Department of Statistics

The department in the media

Find our sampling of media coverage featuring the Department of Statistics' research and staff below.

Myrtle rust “tip of the iceberg”, 13 June 2017

Department of Statistics ecologist Dr James Russell says that myrtle rust is just one of the threats New Zealand faces when it comes to alien invaders threatening our country’s biodiversity. 

The longhorn crazy ant, the black rat and the barbados nut are among the list of the top 15 invasive species on island habitats across the world. New Zealand already has 12 of the 15, and Dr Russell says it is “highly likely” the rest will cross our borders in the next 10 to 20 years.

Read the full story here.

Police handling of sensitive crime data causes concern

Radio New Zealand, 21 February 2017

Dr Andrew Balemi comments on the way in which police have used some Statistics New Zealand crime data, saying "It's very, very dangerous – it can be easily politicised... Or something clumsy can happen."

Read the full story here.


Hauraki Gulf crayfish “functionally extinct”, 31 August 2016

Crayfish numbers are so low they are no longer contributing to the ecology of the Hauraki Gulf and are "functionally extinct". The warning comes from Dr Nick Shears of the Department of Statistics and eCoast researcher Dr Tim Haggit. Read more here.

Thomas Lumley talks statistics in the New Zealand Listener

The Department of Statistics’ Thomas Lumley earlier this year  became a monthly columnist for the venerable current affairs magazine The New Zealand Listener, talking about ... statistics. We have collected his first six columns here.    

In Closing the gap, Thomas Lumley poses a thorny question: How much of the difference between women's and men's wages is a result of individual choice?  

Faulty Powers says that one of the problems in developing drugs is detecting serious side effects. “People who need medication tend to be unwell, so it’s hard to find a reliable comparison. That’s why the roughly threefold increase in heart-attack risk among Vioxx users took so long to be detected …”

In Out of control, Thomas Lumley asks: How can a sham medical procedure provide huge benefits? And why do we still do them in a world of randomised, blinded trials?

Failing the screen test says that public screening for disease often sounds good, in principle – but the harm often outweighs the benefits.

In Survival of the fittest? Thomas Lumley says: “Since 1980, your chance of surviving five years after a heart attack has increased from just over 70% to just under 80%. For breast cancer, the five-year survival rate has gone from about 60% to about 85% in the same period of time, and for melanoma it has risen from about 80% to over 90%.

“From these figures you might conclude that breast cancer treatment has improved a lot, treatment for melanoma has not improved as much and treatment for a heart attack has improved slightly less than for melanoma. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that.”

In Computer says no, Thomas Lumley discusses the algorithm-based tools that sift data about us and our behaviour.  “Unlike people, computer programs aren’t embarrassed by their prejudices and don’t try to hide them.”

Striking it lucky

NZ Herald, 29 June 2014

Which Lotteries Commission games give you the best chance of a win? The Herald on Sunday asked Dr David Scott from the Department of Statistics to run the rule over the odds. Read the full New Zealand Herald story here.

Island sanctuaries could be swallowed by sea level rise – study

NZ Herald, 25 Feb 2014

Pest-free islands that serve as strongholds for some of the world's rarest species could be submerged if sea levels rise as high as climate scientists predict, according to a new study co-authored by Department of Statistics researcher James Russell. Read the full New Zealand Herald story here.

Thomas Lumley now Listener columnist

21 Feb 2014

Congratulations to Thomas Lumley, Professor of Biostatistics in the Department of Statistics at the University of Auckland, who as of today is a new columnist for the venerable New Zealand Listener (in the edition dated March 1-7; its cover story is the third anniversary of the fatal Christchurch earthquake).

Read the full cover story here

Crunching the numbers on Lotto strategies

Fairfax NZ News, 18 Jan 2014

Thomas Lumley talks about Lotto Strategies.

Read the full cover story here  


DNA profiling - Statistical analysis

Nine to Noon, Radio New Zealand, 17 Oct 2013

As forensic tools get more advanced, DNA profile can now be produced from one DNA cell and a lot of historic cases are being revisited. James Curran talks to Radio New Zealand about role of a statistician in such scenarios.

Listen to the feature interview on the Radio New Zealand website

Forensic Statistics

Our Changing World, Radio New Zealand, 12 Sep 2013

With advances in science, forensic practitioners can now collect and quantify evidence from crime scenes in more ways than ever before. When this evidence is brought to court, judges, lawyers and juries have to decide what weight to give it. In this preview of an upcoming Royal Society of New Zealand lecture, University of Auckland’s James Curran explains to Ruth Beran how statistics are being used to aid the legal process.

