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April 2009


Washington Statistical Society Makes Presentation & Statistical Game Demonstrations
at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

On Saturday, March 14, 2009, volunteers for the Washington Statistical Society (WSS) made onsite interactive exhibitions at the National ir and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Fairfax Virginia for the Girl Scout Day. More than 2000 Girl Scout Guests plus many regular museum visitors attended the special event.

The three WSS volunteers — Junshan Qiu who just completed her Ph.D. study in statistics and is currently a research fellow at the Federal Drug Administration, Kirsten Lum, who just completed her Master degree in statistics and is currently a predoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Health, and Jenny Zhang, an eighth grade student in the GT center program at the Longfellow Middle School — helped kids to learn and cultivate interests in statistics through graphics and navigation system, using weighted and unweighted dices. "You really made statistics fun for the kids," expressed by many staffs from the museum as well as the parents.

With many young kids hooked by the interesting games which the WSS team demonstrated and facilitated, some others and especially many adults were also attracted by a poster entitled "Statistics, Airplanes, and Decision-Making - A True World War II Story" that Jenny Zhang prepared and presented*. "I was initially motivated to participate mainly to fulfill my community services hours for my civics class, but when I prepared the presentation materials and after I communicated directly with many people and other volunteers, my interest in statistics also greq and it's a lot of fun to talk directly with people and learn how people responded and appreciated," said Jenny Zhang. "Anyway, what're the chances to present such a thought-provoking story on statistics and airplanes surrounded by really big airplanes?" added Jenny.

Washington Statistical Society is the largest local chapter of the American Statistical Society, with about 1000 local members. Carolyn Carroll at the StatTech and Anna Nevius at the Federal Drug Administration coordinated this WSS educational activity. Other agencies and organizations that hosted education activities at the museum on the Girl Scout day included the Girl Scout First Aid Station, Federal Aviation Association, NASA, National Capital Astronomers, National Museum of the U.S. Navy, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, U.S. Public Health Services, and some other agencies and local organizations.

* The story itself is as follows: During World War II, a young statistician by the name of Abraham Wald was hired to help the British and U.S. air forces to assess the most vulnerable areas of an airplane. The basic plan was to reinforce the needed areas with additional armor. Each airplane was carefully examined for bullet holes. The Air Force naturally was about to conclude that the areas with the most bullet holes were the most vulnerable and thus, needed to be reinforced with armor. However, there was a catch. Only the returning airplanes were examined and included in the analysis. This provides reason to believe that the areas with the many bullet holes had proven to be able to sustain enemy fire and so these planes were able to return to the base successfully. The areas with no bullet holes would be the most-needed to reinforce since, presumably through logic, planes hit by in those areas did not return. The lesson learned, according to Jenny Zhang's presentation was that (1) data can be collected and used to test assumptions and arrive at life-saving conclusions; (2) related data not observed should also be taken into account in order to make sound decisions and avoid bias.

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Nominations for the 2009 Florence Nightingale David Award

Nominations are being accepted for the 2009 Florence Nightingale David Award. The deadline for nominations for this Award has been extended to April 15th>.

This Award recognizes a female statistician who exemplifies the contributions of Florence Nightingale David, who was an accomplished statistician in combinatorial probability theory, author or editor of numerous books including the classic on the history of probability theory "Games, Gods, and Gambling", first Chair of Department of Statistics at University of California at Riverside and the first recipient of the Elizabeth L. Scott Award. FN David died in 1993 at the age of 83. The award was established in 2001 and it is offered every odd numbered year, and is sponsored jointly by COPSS and the Caucus for Women in Statistics.

Criteria for the award are excellence in the following: as a role model to women, statistical research, leadership of multidisciplinary collaborative groups, statistics education, and service to the profession.

Past recipients of the Award are Nan M. Laird (2001), Juliet P. Shaffer (2003), Alice S. Whittemore (2005), and Nancy Flournoy (2007). Now it is time for you to nominate the next recipient (your mentor, a former professor, a co-worker, a collaborator, someone you admire).

You can find more information on the award and procedures for nominations at http://www.niss.org/copss/ or contact Juliet Shaffer (shaffer@stat.berkeley.edu), Chair of the Award committee.

