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Lecture to show how statistics help solve world problems, impact daily life

February 2, 2015

Lecture to show how statistics help solve world problems, impact daily life

Topic: Campus News

In the Oscar-nominated film “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, British scientist and mathematician Alan Turing built a computer that cracked the German naval Enigma code, leading to several Allied victories and believed to have shortened World War II.  That was in 1939.

Roderick Little

In recent weeks, investigators trying to locate AirAsia Flight QZ8501 undoubtedly used similar methods, taking what was known about the plane’s flight path and measuring it against intelligence about how such events typically occur, as they determined their search and recovery tactics.

The methods used in both of these cases were based on Bayes Rule, a century-and-a-half-year-old theorem of probability that Roderick J. Little will talk about during his Distinguished University Professorship lecture, 4 p.m. Feb. 10 in Rackham Amphitheatre. Much maligned, Bayesian methods solve real-world problems, and are enjoying a resurgence.

In the lecture, “The Joy of Stats: Much More than Bean Counting,” Little will explain how statistics is more than just compiling data.    

“Everything in statistics is a missing data problem; inferring about things we don’t know from things we know, with measures of uncertainty. I come up with methods to fill in the gaps,” he says of his own work.

“Statistics is fun because it creates bridges to myriad other fields,” Little says. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with colleagues in a lot of different areas, such as medicine, economics, demography, psychiatry, environment, sociology and government. So it’s great to be at a place like U-M that has such an interdisciplinary focus.”

In July 2013, U-M regents bestowed the professorship, which is named for Richard D. Remington, former School of Public Health dean, U-M alumnus and leading public health statistician.

“One of the world’s foremost statisticians and survey methodologists, Roderick Little has done pioneering work in the analysis of data with missing values, model-based analysis of sample surveys, and causal inference,” his Distinguished University Professor citation reads.

Little joined the U-M faculty in 1993 and chaired the SPH Department of Biostatistics for 11 years, during which it doubled in size and became the most highly rated department in recent National Research Council rankings. He also is professor of biostatistics, SPH; professor of statistics, LSA; and research professor, Institute for Social Research.

He recently served a three-year term as the inaugural associate director for research and methodology at the U.S. Census Bureau. He worked with then-Census Director and former U-M faculty member Robert M. Groves to elevate research at the data collection agency.  “Good data are essential for good government,” Little says.

Little co-authored a book “Statistical Analysis with Missing Data” (1987, 2002) and has written more than 250 research articles. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. 


David Olmstead
on 2/11/15 at 4:12 pm

Circumstances prevented my attendance at Professor Little's Distinguished University Professor lecture. Will it become available on transcript or video?

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