Listen to the feature interview on the Radio New Zealand website

Islands, Rodents and Seabirds

Our Changing World, Radio New Zealand, 12 Sep 2013

The University of Auckland’s James Russell holds a joint position in the School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Statistics, and is an Associate Investigator in the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution. He won the 2012 Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Prize for Emerging Scientist for his work combining ecology, genetics and statistical modelling to solve conservation problems, particularly around rodents and islands. He’s also very interested in taking what we’ve learnt about achieving successful island eradications and applying them to the much bigger challenge of a Predator-free New Zealand.

Alison Ballance joins James and masters student Jemma Welch for a trip to Goat Island, Te Hāwere-a-Maki, in the Leigh Marine Reserve north of Auckland, where they’re combining research into rats and a small population of winter-breeding grey-faced petrels.

Listen to the feature interview on the Radio New Zealand website

Radio New Zealand takes the measure of CensusAtSchool

Our Changing World, Radio New Zealand, 25 July 2013

How much do students’ schoolbags weigh? How much sleep do they get? What are their favourite social networking sites? These are some of the questions asked in the biennial education project CensusAtSchool, run by the Department of Statistics in partnership with teachers, Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry of Education. It’s part of an international effort to bring statistics to life in the classroom – and the kids love weighing, measuring and answering questions about their lives and interests. The Radio New Zealand show Our Changing World joined a Kapiti College year 9 maths class as students collected data for this year's CensusAtSchool

Listen to the 12-minute interview on the Radio New Zealand website

See more media coverage on the CensusAtSchool website

CensusAtSchool on Nine to Noon

Radio New Zealand, 11 June 2013

Rachel Cunliffe works at the Statistics Department at Auckland University and is the co-director of the 'Census At School' project. Rachel Cunliffe spoke with Kathryn Ryan about the CensusAtSchool project, originally aired on Nine To Noon, Tuesday 11 June 2013.

Listen to the 14-minute interview on the Radio New Zealand website

The cost of sending pests packing

Fairfax NZ News, 19 March 2013

"Dr James Russell, a quantitative ecologist in the University of Auckland's schools of biological sciences and of statistics, has worked out how much it would cost to make New Zealand entirely free of introduced pests – $24.6 billion or about 12 per cent of gross domestic product."

Read the full story on the website

Statistics in action at Auckland City Hospital

Radio New Zealand, 24 January 2013

When Auckland City Hospital was experiencing a cardiac-surgery cancellation rate approaching 30%, staff asked University of Auckland statistician Ilze Ziedins for help. Ilze is an expert in queuing theory and probability who often works in areas such as telecommunications and traffic; she jumped at the chance to collaborate on a problem that involved people, and got two of her students involved as well. Alison Ballance, of Radio New Zealand show Our Changing World, went to Auckland City Hospital to meet Ilze Ziedins and Cardiovascular Services Manager Pam Freeman.

Listen to the 13-minute interview

Can you improve your chances of winning Lotto?

New Zealand Herald, 5 September 2012

The Department of Statistics’ David Scott explains why you can’t – but adds that you can reduce your chances of sharing any prizes.

Read the full article on the New Zealand Herald website

Commuter survey ‘can’t be trusted’ – statistician

National Business Review, 31 July 2012

The Department of Statistics’ Andrew Balemi views a publicity-seeking survey with scepticism. “Most people obsess about the sample size, but what I obsess about is the sample quality,” he says.

Read the story at

Professor of Biostatistics Thomas Lumley on Saturday Morning

Radio New Zealand, 2 June 2012

How can genetic differences between people affect their health? The Department’s Thomas Lumley explains genetic research to Saturday Morning host Kim Hill.

Listen to the interview on the Radio New Zealand website

Outdoors: Study throws light on moon factor

New Zealand Herald, 2 October 2011

The question often arises: does the Maori fishing calendar work? To obtain a definitive answer one would have to ask the fish, but as this approach is not likely to achieve much it is more useful to look at a study by University of Auckland Depart of Statistics student, Ben Stevenson, who tried to reach a conclusion in his thesis.

Read the full article on the New Zealand Herald website

Statistics reveal who will win the Rugby World Cup

3 News, 27 September 2011

It’s not just rugby fans who are caught up in Cup fever. An Auckland University professor, David Scott, has been predicting the results and so far he’s had an impressive success rate. So does he think the All Blacks will win the World Cup? And how will the Warriors do in the NRL Grand Final on Sunday? It’s a not-so-secret formula for predicting RWC results; work out a rating for teams based on past performances, then fine-tune and add in the home advantage.