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19th Annual DOE National Science Bowl

The 19th annual DOE (Department of Energy) National Science Bowl will be held April 30-May 5, 2009, at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland (www.4hcenter.org). This is the first year both the high school and middle school final events are being combined and held at the same time. Sixty-seven teams of high school students and thirty-six teams of middle school students from 42 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico will participate in this event. More than 15,000 high school students and 6,000 middle school students have participated in regional events at DOE sites, other Federal agencies, and educational institutions. You are invited to come and observe the competition this year as the event is open to the public.

Volunteers are needed to serve as academic competition officials (moderator, scientific judge, rules judge, timer, and score keeper) and to assist us at the Science Bowl Information Center to provide information to parents and guests.

Volunteers Needed:

Saturday, May 2, 2009
  • Middle School Academic Competition (100 Volunteers) 8:00 am - 3:00 pm for the Round Robin Competition.
  • Double Elimination 3:30 - 7:00 pm (50 volunteers)
  • High School Division Team Challenge (30 volunteers) 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
Sunday, May 3, 2009
  • Middle School Car Race (30 volunteers at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School)
  • High School Academic Competition (175 volunteers) 9:00 am - 4:30 pm for the Round Robin
  • Competition where the largest number of volunteers are needed.
  • Double Elimination 6:00 9:00 pm (60 volunteers)

Anyone, including DOE employees, DOE contractors, family members, and friends, is welcome to volunteer. Several volunteers come from other Federal agencies and local businesses. Some schools and organizations (e.g., Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts) fulfill community service requirements by volunteering for the National Science Bowl.

Science Bowl Academic Competition Officials (Saturday and/or Sunday):
  • Timer: keeps time for each match (two 10-minute halves)*
  • Scorekeeper: maintains accurate scoring throughout each match [upper middle and high school students may also volunteer]*
  • Score runner (prefer upper elementary and middle school students): bring the score sheets to science bowl scoring room after each match
  • Science Bowl information center: provide information to parents and visitors
High School Division Team Challenge (Saturday):
  • Room assistants are needed on Saturday to facilitate each team's participation in a hands-on team science problem.
Middle School Car Race (Sunday):
  • Car race judges and other general volunteers are needed to assist with the hydrogen fuel cell model car races. Event is located at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. No advance training needed, training will be done during the event.

* These volunteer positions require training. Please call Michelle Rathbun at 202-586-9929 or Michelle.Rathbun@science.doe.gov to see if there is still a need for those spots and to arrange training times.

To be included on the volunteer schedule, please sign up by Wednesday, April 15, 2009. Sign-up on the online form at http://www.scied.science.doe.gov/nsb/volun.htm.

More information can be found on the Science Bowl Website at http://nationalsciencebowl.energy.gov. The draft schedule of events is located under "National Event."

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Wray Jackson Smith Scholarship

The Government Statistics Section (GSS) and the Social Statistics Section (SSS) of the American Statistical Association (ASA) are pleased to announce the availability of a scholarship in memory of Wray Jackson Smith, a long-time contributor to Federal statistics. The Wray Jackson Smith Scholarship (WJSS), co-sponsored with the Washington Statistical Society, the Caucus for Women in Statistics, Harris-Smith Institutes, Mathematica Policy Research, and Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc., is intended to reward promising young statisticians for their diligence, thereby encouraging them to consider a future in government statistics.

The WJSS Award provides funding of $1,000 for use in exploring any of a broad number of opportunities for furthering the development of a career related to government statistics. Applicants are encouraged to be creative in seeking support for a wide variety of uses, including:

Tuition, board, and books for courses or short courses Conference attendance Purchase of books, software, data sets, or other supporting materials for research projects related to government statistics.

Activities may relate to any level of government, including Federal, state, and local governmental units. They must be statistical in nature, focusing on data, methodology, analysis, or data presentation. Recent award winners have used the WJSS to fund attendance at the Joint Statistical Meetings, support continued public policy research, and to take short courses to better under-stand and analyze data for current research.


To apply for a WJSS Award, the following information must be sent to the Wray Jackson Smith Scholarship Committee by April 15, 2009:

  • A completed WJSS Application Form (form is available at: http://www.amstat.org/sections/ssoc/wrayjacksonsmith.html)
  • A proposal of activity to be funded
  • Academic transcript (for current/recent students) or job performance reviews for the past 2 years (fornonstudents) or equivalent proof of superior academic and/or professional performance
  • Two letters of recommendation.

Activities may relate to any level of government, including Federal, state, and local Please send materials to:

Wray Jackson Smith Scholarship Committee c/o Robert A. Kominski electronically to: Robert.A.Kominski@census.gov.

