Saturday, August 8, 2009


For Today's Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics
New York Times (08/06/09) Lohr, Steve; Fuller, Andrea

The statistics field's popularity is growing among graduates as they realize that it involves more than number crunching and deals with pressing real-world challenges, and Google chief economist Hal Varian predicts that "the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians." The explosion of digital data has played a key role in the elevation of statisticians' stature, as computing and the Web are creating new data domains to investigate in myriad disciplines. Traditionally, social sciences tracked people's behavior by interviewing or surveying them. “But the Web provides this amazing resource for observing how millions of people interact,” says Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist and social networking researcher at Cornell, who won the 2008 ACM-Infosys Foundation award. In research just published, Kleinberg and two colleagues tracked 1.6 million news sites and blogs during the 2008 presidential campaign, using algorithms that scanned for phrases associated with news topics like “lipstick on a pig.” The Cornell researchers found that, generally, the traditional media leads and the blogs follow, typically by 2.5 hours, though a handful of blogs were quickest to mention quotes that later gained wide attention. IDC forecasts that the digital data surge will increase by a factor of five by 2012. Meeting this challenge is the job of the newest iteration of statisticians, who use powerful computers and complex mathematical models to mine meaningful patterns and insights out of massive data sets. "The key is to let computers do what they are good at, which is trawling these massive data sets for something that is mathematically odd," says IBM researcher Daniel Gruhl. "And that makes it easier for humans to do what they are good at--explain those anomalies." The American Statistical Association estimates that the number of people attending the statistics profession's annual conference has risen from about 5,400 in recent years to some 6,400 this week.
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