See the full story and the video clip on the 3 News website

Statistics abuse!

Radio Live, 14 August 2011

Chris Triggs, Head of the Department of Statistics, talks about the new blog and why statistical literacy is more important than ever.

Listen to the interview on the Radio Live website

Can you combine a passion for sports and statistics into your career?

New Zealand Herald, 3 July 2011

Meet Bobby Willcox, a PhD student in the Department of Statistics and performance analyst for the Silver Ferns.

Bobby Willcox gets to watch every ANZ game at least three times. She did her project on the Silver Ferns as part of her MSc in Statistics and has not looked back since. Bobby plays a vital role in analyzing the strategies of the game and identifying playing styles within each position- both the Ferns and their opponents. In every game, she gets the best seat next to the Silver Fern coaches whilst she analyses real time data from the games.

“I guess I am proof that you if you study statistics you don’t have to be a maths teacher- you can end up sitting on the sidelines at a netball world championships” says Bobby Willcox.

To date, she’s analysed four major tournaments and loves what she does.

Read more how Bobby’s statistical skills are giving an edge to the Silver Ferns on the New Zealand Herald website

The Department of Statistics' CensusAtSchool survey reveals: Kids fear ABs will choke in final

The New Zealand Herald, 21 June 2011

CensusAtSchool, an online educational survey run by the Department of Statistics, reveal that 83% of students in schools across the country think that the All Blacks will make it to the Rugby World Cup final, but only 41% believe that they will actually win it.

Rachel Cunliffe, a graduate of The University of Auckland and now a co-editor of the CensusAtSchool initiative, found that the children's results were "a bit of a surprise".

These results were in contrast to a survey done among their parents, which reveal that the adults were a lot more optimistic about the All Blacks chances in this year's World Cup.

Read more about the results of the CensusAtSchool survey on the NZ Herald website

Can you trust 'NZ's most trusted' list?

The New Zealand Herald, 21 June 2011

Reader’s Digest's poll uncovers surprising results after it changed the way it asked some of its key questions in its annual survey of the “most trusted New Zealanders”. This throws up some questions on how much readers, without an understanding how statistics can be collected, can trust the accuracy of surveys.

Associate Professor David Scott of the Department of Statistics said that “the newer methodology would probably be emphasizing a different type of person”, hence the surprising results.

Read more about how these statistics were collected from the New Zealand Herald website

Stats Chat investigates the uses and abuses of statistics in the media

Radio New Zealand Mediawatch, 19 June 2011

The Department of Statistics has set up its own blog, StatsChat to help improve statistical literacy, scrutinise facts and figures used in the media and create awareness of misleading statistical information. Stats Chat also aims to provide a valuable archive of resources for the general public.

Rachel Cunliffe, co-founder of StatsChat and a former graduate of The University of Auckland said that the blog would be especially relevant this year as "we will be seeing multiple polls coming out in the election...and helping people to understand those issues better would be the role of the blog."

The Department of Statistics will be contributing regularly to the blog but Rachel hopes that the public will also add their comments and contributions.

To find out more about the StatsChat and the importance of statistical scrutiny in the media, listen to Mediawatch's interview with Rachel on 19 June 2011 on the Radio New Zealand website.

The interview begins 15 minutes from the start of the programme.

Statistician proves he can pick the winners

New Zealand Herald, 14 May 2011

David Scott, an associate professor, professes to know little about league, yet he tips NRL results with the best of them. While you may worship the relentless Michael Luck's crunching tackles, Dr Scott tackles Lady Luck by number crunching.

Read the full story on the New Zealand Herald website

Silver Ferns rely on Bobby's statistical analysis skills to pursue gold

Auckland City Harbour News, 6 May 2011

Bobby Willcox plays a vital role in the Silver Ferns - she gets to combine her love for numbers together with her interest in netball to assist coaches in selecting teams and improving player performance. Netball New Zealand high performance director Tracey Fear describes Bobby as a “key member of the national programme. Selectors can see some real, hard statistics which add another dimension to the selection process.”

The journey for Bobby so far has been exciting; Bobby travelled to two Commonwealth Games and one world championship. And there is the promise of another one taking place later this year.

To read more about how Bobby Willcox uses her statistical skills to assist the Silver Ferns, see the full story printed in the Auckland City Harbour News, 6 May 2011.

Kiwi kids take part in census

TV3 News, Wednesday 4 May 2011

"This year's census may have been cancelled due to the Christchurch earthquake, but some young Kiwis are taking part in a census of their own."

