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  • 1 Sep 2020 2:55 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)


    Friday 28 August 2020

    STA signs on to APEC principles to support women in STEM

    Building on our longstanding commitment to support women in STEM, Science & Technology Australia has formally signed on to the
    APEC Women in STEM Principles.

    And our Chief Executive Officer addressed an APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Technology & Innovation forum overnight on the impact of COVID-19 on equity, diversity and inclusion.

    The APEC Women in STEM principles and actions invite Governments and organisations to support greater representation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

    Australia is represented on the APEC PPSTI by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, who worked closely with other member economies to develop the APEC Women in STEM principles.

    STA has had a longstanding commitment to support initiatives to make inroads on the under-representation of women in STEM.

    This includes through our acclaimed Superstars of STEM program – supported by the Australian Government – to enhance the visibility of women in STEM to inspire more young women and girls into STEM study and careers.

    Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert presented on a panel to a virtual APEC forum overnight.

    She shared the Rapid Research Information Forum report on women in the STEM workforce, and highlighted the role of data to ensure crucial equity gains are not lost during the pandemic. 

    “The early evidence certainly suggests the hard-won equity gains of many years are at risk during the pandemic, so it is even more important that we all work together to hold those gains.”

    “Seeking data on the impact of the pandemic on equity, diversity and inclusion can help policy-makers and STEM employers protect the gains we’ve all worked so hard to make.”

    “This formal step of signing on to the APEC principles builds on STA’s long commitment to action to redress the under-representation of women in STEM,” she said.

    The panel was chaired by Chile’s Mr Rodrigo Perez. Speakers included Ms Staci Rijal from the US Government’s Office of Science & Technology Cooperation, and Ms Karine Morin from the Canadian Government’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

    For interviews, please contact STA Communications Manager, Zoya Patel on 0406 249 786.

    Science & Technology Australia, 3/8 Phipps Close, Deakin, Australian Capital Territory 2600, Australia

  • 20 Aug 2020 1:54 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Despite the various uncertainties of our times, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) remains highly focused on its mission championing the mathematical sciences in Australia, supporting the national STEM agenda and enabling growth of a knowledge economy.

    Given the daily relevance of statistics in assessing the wellbeing of Australians, AMSI is heavily promoting the importance of statistical data collection, analysis and reporting, particularly in epidemiological applications and in informing public health policy.  We commend our news feed [] to SSA members as a source of information and commentary.

    July has been marked by our Director, Professor Tim Brown, completing his tenure with AMSI.  Maintaining relationships with wider stakeholders in the mathematical sciences sphere was central to Tim’s thinking, and will be sustained moving forward.  The AMSI Board is presently working with the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne to identify AMSI’s new permanent Director; details regarding this process are available online from the University of Melbourne’s recruitment portal or through the AMSI website.

    This month also marks the departure of our National Program Manager for Research and Higher Education, Chloe Pearse.  Chloe is well known to many SSA members through directing high profile events such as AMSI Summer Schools, the ACE Network, BioInfoSummer and AMSI Optimise, and passes her appreciation to members of the advisory and organising committees that have supported AMSI’s ‘RHED’ operations.  AMSI is ensuring that its capability to manage research and higher education-focused operations continues seamlessly moving forward.

    We are delighted to welcome Professor Asha Rao from RMIT as the interim Director of AMSI pending the permanent appointment of a Director.  As an academic and researcher Asha is very well known throughout the maths community and has a significant profile as a contributor to AMSI’s #MathsTALK social media discourse on teaching mathematics to school children.  Asha has commenced on a part-time basis from Monday 18 August.

    Further ensuring continuity through our leadership transition, we are pleased to inform the SSA community that Leanne Taylor has been appointed to the role of Chief Operating Officer.  Leanne has significant experience within the university sector and is well-equipped to coordinate and drive operational and administrative activities of the Institute in the temporary absence of a full-time Director.  Leanne’s appointment enables AMSI to maintain the confidence of its members (such as SSA) and stakeholders in promoting the criticality of the mathematical sciences to the wellbeing of Australians and recovery of the nation’s economy.

    Clint Rodgers
    Marketing and Communications Manager

  • 20 Aug 2020 1:34 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    SSA Webinar report, 17th August

    The  1-hour webinar covered in compressed format the challenge of researching economic disadvantage in Australia given data constraints. The speakers, Anders Holmberg, Chief Methodologist at the ABS and Rajeev Samarage, Senior Data Analyst at the Melbourne Institute, representing respectively producers and users of official statistics, built the case for an entirely new approach to assembling analytical datasets applicable to the economic debates that are being brought on by a rapidly changing economic climate.

    This approach is organised around the framework presented by Li Chun Zhang in a 2012 Statistica Neerlandica paper. The Total Survey Error Model had been maturing for a generation from its introduction by Torre Dalenius and co-workers in Sweden to the succession of publications and transatlantic conferences organised by Robert Groves and associates at Maryland as a way of organising the business of population survey taking that had become the central activity of national statistical offices.

    The 2012 paper reinterpreted TSE - expressed in terms of the diad of measurement processes and representational units - as stepped generation of errors into the survey dataset - in more general terms palatable to analytical workers: a common conceptual parcel of variables; and objects from a variety of sources.

    By this means the statistical task becomes forward looking: to align analytical measures and statistical units brought together into an integrated secondary microdata set, fully documented, and with a level of quality assured.

    By allowing the Zhang construction to carry through time we can bring further statistical tools to bear to deliver a credible longitudinal dataset from which the impact of external shocks can be demonstrated, within robust statistical constraints. Equally the fully constructive nature of this process allows for cross jurisdictional conceptual datasets leading into aggregate and comparative study.

    The most valuable point however made in the course of the presentation was drawing attention to the contrasting, and legitimate, perspectives of producers and users - so much so that it had been difficult in the past to retrieve a common interest between the two communities:

    On the one hand is concern with integrity and an industrialised process at public expense subject to narrow legislative restraints concerning the release of any information that can relate to any one respondents, even though the furnishing of information to the statistical office is privileged over any other producer;

    On the other hand analysts have struggled with data access and data fluency issues, with interpreting the specificity of survey designs and underlying limitations in official census sources, with misalignment between official measurement base and that used in other sources where the design is not as transparent or absent, as for some administrative data troves. 

    A common model means a shared vocabulary, where the methodology used in collection design and production is converted to strengthened analytical reach, meeting the rigour required for research publication, and the lucidity and authority required of political communication.

    That ABS and MI are working in harness is encouraging for the future of official statistics and business analytics; whether the answer to the question posed is at best highly qualified or not.

    The presenters have given a limited set of references; other sources are output of workshops on survey nonresponse from the 1990s that mutated into European Conferences on Quality in Official Statistics and their offshoots in international fora; the working papers from the ABS’ long term Data Integration project; and technical papers documenting the design and adaptation of HILDA - since its launch by the MI on behalf of the Department of Social Security in 2001 - and its sister longitudinal studies of economic disadvantage in Europe and North America. It will be interesting to see where this goes in the future.  

    Stephen Horn

    Chair, Official Statistics Section, Statistical Society of Australia

  • 20 Aug 2020 12:41 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Unlocking the secrets in your DNA USING machine learning and cloud-computing

    Dr Natalie Twine is team leader of the CSIRO Transformational Bioinformatics Group and gave a talk to the SA members in July. The groups’ vision is to improve health care through digital technology.

    The potential information held in within an individual is huge. A genome contains DNA which holds the blueprint for every cell in the human body and is like a fingerprint- unique to an individual. CSIRO have developed technology platforms around using cloud computing to investigate DNA, for example, VariantSpark and TRIBES.