Selection Process

The WJSS Committee, consisting of a total of three GSS and SSS members, will review each proposal, based on an established rating scheme. Each application will be judged based on the following criteria:

  • Stage in Career
  • Past Performance
  • Quality of the Proposed Activity
  • Relevance of Activity to Government Statistics
  • Innovation/Ingenuity of the Proposed Project Feasibility of
  • Completion of Activity Two Letters of Recommendation

Selection will be made by June 1, 2009.


The WJSS is targeted at students and persons early in their career in government statistics. Applicants must have a Bachelor's degree or equivalent level of education. Membership in the Government Statistics Section, Social Statistics Section, or in the ASA is not required.

For more information, contact Robert A. Kominski by e-mail: Robert.A.Kominski@census.gov.

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Herriot Award Nominations Sought

Nominations are sought for the 2009 Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Federal Statistics. The award is intended to reflect the special characteristics that marked Roger Herriot's career:

  • Dedication to the issues of measurement;
  • Improvements in the efficiency of data collection programs; and
  • Improvements and use of statistical data for policy analysis.

The award is not limited to senior members of an organization, nor is it to be considered as a culmination of a long period of service. Individuals at all levels within Federal statistical agencies, other government organizations, nonprofit organizations, the private sector, and the academic community may be nominated on the basis of their contributions.

The recipient of the 2009 Roger Herriot Award will be chosen by a committee comprising representatives of the Social Statistics and Government Statistics Sections of the American Statistical Association, and of the Washington Statistical Society. Roger Herriot was associated with, and strongly supportive of, these organizations during his career. The award consists of a $1000 honorarium and a framed citation, which will be presented at a ceremony at the Joint Statistical Meetings in August 2009. The Washington Statistical Society will also host a seminar given by the winner on a subject of his or her own choosing.

The previous recipients of the Roger Herriot Award are Joseph Waksberg (Westat), Monroe Sirken (NCHS), Constance Citro (CNStat), Roderick Harrison (Census Bureau), Clyde Tucker (BLS), Thomas Jabine (SSA, EIA, CNStat), Donald Dillman (Washington State University), Jeanne Griffith (OMB, NCES, NSF), Daniel Weinberg (Census Bureau), David Banks (FDA, BTS, NIST), Paula Schneider (Census Bureau), Robert E. Fay III (Census Bureau), Nathaniel Schenker (NCHS), Nancy Kirkendall (EIA) and Elizabeth Martin (Census Bureau).

Nominations for the 2009 award will be accepted beginning in February 2009. Nomination packages should contain:

  • A cover letter from the nominator that should include references to specific examples of the nominee's contributions to innovation in Federal statistics. These contributions can be to methodology, procedure, organization, administration, or other areas of Federal statistics, and need not have been made by or while a Federal employee.
  • Up to six additional letters in support that document how each contribution demonstrates innovation.
  • A current vita for the nominee, including contact information.

Both individual and group nominations may be submitted. The committee may consider nominations made for the 2008 award, but it encourages resubmission of those nominations with updated information.

For more information, contact Dwight Brock, Chair, 2009 Roger Herriot Award Committee, at 301-517-4026 or dwightbrock@westat.com. Completed packages must be received by April 1, 2009. Electronic submissions in MS-Word or as a "pdf" file are strongly encouraged. Please contact the chair if you need to make arrangements to fax or mail a nomination.

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Save the Date
An All-Day Symposium in Honor of Dr. Edmund Gehan
April 27, 2009

The Department of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, and Biomathematics at Georgetown University and the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center invite you to an all-day symposium in honor of Dr. Edmund Gehan, Professor Emeritus of Biostatistics. Invited speakers are Dennis Dixon, Jonas Ellenberg, Susan Ellenberg, Emil J. Freireich, Stephen George, J. Jack Lee, Aiyi Liu, Karen Messer, Peter Thall, and Marvin Zelen.

For more information and to register online, visit http://dbbb.georgetown.edu/News/gehansymposium/ or contact Caroline Wu, Department of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics, and Biomathematics, Georgetown University, Suite 180, Building D, 4000 Reservoir Road NW; (202) 687-4114; ctw26@georgetown.edu

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Students' Corner

On the birthday problem

The two birthday problem has been well studied. In fact, in one of my first statistics classes I recall our professor using quite a bit of chalk answering the question, "What is the number of people needed in a room in order to have a better than 50% chance of two people having the same birthday." This problem must be quite common because I ran across it while reading The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow a few days after my birthday in January. Although I wouldn't recommend the book, Mr. Mlodinow correctly argues why we should expect to find one pair of individuals with the same birthday in a room of 23 random persons about half the time. To get this solution, Mr. Mlodinow assumed that birthdays are uniformly distributed across the year and that the population is large. Even wikipedia has a delightful article on the popular problem at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_paradox.

