Little Bits of History

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2011

American Statistical Association logo

November 27, 1839: The American Statistical Association (ASA) is formed in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the second oldest continually operating professional society in the US. A meeting held at the American Education Society found five influential men wanting a new organization to help further statistical science. Richard Fletcher was elected the first President and Lemuel Shattuck was named the first Secretary. The latter was the driving force behind the young society.

At the first annual meeting held in February 1840, the name of the Society changed to the Association designation and it has remained as such since that time. There have been many distinguished people who belonged to the group. Florence Nightingale, Alexander Graham Bell, Herman Hollerith, Andrew Carnegie, and Martin Van Buren were all members at one time.

Since the beginning, the ASA has had a close relationship with the US government and especially the US Bureau of the Census. In 1844, the ASA petitioned for a revision of the Sixth Census to generate more accurate data. Many of the early Censuses were led by members of the ASA. In fact, the first permanent director of the census office was S.N.D. North, the sixth president of the ASA. The current director, Robert Groves, is also an ASA member.

The ASA’s mission is six-fold. They 1) support excellence in statistical practice, research, journals, and meetings. 2) work for improvement of statistical education at all levels. 3) promote the proper application of statistics. 4) anticipate and meet member needs 5) use the discipline of statistics to enhance human welfare. and 6) seek opportunities to advance the statistical profession.

There are currently about 18,000 members in the ASA. Many of them can be found in government, education, and the private sector. The ASA is involved in a variety of projects throughout the US and in 90 countries where they are active. They wish to provide a path to improvement in the sciences, ranging from biological to socio-economic to the physical sciences. They are guided by ethical guidelines addressing eight topic areas. They publish a variety of journals, magazines, and books along with conference proceedings – all to keep their membership and the world at large informed.

“An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination.” – Andrew Lang

“Be able to analyze statistics, which can be used to support or undercut almost any argument.” – Marilyn vos Savant

“Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” – Stanley Marcus

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” – Mark Twain

Also on this day:
First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II calls for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
No Twinkies – In 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered.

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