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What Does Wayne Nelson Like to Do When He Is Not Being a Statistician?

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 7:00am

Wayne Nelson dances with his tango partner, Cheryl Monti, who he calls an angel.

Who are you, and what is your statistics position?

My name is Wayne Nelson. I am a semi-retired private statistical consultant and leading expert on reliability data analysis, recurrent events data analysis, and statistical methods for accelerated testing. I also give training courses for clients and professional societies. An employee of General Electric Corporation Research and Development for 24 years, I consulted across the company. As an adjunct professor at Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I taught graduate courses on the theory and application of statistics.

Tell us about what you like to do for fun when you are not being a statistician.

When I was 12, my grade school gave me ballroom dance lessons with girls. Now 81, I’m still dancing with them—but, today, it’s Argentine tango, which is a three-minute romance. Seriously, dancing social ballroom at age 60, I discovered Argentine tango, became addicted, and now need a “tango fix” two or three times a week.

What drew you to this hobby, and what keeps you interested?

Argentine tango has various charms. Few in number, tangueros are friendly and welcoming to all dancers. I’ve been warmly welcomed in dances all over the US and abroad, including Buenos Aires, Cairo, Mexico City, Bordeaux, and embargoed Havana (I went there as a wetback).

Used to dancing chest-to-chest (heart to heart) and cheek-to-cheek, tangueros warmly hug friends on greeting. No other dance has such intimate contact—chest, head, feet, calves, and, yes, thighs.

The women dance only on the balls of their feet and have gorgeous legs. It is the world’s most difficult social dance, an enticing challenge that requires years to master. I’ve been working on tango for 20 years. Still humbly learning.

Tango music is romantic, beautiful, and expressive of feelings. Good social dancers express the feeling of the music using suitable “figuras” (dance patterns) and rhythms; that is, they spontaneously choreograph. Such musicality is rare in social ballroom dancing, which uses a simple repeating rhythm for each dance style. Hear the beautiful tango “Invierno” [Winter] and see charming professional choreography on YouTube.

The best dancers have outstanding technique that feels wonderful to partners. Ballroom partners are performer wannabes and try to look good. Tangueros try to feel good to partners. My partners have ranged from clumsy sumo wrestlers to butterfly angels who are lighter and follow me better than my shadow. I always fall in love with the angels. A tango with an angel is three minutes in heaven. Such a tango dance is described in Buenos Aires as “one heart with four legs.

Now 81 and an advanced dancer, I am flattered when asked to dance by gorgeous young 60-year-olds I don’t know. At a tango dance in the Catskills, Marilyn—a most attractive and skilled tanguera—invited me to dance with her in New York City. We’ve danced in Central Park, in the pavilion at the end of Pier 45 as the sun sets in New Jersey, in the UN Building, and in many tango clubs and dance halls. Tango brought me this much-treasured friend.

Some special tango moments for me include:

  • Anne, my beloved dance partner and sweetheart of 27 years, took me on a tango cruise. It departed from Venice and stopped at various Greek ports (including Rhodes and the ancient Olympics site) and beautiful medieval Dubrovnik. Our group of 25 tangueros had classes every morning, an adventure ashore in a new place each afternoon, and a private tango dance at night. Our eight teachers put on a first-rate tango show in the ship’s theater; it attracted 300 passengers just by word of mouth. The trip included memorable stays in Venice and Florence.

  • As a raw beginner, I went to tango boot camp in Buenos Aires for a week in 1997. In a class of 25 beginners, I was taught a figura by a maestro (master teacher) each afternoon, followed by a practice with five or six attentive teachers who drilled me on technique involving balance and delicate connection with partner that does not disturb the partner’s balance and movement. Each evening, we went to a different dance club, struggled on a crowded floor, and also saw a tango show. Still needing boot camp, I repeated it the following year. Boot camp showed me what technique I needed to learn to dance well with a partner. I am still working on improving technique.

  • Buenos Aires is the Mecca for tangueros. Self-employed and having a good boss, I have spent five weeks there in March and April each year since 2000. A high point was my Fulbright Award to teach reliability statistics in Spanish to engineers there for three months. Of course, you know why I chose Buenos Aires and what I did in my free time.

  • Recently, for the first time, I attended the Stowe Tango Music Festival, where scores (no pun) of musicians improved their skills, instructed by maestros. For four days, 100+ tangueros participated in dance classes and danced to a live orchestra of 23 musicians who raised the hair on the back of my neck.

  • There are customs at tango dances. You do not approach a tanguera and ask her to dance. In ballroom dancing, just asking is customary. To invite a tanguera, you must catch her eye (sometimes across the dance floor) and smile and nod. If she smiles back, you go to her and dance. If she ignores you, you’re out of luck. The tangos are played in a tanda, a set of three or four tunes of the same style and by the same orchestra. On hearing the first notes of the music, you can invite a partner suited to the music and dance that tanda with her. Some tandas have other styles of music such as swing, Latin, polka, paso doble, etc. In Argentina, they do the chacarera folk dance. In Mexico, they dance traditional danzón, which is like rumba but more complicated. Most music at dances is by the famous orchestras of the Golden Age of Tango—the 30s, 40s, and 50s—and some is by more recent orchestras. We dance to three styles of Argentine music:
    • Traditional tango with a 2/4 or 4/4 (march) tempo
    • Waltz tango with 3/4 time (a three-beat measure), which is like a Viennese waltz but with a faster tempo
    • Milonga with a 2/4 or 4/4 (march) tempo, which is faster than traditional tango

    These dance styles have a common base, and each has some unique steps and customs. There are other styles of tango. In the US, ballroom dancers dance “American tango,” which is much like fox trot danced to music with a heavy drum beat, for example, “Hernando’s Hideaway.” International tango is a studio-invented competition style with exaggerated stylized movement, such as head snapping, and the men wear tails and the women wear long ball gowns. In addition to the social Argentine tango, there is professional stage tango, called fantasy tango. It is athletic and complicated with high speed and lifts.

    JSM for Newbies

    Tue, 05/01/2018 - 7:00am

    Christopher Bilder is a professor in the department of statistics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a fellow of the ASA.

    The largest congregation of statisticians in the world happens every August during the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM). More than 6,000 people attend these meetings, which are sponsored by 11 statistical societies, including the American Statistical Association. The meetings offer a variety of activities such as attending research presentations, interviewing for jobs, taking professional development courses and workshops, and browsing the exhibit hall. With so many opportunities, new attendees can be overwhelmed easily by their first JSM experience.

    Based on my familiarity with attending meetings over the last 18 years and the experiences of student groups I have led, I’m going to provide some tips on how to get the most out of JSM. If you would like to share your own recommendations, I encourage you to submit a comment below.

    Important Links
    JSM 2018

    Online Program

    Job Seekers

    Professional Development

    Student Opportunities Before JSM

    Most new attendees who choose to present their research do so in a contributed session via an oral or poster presentation. The deadline to submit an abstract for acceptance into the program was in early February. For those who did this, additional proof of progress (e.g., drafts of a paper) for the presentation must be submitted by mid-May.

    A preliminary program listing the presentation schedule is now available. Because there may be more than 40 concurrent presentations at any time, it is best to arrive at JSM with an idea of which to attend. This can be done by examining the session titles and performing keyword searches in the online program prior to JSM.

    Oral presentations are separated into invited, topic-contributed, and contributed sessions, with each session lasting 1 hour and 50 minutes. Invited and topic-contributed sessions include groups of related presentations that were submitted together and selected by JSM Program Committee members. These presentations each last for 25 or more minutes for invited and 20 minutes for topic-contributed. Contributed sessions include groups of 15-minute oral presentations. Unlike invited and topic-contributed sessions, contributed presentations are submitted individually and then grouped by JSM Program Committee members.

    Poster presentations are also separated into invited, topic-contributed, and contributed sessions, with the vast majority in contributed sessions. These types of presentations involve speakers being available for questions next to their displayed poster during the entire session. Most posters are of the traditional paper format. An increasing number now are in an electronic format paired with a short four-minute oral presentation. For this combination of presentation types, the oral portion is given first in what is known as a “speed” session. A few hours later, the corresponding electronic poster presentation takes place.

    Online registration for JSM begins around May 1. For members of a sponsoring statistical society, the cost is $455 during the early registration period. The cost increases to $555 if you register at JSM.

    Registration for student members is only $120, and this rate is available at any time. Also starting around May 1, you can reserve a hotel room through the JSM website. A number of hotels near the convention center are designated as official conference hotels, and they discount their normal rates. However, even with a discount, you can expect to pay $200 or more per night for a room.

    Attending JSM can be expensive. Students have several options to reduce the cost burden. First, ask your adviser or department for funding. Many departments offer financial support for students who present their research at JSM. Students also may qualify for funding from the student activities office on their campus. For example, when I was a student, my department’s statistics club received funding this way, which paid for most of my first JSM expenses.

    In addition to school-based resources, many ASA sections sponsor student paper competitions that provide travel support to award winners. For example, the Biometrics Section of the ASA sponsors the David P. Byar Young Investigators Award, with $2,000 awarded to the winner and separate $1,000 awards given to authors of other outstanding papers. Most competitions require a completed paper to be submitted many months prior to JSM.

    At JSM

    JSM begins on a Sunday afternoon in late July. Business casual clothing is the most prevalent attire, but some attendees wear suits and others wear T-shirts and shorts. When you arrive at JSM, go to the registration counter at the convention center to obtain your name badge (if not already mailed to you) and additional conference materials.

