Queensland August Branch meeting

Time: Refreshments from 16:45, talk at  17:00 (duration of seminar 1h).

Non-members welcome (as always).

Cost: Free

Location: Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Point Campus, 0 Block, Room 520

Members and guests are welcome to join the speaker afterwards at a nearby restaurant.

Speaker:  Professor Ross Homel, Foundation Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Griffith University

Title: The journey of an errant statistician: Using science to tackle social problems


I graduated with 2A honours in mathematical statistics from the University of Sydney in 1969, the year of the first moon landing. I went on to complete a Research Masters in 1971, and published the paper (with Dr John Robinson, my supervisor) in Sankhya, the Indian Journal of Statistics, a year later. The topic was ‘The design and analysis of nested partially balanced incomplete block designs.”

I was pressed to convert the Masters to a PhD, but by then I was 22 and was finally finding my true interests – having been ‘catapulted’ from the state school system into university (doing honours level subjects in everything) at the ripe old age of 16! And what I was discovering was that I was not interested in combinatorial mathematics and hyper-dimensional non-Euclidean geometries! What I really wanted to do was understand and tackle social problems through the lens of data and science. I ended up working with a charismatic sociologist and social work academic Dr Tony Vinson in setting up within the NSW Department of the Attorney General and Justice the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in 1972. What Tony taught me was that my vision was achievable – policies and programs to address problems like drunks in the streets, prison riots, or the concentration of crime problems in a small proportion of localities could indeed be founded on solid data and good evidence.

We have regressed as a nation since the heady days of the early 1970s, although – at last – evidence-based policies and practices are starting to come back into fashion. In this presentation I will discuss some ‘case studies’ of problems that I have worked on and how my early training in mathematics and statistics – despite my best efforts to leave it behind! – has informed all my research.

I also want to propose that we are at a turning point in the western world. Despite the enormous progress in improved wealth, health and wellbeing since the mid-1800s, politics and prejudice seem increasingly to trump science and evidence-based practice. I will argue that we need to use our scientific training to change the politics, but that this cannot be done unless we create new types of institutions – intermediary organisations – that can ‘stand between’ the world of research and the world of politics, policies and everyday practices.


Professor Ross Homel AO

Ross Homel is Foundation Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. He has won many awards for his research on the prevention of crime, violence and injuries and the promotion of positive development and wellbeing for children and young people in socially disadvantaged communities. His accomplishments were recognised in January 2008 when he was appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) “for service to education, particularly in the field of criminology, through research into the causes of crime, early intervention and prevention methods.” In May 2008 he was recognised by the Premier of Queensland as a ‘Queensland Great’, “for his contribution to Queensland’s reputation for research excellence, the development of social policy and justice reform and helping Queensland’s disadvantaged communities.” In 2010 he received the Sellin-Glueck Award from the American Society of Criminology for criminological scholarship that considers problems of crime and justice as they manifest outside the United States.

A video with Ross’s talk and slides is available on the Statistical Society’s YouTube Channel.

When: 02/08/2016
Time: 4:45 pm - 6:00 pm
Cost: Free

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