The, perhaps surprising, answer to the two birthday problem is that there is a 50% chance that two people will have the same birthday in a room of only 23 people. One of the reasons the two birthday problem is so surprising is that the fundamental question is often confused with the same-birthday-as-you problem, "What is the number of people needed in a room in order to have a better than 50% chance of two people having the same birthday as you." The answer to this problem is that there is a 50% chance that someone will have the same birthday as you in a room with 253 people in it.

Last month, I posed the three birthday problem. Specifically, I asked what the probability would be that any three people in a group of 50 would have the same birthday. My friend Santanu, who just graduated from the University of Maryland, calculated the probability of exactly three people having the same birthday in a room of 50 to be 0.00579. Rather than solving this problem in detail, I thought it might be more interesting to highlight two fun assumptions that one could make when solving a problem as ambiguously worded as the one I posed.

The first assumption is pathological. If we assume that the 50 people are a birthday club for people with a birthday on a particular day (for example February 29), then the probability that at least three people having the same birthday should be very close, if not equal to 1.

An alternative framework, common to survey researchers, is to assume that the birthdays of our finite population of 75 persons are fixed. Thus, if our initial population of 75 persons has 3 persons with the same birthday, then the probability that the meeting with 50 people has 3 people with the same birthday is the probability that all three people sharing the same birthday show up. Likewise, if there were four people in the population of 75 with the same birthday, the desired probably is the probability that at least three of the four people with the same birthday are in the sample of 50 people.

Thank you to all of the people who pondered and responded to last month's student corner.

Tim Kennel (tkennel@survey.umd.edu)

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April 15, 2009: GeoDA - Part 4

GeoDa is the latest incarnation in a long line of software tools developed by Dr. Luc Anselin's Spatial Analysis Laboratory (SAL) in the Department of Geography at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It is designed to implement techniques for exploratory spatial data analysis (ESDA) on lattice data (points and polygons). The free program provides a user friendly and graphical interface to methods of descriptive spatial data analysis, such as spatial autocorrelation statistics, as well as basic spatial regression functionality. The latest version contains several new features such as a cartogram, a refined map movie, parallel coordinate plot, 3D visualization, conditional plots (and maps) and spatial regression.

Continuing the February discussion, this month will cover: Distance-Based Spatial Weights, Spatially Lagged Variables, Global Spatial Autocorrelation, Local Spatial Autocorrelation, and Spatial Autocorrelation Analysis for Rates.

May 20, 2009: GeoDA - Part 5

GeoDa is the latest incarnation in a long line of software tools developed by Dr. Luc Anselin's Spatial Analysis Laboratory (SAL) in the Department of Geography at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It is designed to implement techniques for exploratory spatial data analysis (ESDA) on lattice data (points and polygons). The free program provides a user friendly and graphical interface to methods of descriptive spatial data analysis, such as spatial autocorrelation statistics, as well as basic spatial regression functionality. The latest version contains several new features such as a cartogram, a refined map movie, parallel coordinate plot, 3D visualization, conditional plots (and maps) and spatial regression.

Continuing the April discussion, this month will cover: Bivariate Spatial Autocorrelation, Regression Basics, Regression Diagnostics, Spatial Lag Model, and Spatial Error Model

SIGSTAT is the Special Interest Group in Statistics for the CPCUG, the Capital PC User Group, and WINFORMS, the Washington Institute for Operations Research Service and Management Science.

All meetings are in Room S3031, 1800 M St, NW from 12:00 to 1:00. Enter the South Tower & take the elevator to the 3rd floor to check in at the guard's desk.

First-time attendees should contact Charlie Hallahan, 202-694-5051, hallahan@ers.usda.gov, and leave their name. Directions to the building & many links of statistical interest can be found at the SIGSTAT website, http://www.cpcug.org/user/sigstat/.

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Note From The WSS NEWS Editor

Items for publication in the May issue of the WSS NEWS should be submitted no later than April 14, 2009. E-mail items to Michael Feil at michael.feil@usda.gov.

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Click here to see the WSS Board Listing (pdf)
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