Statistics are sexy!

This is from The New York Times (August 6, 2009):

For Today’s Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — At Harvard, Carrie Grimes majored in anthropology and archaeology and ventured to places like Honduras, where she studied Mayan settlement patterns by mapping where artifacts were found. But she was drawn to what she calls “all the computer and math stuff” that was part of the job.

“People think of field archaeology as Indiana Jones, but much of what you really do is data analysis,” she said. Now Ms. Grimes does a different kind of digging. She works at Google, where she uses statistical analysis of mounds of data to come up with ways to improve its search engine. Ms. Grimes is an Internet-age statistician, one of many who are changing the image of the profession as a place for dronish number nerds. They are finding themselves increasingly in demand — and even cool.

I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.”

The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data. In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm.”

Also related, a blog confession by Peter R. Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget:

The President has made it very clear that policy decisions should be driven by evidence – accentuating the role of Federal statistics as a resource for policymakers.  Robust, unbiased data are the first step toward addressing our long-term economic needs and key policy priorities.

In my speech this morning, I noted two particular areas where more and better data would be useful: health care and education.  In health care, bending the curve on cost growth will require more information about how we’re spending our health dollars, the health outcomes we’re producing, and how specific interventions rank against alternative treatments.  In education, better longitudinal data on the progress of individual students, which can be linked to specific programs and teachers, will go a long way to helping us understand what works better – and what doesn’t — and as a result, where to target scarce resources to bolster student achievement.

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