See the coverage of Census At School on the TV3 News website

International children's census next week

TV3 News, Tuesday 26 April 2011

"CensusAtSchool - run by Auckland University's Department of Statistics, the Ministry of Education and Statistics New Zealand - was designed to teach students the value of statistics in everyday life, census coordinator Rachel Cunliffe said."

Read the full article on the 3 News website

Accidental success of an anarchist

North & South, February 2011

"West Auckland statistician Ross Ihaka says he’s 'an anarchist from way back'. And that would seem to be a damn fine trait: the free dataanalysis software Ihaka and his Canadian co-creator let loose on the internet in 1996 has taken the world by storm."

Read the full article
(120.4 kB, PDF)

Anthony Doesburg: Crunching the numbers more vital than ever - Statisticians well-placed in job market as demand for data keeps growing

New Zealand Herald, 1 November 2010

"David Scott doesn't take offence when he hears the words "lies, damned lies and statistics". That might be a bit surprising since number crunching is his job - he is associate professor of statistics at the University of Auckland. "It's just something we have to live with," says Scott. "But to our mind, statistics has got the runs on the board. It's proved itself to be useful in all sorts of areas."

Read the full article on the New Zealand Herald website

Annual awards source of pride

New Zealand Herald, 27 October 2010

"It's time for the annual New Zealand Open Source Awards, and the 31 finalists show an extraordinary range of innovation and collaboration. Among the three nominations for best open source project are: SilverStripe, a New Zealand-made content management system that has been downloaded more than 325,000 times globally in less than four years; Kete, a digital library project, and R, a programming language and software environment that has become the lingua franca for statistical computing and graphics."

Read the full article on the New Zealand Herald website

World-leading statistics education

NZIMA Images, October 2010

"The only talk at the Royal Statistical Society’s (RSS) World Statistics Day event in London on October 20 will be given by Professor Chris Wild, Dr Maxine Pfannkuch and Matt Regan, all from the University of Auckland. The RSS says the paper 'is set to transform the international landscape of statistical education'. Jenny Rankine spoke with them."

Read the full article:

NZIMA Images October 2010
(475.3 kB, PDF)

Rock star of the number crunchers

Mana , August-September 2010

"For most of us, R is the 18th letter of the alphabet, or the label attached to adult movies. But for many of the world's best-known and biggest companies, like Google, Pfizer, Shell, Facebook and Microsoft, R is a must-have software package that has radically changed the way they wrangle data."

Read the full article:

The story of R: a statistical tale with a twist

Computerworld, 23 July 2010

"Next month the creators of R will receive the inaugrual Statistical Computing and Graphics Award from the American Statistical Association. It will be further recognition for Associate Professor Ross Ihaka who won the Pickering Medal in 2008. So what is R, how was it created, and why does it matter to so many in academia — and in business — around the world?"

Read the full article on the Computerworld website

NZ-developed R software exploited by US company: creator

Computerworld, 22 July 2010

"The co-creator of an internationally recognised statistical program called R claims a US company is exploiting the program’s open source licence."

Read the full article on the Computerworld website

Honours pinpoints career path in risk management

New Zealand Herald, 5 June 2010

"Anyone who needs or wants to look critically at numerical information and not be misled should learn more about statistics, says Professor Chris Triggs, Head of the Department of Statistics at the University of Auckland."

Read the full article on the New Zealand Herald website

Academic unfazed by rock star status

New Zealand Herald, 10 January 2009

"As statistician Ross Ihaka was pottering among his tomatoes in Avondale yesterday, the influential New York Times was raving about the free, statistical computing and graphics language he developed."

Read the full article on the New Zealand Herald website

Modelling and heart patients

NZIMA, November 2008

"A chance conference meeting in 2006 started a collaboration between statistician Ilze Ziedins...and Masters student William Chen, and [Auckland City Hospital] unit staff on a queuing model that could simulate the effects of operational changes on patient numbers."

Read the full article
(481.3 kB, PDF)

Detecting gravitational waves from space

Marsden Fund Update, No 39, Aug 2007

"Using new statistical and computation techniques, Dr [Renate] Meyer [from the Department of Statistics at The University of Auckland], Professor Christensen and their students have demonstrated that the highly complex gravitational signals can be deciphered and understood."

Read the full article
(663.2 kB, PDF)

Population genetics in the rat race

Marsden Fund Update, No 37, January 2007

"With the support of a Marsden grant and the Department of Conservation, a team led by Dr Rachel Fewster, from the Department of Statistics at The University of Auckland, has been studying the movements of rats among islands using population genetics."

Read the full article
(453.6 kB, PDF)

Need a statistician for a story?

For a list of people that you can contact at the Department of Statistics, please download the following pdf file: