Editor’s Letter – Vol. 26, No. 1

Dear Readers,

In my office, there is a banged-up copy of the first edition of Casella-Berger’s highly acclaimed textbook, Statistical Inference, which not only reminds me of the most exciting course I took in the first year of grad school, but of the fact that how often, as a teacher, I have gone back to it, digging into its rich selection of examples and problems, flowing narrative, historical notes and other miscellanea at the end of each chapter, logical sequence of topics, and cleverly selected quotes from Sherlock Holmes’ adventures. I can only imagine that generations of statisticians (and non-statisticians) have learned the foundations of statistical inference with the aid of this very book.

Back at grad school, there was a fellow who made a reputation for himself by solving every exercise in the book. I also remember hearing a colleague casually referring to the equivalent of the first-year theoretical statistics course in her institution as “the Casella-Berger course”!

I did not know George Casella personally, but when he passed away in June of this year, I turned to his close friend and long-time collaborator Christian Robert, who also serves as the book reviews editor of this magazine, to organize a special issue of CHANCE in Casella’s remembrance. We both agreed it would be meaningful to pay tribute to Casella’s body of work through his influential books. I am sure you will agree that Christian has done a superb job in collecting book reviews from statisticians who not only were familiar with Casella’s work, but also knew him closely. Naturally, this collection includes a wonderful review of my beloved textbook, Statistical Inference.

Also in this issue of CHANCE, Lisa Sullivan, Marie Davidian, Anita L. DeStefano, and Roslyn Stone report on the impressive work of the Summer Institutes for Training in Biostatistics (SIBS), a program in which undergraduates are exposed to the cutting-edge research in statistical analysis of biological data and given a chance to observe, first-hand, the daily routines of professional biostatisticians.

Stephen Robinson gives an exciting description of how he was able to gain an edge over his five-year-old son in the game of Battleship by using a host of probabilistic calculations and large array of simulation studies.

Bhojnarine Rambharat demonstrates how statistical techniques from exploratory data analysis to far more sophisticated validation tools can be used in anti-money laundering endeavors and combating other financial crimes.

From our regular columns, the editors of Taking a Chance in the Classroom use the American Community Survey—a data set available to the public by the U.S. Census Bureau—to apply statistical thinking to dissecting the socioeconomic components of contemporary life in the United States such as health insurance, income, and labor.

Using careful detective work, Howard Wainer re-validates Stigler’s Law of Eponymy in association with the famed Marey’s map, a graphical representation of the train schedules between Paris and Lyon. Wainer’s research results in a revelation: There are at least two personalities whose connection to the maps of train schedules preceded the work of Marey.

Finally, in Statistics and Ethics, Andrew Gelman and Mark Palko magnify the responsibilities that come with public data-sharing in a wider context of informing citizens of a democratic society with factual and reliable doses of reality. A quick look at Figure 1 in this fascinating column provokes the reader to question the means of data manipulation that facilitates the overwhelmingly smooth and stable depiction of earnings of a large corporation.

In my opinion, the predominant threat of these expansive manipulations is the emergence of a “technological rationality,” a term coined by philosopher Herbert Marcuse in his seminal work, One Dimensional Man: What is perceived by the public as “rational” is whatever the “information industry” procreates as a “smooth” and “happy” version of “reality.” The role of the public in decisionmaking, then, is diminished to one of adapting to this indoctrinated rationality, not to challenging it intellectually.

Sam Behseta

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