    This can be used to explore differences in genes between sick and healthy individuals. Often diseases are controlled by more than a single gene, such that genes interact each with a variable contribution. An example is motor neurone disease or ALS which is a serious condition leading to death within 2 years of diagnosis. There is a data set of the genomes of 22K individuals of healthy and sick individuals that can be used to investigate the genes underlying this disease. The genome of one individual covers over 80 million gene variants for each individual so it is a large data set. Using VariantSpark on this data set, a machine learning (ML) approach using Random Forests was implemented to investigate interacting genes. Where traditional bioinformatics tools are underpowered, VariantSpark uses using an apache spark cluster which is parallelised with capacity for adding extra computing power. This approach can be implemented in various platforms such as AWS or Microsoft Azure. There is an example on AWS marketplace in demo notebooks


    Disease is often inherited. With genetic ancestry it is becoming possible as more genome data becomes available to find genes underlying disease. Determining whether there is distant ancestry between people with the disease is important as it enables the identification of DNA that they have inherited from a common ancestor. These segments of DNA are known as identical by descent (IBD) segments. By exploring these IBD segments it narrows the research and enables potential drivers of the disease to be targeted. TRIBES which is available from GITHUB, is a pairwise classifier and very accurate compared to other tools. It enables the identification of new disease genes, it is also able to connect different families through these IBD regions. In an ALS example, it was able to connect 19 families from 25 and identify 5 independent or different mutations associated with ALS. The identification of different mutation is particularly important as it means that drug therapy can be targeted. The identification of novel genes was also possible.


    A final example using technology was in the fight against the corona virus or COVID-19. CSIRO has been involved in replicating the virus, sequencing the genome, developing animal models and preclinical vaccine testing. They have found that the virus mutates approximately 25 times a year compared to influenza which mutates around 50 times per year. Identifying COVID-19 strains for vaccine testing is important. From the original host of the virus it may have mutated multiple times but its only possible to capture those virus in people that are tested so intermediate strains are lost. CSIRO have used ML to compare the virus genome isolated from people who have been tested and to identify how identical they are. This can aid in determining the most appropriate strain for vaccine testing. 

    CSIRO have developed a web service which monitors new genome sequences of COVID-19. Data from around the world can be uploaded to an AWS platform and each day an analysis can be run comparing strains with results available on a website. This is enabled by using serverless powered computing which is agile, such that resources are able to be shared when it’s not used, its good if software is used sporadically.

    The final impact is detecting community spread of the virus, where the different strains are monitored. They are able to track mutations to see how they may effect transmission, virulence and symptoms.

    The take home message from the talk was that there is a massive explosion in data. IT technology can make a big difference in the fight against disease.

    By Helena Oakey

  • 13 Aug 2020 2:39 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    MEDIA RELEASE - Science & Technology Australia

    12 August 2020

    Results of a nationwide survey of over 1,000 professional scientists and researchers shows COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the science workforce in Australia.

    In a first snapshot of the impact of the pandemic on scientists’ jobs and wages, a survey by Professional Scientists Australia and Science & Technology Australia found despite the frontline role of scientists in the pandemic, they too had been hit by job losses and wage freezes.

    In The Initial Employment Impact Of The Covid-19 Pandemic On Australia's Science Workforce, scientists reported job losses, pay freezes, changes to job roles, and limitations on their ability to work due to juggling working from home while caring for children.

    At the same time, as an indicator of the central role science is playing in Australia’s response to the pandemic, the survey found almost six in 10 scientists said Australians now placed greater value in science and our nation’s professional scientific workforce as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Even at that early stage, key findings in the report include:

    • One in 20 scientists in the survey had taken a pay cut, and one in 10 said their paid work hours had fallen.
    • Around 7 in 10 had been instructed to work from home, and almost one in three said physical distancing and home isolation had limited their work.
    • One in seven scientists surveyed said their work role had changed during the pandemic, and nearly one in four said anxiety/ mental distress caused by the pandemic was affecting their ability to work.
    • One in five said caring for children/home schooling had limited their ability to work.
    • A lack of job security was a key source of stress affecting mental health and well-being.

    Science & Technology Australia President Jeremy Brownlie said the report is a timely reminder that whilst Australians rely on our exceptional science sector to respond to crises such as the pandemic, the wellbeing of the science workforce needs to be a stronger priority.

    “This report provides vital insight into the vulnerability of scientists and researchers as employees, as the economic impact of COVID-19 places significant strain on universities and research institutes, even as the demand for their skills had grown,” Associate Professor Brownlie said.

    “Australia boasts incredible talent in scientific research, and we’ve drawn on this extensively amid COVID-19 – yet the job security and conditions of scientists and researchers are at risk.”