    There is a significant online presence during JSM. A main resource is the JSM app and online program. Both contain all the information you will need, including a convention center map. Also, the ASA posts the most up-to-date news about JSM through its Twitter (@AmstatNews) and Facebook accounts. Attendees at JSM can use #JSM2018 to tag their JSM-related posts.

    To welcome and orient new attendees, the JSM First-Time Attendee Orientation and Reception is scheduled for early Sunday afternoon. At this reception, docents will be present (identified with a special orange button by their name badge) to answer any questions you may have about the meetings. These docents will be available throughout the conference as well.

    Later on Sunday evening, the Opening Mixer will be held in the exhibit hall. This event is open to all attendees, and drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

    In between the orientation and the mixer, the ASA Awards Celebration and Editor Appreciation session is held. Many first-time attendees are honored during it due to being awarded a scholarship or winning a student paper competition.

    The main sessions start Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Many of the research presentations are difficult to understand completely. My goal for a session is to have 1–2 presentations in which I learn something relevant to my teaching or research interests. This may seem rather low, but these items add up after attending many sessions.

    For attendees who teach introductory courses, the sessions sponsored by the ASA Section on Statistical Education are often the easiest to understand. Many share innovative ideas about how to teach particular topics.

    Introductory overview lectures are another type of session that has easier-to-understand topics. Recent lectures have included introductions to variable selection, statistical learning, and quantile regression. There are also many Professional Development courses and workshops available for an additional fee. However, you can attend a course for free by volunteering prior to JSM to be a monitor. Monitors perform duties such as distributing and picking up materials during the course. As an added benefit, monitors can attend one additional course for free without any duties. Those who are interested should contact Rick Peterson.

    Featured talks at JSM are usually scheduled for late afternoon on Monday through Wednesday. On Tuesday evening, the ASA president’s address is given, along with an introduction to the new ASA fellows and winners of the Founders Award. The fellow’s introduction is especially interesting because approximately 60 ASA members (<0.33% of all members) are recognized for their contributions to the statistics profession.

    In addition to presentations, the JSM exhibit hall features more than 90 companies and organizations exhibiting their products and services. Many exhibitors give away free items (e.g., candy, pens, etc.). All the major statistics textbook publishers and software companies are there. Textbook publishers usually offer a discount on their books during JSM and often for a short time after. The exhibit hall also includes electronic charging stations and tables that can be used for meetings. Additionally, it’s the location for the poster presentations.

    The JSM Career Service provides a way for job seekers and employers to meet. Pre-registration is required, and the fee is discounted if you register before mid-July. The service works by providing an online message center for job seekers and employers to indicate their interest in each other. Once a common interest is established, an interview can be arranged for during the meetings.

    Other activities at JSM include the following:

    • Shopping at the ASA Store to purchase a statistics-themed T-shirt or mug
    • Attending an organized roundtable discussion during breakfast or lunch about a topic of interest (pre-registration is required)
    • Taking a little time off from JSM for sightseeing or attending a sporting event
    After JSM

    JSM ends in the early afternoon on Thursday. Don’t let what happens at JSM stay at JSM! The first thing I do after the meetings is to prepare a short review of my activities. Using notes I took during sessions, I summarize items from presentations I want to examine further. I also summarize meetings I had with individuals about research or other important topics. Much of this review process starts at the airport while waiting for my return flight.

    If you give a presentation at JSM, you may submit a corresponding paper to be published in the conference proceedings. Papers are not peer-reviewed in the same manner as for journals, but authors are encouraged to have others examine their paper before submission. The proceedings are published online around December. Authors retain the right to publish their research later in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Special Issue Looks at Statistics Behind Defense and National Security

    Tue, 05/01/2018 - 7:00am
    Scott Evans, CHANCE Magazine Executive Editor

      Threats to national security come in many forms. In 2016, Russians hacked the United States election. On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes, killing nearly 3,000 people. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton was convinced the global spread of AIDS was reaching catastrophic dimensions and formally designated HIV a threat to United States national security since it could threaten the stability of foreign governments, touch off ethnic wars, and undo recent advances in building free-market democracies abroad.

      Defense and national security is the theme of CHANCE 31(2), a special issue. Six articles discuss aspects of national security and how statistics is playing a key role in addressing various issues. David Banks and Alyson Wilson served as guest editors for this issue.

      In the first article, Laura Freeman and Catherine Warner discuss implementing statistical design and analysis in the evaluation of the Department of Defense (DoD) operational systems in “Informing the Warfighter—Why Statistical Testing Methods Matter in Defense Testing.” Ron Fricker and Steven Rigdon then discuss surveillance methods applied to detecting and tracking deadly diseases such as influenza (swine flu or bird flu), Ebola, Zika, or SARS. Banks discusses how adversarial risk analysis, a modeling strategy that incorporates an opponent’s reasoning, can be applied to a range of problems in counterterrorism. Douglas Ray and Paul Roediger then discuss adaptive testing of DoD systems with a binary response. The evolution of statistical modeling of military recruiting is the topic of an article by Samuel Buttrey, Lyn Whitaker, and Jonathan Alt. Susan Sanchez discusses the use of data farming, using tools and techniques for the design and analysis of large simulation experiments, as applied to defense problems.

