values leads to strict cut offs on the truth of the result. Similarly, confidence intervals are frequently misunderstood to have the true value within the range. Statisticians have some responsibility for these misunderstandings. 

    The American Statistical Association [2] provided a statement in 2016 on p-values, and although John Henstridge said it was technically correct and provided lots of things not to do, it was not clear what we should do. He felt that the statement may have missed the point, trying to have a formalism when presenting the results of analysis when there is a deeper problem of how to represent uncertainty. 

    Finally, John strongly recommended statisticians read “Communicating uncertainty about facts, numbers and science” [3] from the Royal Society Open Science initiative. This has lots of useful information on both types of uncertainty and communicating uncertainty. 

    A recording of the seminar is available on the Branch Seminar Videos page.

    John Henstridge is the Chief Statistician and Managing Director of Data Analysis Australia, a statistical consulting firm that he founded in 1988.  While his original specialty was time series applied to signal processing problems, as a consultant statistician he has worked across many areas of statistics.  He is an Accredited Statistician (of the Statistical Society of Australia) and a Chartered Statistician (of the Royal Statistical Society) and served as the national President of the Statistical Society of Australia between 2013 and 2016.

    Rick Tankard
    SSA WA Branch Secretary


    [1] See for example International Bureau of Weights and Measures or Bureau international des poids et mesures,

    [2] Wasserstein, Ronald L., and Nicole A. Lazar. "The ASA’s statement on p-values: context, process, and purpose." The American Statistician 70, no. 2 (2016): 129-133.

    [3] van der Bles, Anne Marthe, Sander van der Linden, Alexandra LJ Freeman, James Mitchell, Ana B. Galvao, Lisa Zaval, and David J. Spiegelhalter. "Communicating uncertainty about facts, numbers and science." Royal Society open science 6, no. 5 (2019): 181870.

  • 16 Dec 2019 10:44 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

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    UniBank is a division of Teachers Mutual Bank Limited ABN 30 087 650 459 AFSL/Australian Credit Licence 238981. Membership eligibility applies to join the Bank. Membership is open to citizens or permanent residents of Australia who are current or retired employees, students and graduates of Australian Universities or family members of members of the Bank. Consumer Lending terms and conditions apply and are available online here. For further information call 1800 864 864 or go to 1. Redraw is subject to application and registration.

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  • 25 Nov 2019 2:00 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    I am grateful to have received the NSW Statistical Society of Australia Travel grant to attend the Young Statisticians Conference 2019, held at Manuka Oval, Canberra, on 1-2 October. The travel grant helped cover all of my registration, dinner, accommodation and transportation costs to Canberra.

    After driving down from Sydney on Tuesday morning, it was straight into a keynote session by Teresa Dickinson from the ABS, which started the day off well with many other excellent presentations from contributed talks throughout the day, as well as another keynote by Calvin Hung from Quantum Black. To conclude the first day, I attended the conference dinner, which was held at the Kingston Hotel. A lot of fun was had, with good pub food, competitions to draw the best normal curve, and helping build Wikipedia pages for famous female statisticians.

    On the second day, after Alison Hill’s great keynote presentation, it was my time to present my work on generalised discriminant analysis, which was my last project in my PhD. I very much enjoyed presenting my work and had fruitful discussions about my work during lunch. For those who could not make it, my slides can be found here:

    To finish off the conference, I was very fortunate to receive first place for the ‘Louise Ryan Award for Best Presentation’, which was a very welcome surprise!

    There were so many amazing talks and I was so humbled to be awarded with such an honour.

    I would like to say thank you again to the NSW SSA branch for this opportunity, as it was a very enjoyable and educational conference, with many friendships and ideas I will take with me throughout my career. I highly recommend any young statistician to attend!

    Sarah Romanes 

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