Leading statisticians and operations researchers meet in Auckland

20 December 2017

More than 400 of the world’s top statisticians and operations researchers congregated at the University of Auckland last week for a joint meeting of three of their peak bodies.

The Department of Statistics hosted the conferences of the New Zealand Statistical Association, the International Association of Statistical Computing (Asian Regional Section) and the Operations Research Society of New Zealand at the Owen G Glenn building from December 10-14.

To give you an idea of the size of the conference, there were more than 231 individual presentations, exploring statistical research and tools in subjects as wide-ranging as electricity price modelling, the optimal age-weight bands for junior rugby, and ways to measure inflation.

One of the organisers, the Department of Statistics’ Professor James Curran, says a strong theme of the conference was R, the statistical computing language born at the university in the 1990s and now used worldwide.

The conference also marked the retirement of Ross Ihaka, one of R’s co-founders, and, says James, “several big-hitters turned out for R”.

Among the R leaders who spoke were Ross Ihaka, who gave an overview of how R was developed and where it’s going; Jenny Bryan from RStudio in the US; Simon Urbanek from AT&T Labs in the US; and Luke Tierney from the University of Iowa in the US.

A number of delegates shared how they use R in their work, among the topics improving Romanian official statistics and how a New Zealand council uses data on water-pipe breakages to inform its replacement strategies.

The value of such conferences, says James, is hearing about others’ work and discussing issues face-to-face.

“Although we have all sorts of online tools, it’s much harder to develop collaborations over email. At conferences like this, you get really good opportunities to get to know people, get to know their work and set the foundations for work together in the future."

 

Keynote speaker Jennifer Bryan from the University of British Columbia, Canada
Keynote speaker Jennifer Bryan from the University of British Columbia, Canada
Participants at the Department of Statistics hosted conferences
Participants at the Department of Statistics hosted conferences