      In an independent article, Beverly Wood, Megan Mocko, Michelle Everson, Nick Horton, and Paul Velleman evaluate clarifications and updates to the six recommendations for teaching from the original, foundational GAISE College Report. They consider evolutions affecting the teaching and practice of statistics, including the rise of data science, an increase in the number of students studying statistics, increasing availability of data, and advances in science and technology. They discuss how the original recommendations can be clarified by acknowledging these developments.

      In the Odds of Justice column, Mary Gray evaluates the death penalty and the role statistics is playing and can play in evaluating its appropriateness. In Visual Revelations, Howard Wainer and Michael Friendly take a historical look at visualization and the profound impact visual communication has had, going back to ancient civilizations.

      All ASA members have access to CHANCE online by logging in to members only and clicking on ASA publications.

      Applications Being Accepted for Diversity Mentoring Program at JSM

      Tue, 05/01/2018 - 7:00am

      2017 Diversity Mentoring Program participants and mentors

        Applications are being accepted for the JSM Diversity Mentoring Program, one of the initiatives of the American Statistical Association’s Committee on Minorities in Statistics.

        The program is designed to promote the statistics profession among under-represented minority populations in the US (African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American). Graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and early-career professionals are brought together with senior-level statisticians/biostatisticians and faculty in academia, government, and the private sector in a structured program during the 2018 Joint Statistical Meetings.

        This multi-day program (Sunday, July 29, through Wednesday, August 1) provides career information, mentoring, and networking activities. Program activities include small-group discussions and one-on-one meetings between mentor-mentee pairs.

        Visit the committee website for the mentee application. Preference will be given to applications received by May 31, 2018. For more information, contact Dionne Swift.

        Arizona Chapter Members Participate in DataFest

        Tue, 05/01/2018 - 7:00am

        From left: Arizona Chapter officers Jie (Jane) Pu, Yongzhao Peng, Shuo Jiang, and Rodney Jee; district vice chair Ji-Hyun Lee; and Jennifer Broatch of ASU-West Campus

        The Arizona Chapter concluded its first ASA DataFest competition on March 25 with excellent participation from students of Arizona State University’s Tempe and West campuses. A total of 15 teams comprised of 49 students finished the weekend-long competition.

        Referred to as a data hackathon, ASA DataFest challenges undergraduates to analyze a large data set from industry over a weekend and present their results before judges.

        Many of the students began learning R for the competition, but at least one of the teams relied heavily on their training in SAS for their data preparation and analyses. Visualization was one of the judging criteria, yet teams were seen learning to use a commercial package like Tableau on the spot for their analyses and presentations. A few teams ventured into building quick models, ranging from logistic regressions, to time series, to machine learning. Clearly, many of the students took up the challenges and used the competition as a way to strengthen their technical skills while conducting data analyses.

        More than 30 mentors signed up to help the students overcome DataFest’s challenges. Most of the mentors were graduate students and faculty at ASU, but members of the Arizona Chapter saw many data professionals from local business and industry participating, too.

        An attempt was made to find mentors who could help with specific languages or software tools and such effort was not wasted. Python and Tableau experts were announced upon arrival and immediately found teams seeking assistance in applying those tools to their analyses.

        The competition finished Sunday afternoon with student presentations of their key findings. The ASU site was fortunate to have a representative of the data donor among the panel of five judges. A senior analyst from the health care sector provided another perspective on judging. ASA members Steve Robertson of Southern Methodist University, John Stufken of ASU, and Ji-Hyun Lee of The University of New Mexico rounded out the panel. Lee, who is also the current Council of Chapters district vice chair, not only judged, but also was present for the entire event. Besides working with the students, she took time to talk with members about the needs and opportunities for leadership roles in the chapters and ASA.

        North Carolina Chapter News for May 2018

        Tue, 05/01/2018 - 7:00am

        The North Carolina Chapter offered the ASA’s statistical leadership course to its members in March. Gary Sullivan from the ASA’s ad-hoc leadership committee came to the Research Triangle Park area to lead a course that included personal reflection, group discussions, and targeted exercises to develop a greater awareness of leadership.

        Local leaders involved in the courses included David Banks of Duke University and Abie Ekangaki of biopharmaceutical company UCB. Banks spoke of his personal leadership development, from working in his role in government to his current position as director of the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute. Ekangaki explained the differences between leadership and leaders and the implications of those differences inside an organization’s structure.