Archive for Cambridge University

a conversation about eugenism at JSM

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2020 by xi'an

Following the recent debate on Fisher’s involvement in eugenics (and the renaming of the R.A. Fisher Award and Lectureship into the COPSS Distinguished Achievement Award and Lectureship), the ASA is running a JSM round table on Eugenics and its connections with statistics, to which I had been invited, along with Scarlett BellamyDavid Bellhouse, and David Cutler. The discussion is planned on 06 August at 3pm (ET, i.e., 7GMT) and here is the abstract:

The development of eugenics and modern statistical theory are inextricably entwined in history.  Their evolution was guided by the culture and societal values of scholars (and the ruling class) of their time through and including today.  Motivated by current-day societal reckonings of systemic injustice and inequity, this roundtable panel explores the role of prominent statisticians and of statistics more broadly in the development of eugenics at its inception and over the past century.  Leveraging a diverse panel, the discussions seek to shed light on how eugenics and statistics – despite their entangled past — have now severed, continue to have presence in ways that affect our lives and aspirations.

It is actually rather unclear to me why I was invited at the table, apart from my amateur interest in the history of statistics. On a highly personal level, I remember being introduced to Galton’s racial theories during my first course on probability, in 1982, by Prof Ogier, who always used historical anecdotes to enliven his lectures, like Galton trying to measure women mensurations during his South Africa expedition. Lectures that took place in the INSEE building, boulevard Adolphe Pinard in Paris, with said Adolphe Pinard being a founding member of the French Eugenics Society in 1913.

the joy of stats [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2019 by xi'an

David Spiegelhalter‘s latest book, The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data, has made it to Nature Book Review main entry this week. Under the title “the joy of stats”,  written by Evelyn Lamb, a freelance math and science writer from Salt Lake City, Utah. (I noticed that the book made it to Amazon #1 bestseller, albeit in the Craps category!, which I am unsure is completely adequate!, especially since the book is not yet for sale on the US branch of Amazon!, and further Amazon #1 in the Probability and Statistics category in the UK.) I have not read the book yet and here are a few excerpts from the review, quoted verbatim:

“The book is part of a trend in statistics education towards emphasizing conceptual understanding rather than computational fluency. Statistics software can now perform a battery of tests and crunch any measure from large data sets in the blink of an eye. Thus, being able to compute the standard deviation of a sample the long way is seen as less essential than understanding how to design and interpret scientific studies with a rigorous eye.”

“…a main takeaway from the book is a sense of circumspection about our confidence in what is known. As Spiegelhalter writes, the point of statistical science is to ease us through the stages of extrapolation from a controlled study to an understanding of the real world, `and finally, with due humility, be able to say what we can and cannot learn from data’. That humility can be lacking when statistics are used in debates about contentious issues such as the costs and benefits of cancer screening.

just in case your summer of British conferences is not yet fully-booked…

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2018 by xi'an

five postdoc positions in top UK universities & Bayesian health data science

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2018 by xi'an

The EPSRC programme New Approaches to Bayesian Data Science: Tackling Challenges from the Health Sciences, directed by Paul Fearnhead, is offering five 3 or 4 year PDRA positions at the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Lancaster, Oxford, and Warwick. Here is the complete call:

Salary:   £29,799 to £38,833
Closing Date:   Thursday 26 April 2018
Interview Date:   Friday 11 May 2018

We invite applications for Post-Doctoral Research Associates to join the New Approaches to Bayesian Data Science: Tackling Challenges from the Health Sciences programme. This is an exciting, cross-disciplinary research project that will develop new methods for Bayesian statistics that are fit-for-purpose to tackle contemporary Health Science challenges: such as real-time inference and prediction for large scale epidemics; or synthesizing information from distinct data sources for large scale studies such as the UK Biobank. Methodological challenges will be around making Bayesian methods scalable to big-data and robust to (unavoidable) model errors.

This £3M programme is funded by EPSRC, and brings together research groups from the Universities of Lancaster, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Warwick. There is either a 4 or a 3 year position available at each of these five partner institutions.

You should have, or be close to completing, a PhD in Statistics or a related discipline. You will be experienced in one or more of the following areas: Bayesian statistics, computational statistics, statistical machine learning, statistical genetics, inference for epidemics. You will have demonstrated the ability to develop new statistical methodology. We are particularly keen to encourage applicants with strong computational skills, and are looking to put together a team of researchers with skills that cover theoretical, methodological and applied statistics. A demonstrable ability to produce academic writing of the highest publishable quality is essential.

Applicants must apply through Lancaster University’s website for the Lancaster, Oxford, Bristol and Warwick posts.  Please ensure you state clearly which position or positions you wish to be considered for when applying. For applications to the MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge vacancy please go to their website.

Candidates who are considering making an application are strongly encouraged to contact Professor Paul Fearnhead (, Sylvia Richardson (, Christophe Andrieu (, Chris Holmes ( or Gareth Roberts ( to discuss the programme in greater detail.

We welcome applications from people in all diversity groups.


Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2018 by xi'an

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”