    “We need to protect Australia’s scientific workforce so it can play its crucial role in Australia’s recovery from COVID-19 in job creation and economic growth.”

    Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert noted the survey ran in May before major job losses started to be announced at universities

    “Even at that early stage of the pandemic, almost one in 20 scientists surveyed said they had had their employment terminated, their contract not renewed, or had been stood down without pay,” she said.

    “And since this survey was in the field, we’ve seen announcements of thousands more job losses at universities.”

     “Now is the time for a stronger investment in the science and technology workforce. This pandemic has highlighted how crucial our scientists are to the safety and security of all Australians.”

    Please see the full report, The Initial Employment Impact Of The Covid-19 Pandemic On Australia's Science Workforce here. For interviews, please contact STA Communications Manager, Zoya Patel on 0406 249 786.

    Science & Technology Australia, 3/8 Phipps Close, Deakin, Australian Capital Territory 2600, Australia

  • 11 Aug 2020 12:35 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    Had 2020 been an ordinary year, ANZSC would already have been and gone. But 2020 is far from an ordinary year! Although ANZSC has been pushed back to July 5-9, 2021, this does not diminish the excitement that we, the Presidents of the Statistical Society of Australia and the New Zealand Statistical Association, have for this event. We can’t wait to see old friends and make new ones from around Australia and New Zealand in July 2021.

    So why should you come along to the Gold Coast on July 5-9 2021 for ANZSC? Here are just a few reasons:

    • Catch up on the latest in statistical theory and practice from our region;
    • Hear from some leading statistical thinkers from around the world, including Professor Frauke Kreuter and Professor Iain Johnstone.
    • Socialise with colleagues and enjoy delicious food at the conference dinner.
    • See what the future of statistics has in store with presentations from our early career and student members.

    2020 has been a challenging year for many of us, and we look forward to celebrating the resilience and strength of the Australian and New Zealand statistical communities at ANZSC 2021!

    Jessica Kasza
    President of the Statistical Society of Australia

    Vanessa Cave
    President of the New Zealand Statistical Association

  • 6 Aug 2020 12:34 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    On a chilly, wintery evening, SSA history was made last Tuesday when we held our first Society AGM via Zoom. As a result of these unprecedented times the ACT Government recently amended the Associations Incorporations ACT 1991, now allowing association AGMs to be held online rather than face-to-face only.

    However, the history-making did not stop there. Counting over forty members at the Zoom meeting, the participation rate at this AGM exceeded any number previously recorded at an AGM held outside a Statistical Conference year. Thank you to everyone who joined in!

    Our new President, Jess Kasza, took us through the agenda items in such an efficient way that the AGMs for SSA and ASPAI were completed within half an hour. After a brief break, attendees were then treated to a captivating talk by RSS President, Professor Deborah Ashby. Professor Ashby is the Director of the School of Public Health, Imperial College London, where she holds the Chair in Medical Statistics and Clinical Trials. She is a Founding Co-Director of Imperial Clinical Trials Unit. Her talk was titled

    Florence Nightingale at 200: using data to improve health from the time of the Crimea to the time of the coronavirus

    and the audience was taken on a journey through Florence Nightingale’s fascinating life. Many pieces have been written about Florence being recognised as a pioneering and passionate statistician. Coming from a background of privilege and with powerful connections, Florence chose a life of hard work and never-ending learning, using her - what we these days would call “network” - to try to improve the health situation in her country and abroad. She recognised the connection between statistics and health and used her influence to make the government officials of her time see it as well. The slides of the talk can be viewed here.

    I can truthfully say that this interesting talk, presented by a statistician to statisticians, was thoroughly enjoyed by this non-statistician as well.

    Marie-Louise Rankin
    Executive Officer
    Statistical Society of Australia

  • 29 Jul 2020 10:01 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    There are some conferences coming up soon that will be run wholly online: the 14th International Conference in Monte Carlo & Quasi-Monte Carlo Methods in Scientific Computing (MCQMC) will be held from August 9-14. StanCon will be a 24-hour event, held on August 13, for those interested in the Stan software for Bayesian computation. Also, the Bayesian Young Statisticians Meeting: Online (BAYSM:O) to be held online from November 17-18, 2020.

    Our update includes some brief reviews of the book “Bayesian Probability for Babies” and the software packages JASP and Jamovi.

    Ferrie, Chris (2019) "Bayesian Probability for Babies", Baby University

    This book has been out for a year! I first found out about it when a graduating PhD student gave it to me as a gift. It is a children's board book, and uses cookies to explain how Bayes Theorem works, in an entertaining and intuitive way. I did a book reading at a conference, and whilst the academics didn't sit on the floor, they really enjoyed it, and more importantly, quickly got the hang of things. We can attest that this "cookie book" is well liked by at least one small child and one teenager. The author also has a YouTube video where he reads his book.

    Bayesians may find a couple of beginner friendly and free statistical packages useful for teaching. Just Another Stats Package (JASP) is freely downloadable from It provides a simple menu-based interface to simpler statistical analyses (like t-tests and ANOVA) but provides "curated" Frequentist and Bayesian outputs (for posteriors and Bayes Factors too) using a similar frontend. Then Jamovi is a relatively new R package that makes it easier to write user friendly interfaces for R functions. There are already some useful interfaces available:

    JASP and jamovi were introduced by the same group of people, as written up here:

    Matt Moores & Sama Low-Choy,

    On behalf of the executive committee, Bayesian Section of SSA

  • 29 Jul 2020 9:19 AM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    The search is about to begin for Australia’s next constellation of Superstars of STEM.

    Science & Technology Australia created #SuperstarsofSTEM in 2017. This trailblazing program builds a critical mass of high-profile women scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to serve as role models to inspire young women and girls into STEM. It aims to smash society’s gender assumptions about STEM careers – and lift the public visibility of women in STEM – to make gains towards more equal media representation of women in STEM.

    Over the first three years of the program, Science & Technology Australia have developed the profiles of 90 women in STEM. These women acquired advanced communication skills and exciting opportunities to use these skills in the media, on stage and speaking with Parliamentary and industry decision-makers.

    Science & Technology Australia are  launching the search to find their next 60 Superstars of STEM to be part of another brilliant and diverse cohort for 2021-22. Applications open on 4 August. Apply by August 31.

  • 20 Jul 2020 4:13 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

    STEM Jobs At Risk Without A JobKeeper Lifeline For Unis

    Jobs in the science, technology, engineering and maths workforce are now at greater risk as hundreds more job losses start to be announced at universities across the country.

    The peak body for the science and technology sector is asking the Australian Government to take a fresh look at the damage being inflicted by the pandemic on Australia’s research and teaching jobs.

    Science & Technology Australia President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said our nation’s university STEM researchers and teachers were "the lifeblood of Australia’s research system".

    “The grave risk now is that we may start to lose brilliant talent from our STEM research and teaching workforce as universities face the stark choices forced by a collapse in income,” he said.

    “If Australia loses this STEM talent, the danger is that we may never get them back into our research system to work on the next set of cures, breakthroughs and lifesaving treatments.”

    “We ask the Government to look at the risks starting to materialise to Australia’s sovereign capability in research – and step in with a JobKeeper lifeline to university researchers and teachers.”

    A Rapid Research Information Forum report in early May predicted up to 21,000 jobs could be lost at Australia’s universities over the next six months – including 7,000 in research – due to the pandemic.

    It found women, early-career researchers and recent graduates are disproportionately at risk because they are more likely to be in vulnerable casual and fixed-term contract roles.

    Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said there was a strategic interest for the nation to safeguard our STEM research and teaching workforce through this crisis.

    “Just as the Government has done in response to the devastating impact on the tourism industry, we’d ask it to look with similar compassion at the plight of the nation’s research workforce,” she said.

    “If we can avert these tens of thousands of jobs being lost through the pandemic, it will put the nation further ahead in the enormous task of economic recovery.”

    STA has also proposed a one-off boost to the Research Training Program which funds postgraduate research students, who make up more than half of Australia’s university research workforce.

    To seek further comment, please contact STA on 02 6257 2891.

    This email was sent to
    Science & Technology Australia, 3/8 Phipps Close, Deakin, Australian Capital Territory 2600, Australia

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