Archive for data science

the curse of large dimension [teaser]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on January 11, 2018 by xi'an

machine learning à l’Académie, au Collège, et dans Le Monde

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2018 by xi'an

A back-cover story in Le Monde “Sciences & Médecine” of Stéphane Mallat, professor at École Normale and recently elected at the (French) Academy of Sciences and at the Collège de France, on a newly created Chair of Data Sciences.  With works on wavelets, image compression, and neural networks, Stéphane Mallat will give his first lesson on Data Sciences at Collège de France, downtown Paris, on January 11. Entrance is free and open to everyone. (Collège de France is a unique institution, created by Guillaume Budé and supported by François Ier in 1530 to teach topics not taught (then) at the Sorbonne, as indicated by its motto Docet Omnia, including mathematics! Professors are nominated by the current faculty and the closest to statistics, prior to Stéphane Mallat, was Edmond Malinvaud.)

#isbatoo in The Guardian [without the B word]

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2017 by xi'an

A week after Kristian Lum posted her testimony of harassment at the Benidorm ISBA conference, The Guardian ran a cover story about this with interviews of both Kristian and Katherine Heller, mentioning further incidents with Steve Scott.

“The allegations against Scott, who declined to comment, has shone a harsh light on harassment in the male-dominated field of statistics, data science and machine learning. Some said misconduct was common – especially at conferences that blend professional work with socializing – and that serial harassers rarely face consequences.”

While the article expands on the existing potential for harassment at conferences (with the above quote reminding me of the call for “More Bayes, less booze” mentioned in an earlier post), its tenor is more about AI and technological companies than statistics conference, even less Bayesian conferences. (Just as a reminder, ISBA is taking the situation very seriously and has established a Task Force for a safe ISBA, which can be contacted at

Statistics versus Data Science [or not]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2017 by xi'an

Last week a colleague from Warwick forwarded us a short argumentation by Donald Macnaughton (a “Toronto-based statistician”) about switching the name of our field from Statistics to Data Science. This is not the first time I hear of this proposal and this is not the first time I express my strong disagreement with it! Here are the naughtonian arguments

  1. Statistics is (at least in the English language) endowed with several meanings from the compilation of numbers out of a series of observations to the field, to the procedures proposed by the field. This is argued to be confusing for laypeople. And missing the connection with data at the core of our field. As well as the indication that statistics gathers information from the data. Data science seems to convey both ideas… But it is equally vague in that most scientific fields if not all rely on data and observations and the structure exploitation of such data. Actually a lot of so-called “data-scientists” have specialised in the analysis of data from their original field, without voluntarily embarking upon a career of data-scientist. And not necessarily acquiring the proper tools for incorporating uncertainty quantification (aka statistics!).
  2. Statistics sounds old-fashioned and “old-guard” and “inward-looking” and unattractive to young talents, while they flock to Data Science programs. Which is true [that they flock] but does not mean we [as a field] must flock there as well. In five or ten years, who can tell this attraction of data science(s) will still be that strong. We already had to switch our Master names to Data Science or the like, this is surely more than enough.
  3. Data science is encompassing other areas of science, like computer science and operation research, but this is not an issue both in terms of potential collaborations and gaining the upper ground as a “key part” in the field. Which is more wishful thinking than a certainty, given the existing difficulties in being recognised as a major actor in data analysis. (As for instance in a recent grant evaluation in “Big Data” where the evaluation committee involved no statistician. And where we got rejected.)

positions at QUT stats

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2017 by xi'an

Chris Drovandi sent me the information that the Statistics GroupQUT, Brisbane, is advertising for three positions:

This is a great opportunity, a very active group, and a great location, which I visited several times, so if interested apply before October 1.


Posted in R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2017 by xi'an

A few weeks ago and then some, I [as occasional blogger!] got contacted by to write a piece on this data-sharing platform. I then went and checked what this was all about, having the vague impression this was a platform where I could store and tun R codes, besides dropping collective projects, but from what I quickly read, it sounds more like being able to run R scripts from one’s machine using data and code stored on But after reading just one more blog entry I finally understood it is also possible to run R, SQL, NotebookJS (and LaTeX) directly on that platform, without downloading code or data to one’s machine. Which makes it a definitive plus with this site, as users can experiment with no transfer to their computer. Hence on a larger variety of platforms. While personally I do not [yet?] see how to use it for my research or [limited] teaching, it seems like an [yet another] interesting exploration of the positive uses of Internet to collaborate and communicate on scientific issues! With no opinion on privacy and data protection offered by the site, of course.

truth or truthiness [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2017 by xi'an

This 2016 book by Howard Wainer has been sitting (!) on my desk for quite a while and it took a long visit to Warwick to find a free spot to quickly read it and write my impressions. The subtitle is, as shown on the picture, “Distinguishing fact from fiction by learning to think like a data scientist”. With all due respect to the book, which illustrates quite pleasantly the dangers of (pseudo-)data mis- or over- (or eve under-)interpretation, and to the author, who has repeatedly emphasised those points in his books and tribunes opinion columns, including those in CHANCE, I do not think the book teaches how to think like a data scientist. In that an arbitrary neophyte reader would not manage to handle a realistic data centric situation without deeper training. But this collection of essays, some of which were tribunes, makes for a nice reading  nonetheless.

I presume that in this post-truth and alternative facts [dark] era, the notion of truthiness is familiar to most readers! It is often based on a misunderstanding or a misappropriation of data leading to dubious and unfounded conclusions. The book runs through dozens of examples (some of them quite short and mostly appealing to common sense) to show how this happens and to some extent how this can be countered. If not avoided as people will always try to bend, willingly or not, the data to their conclusion.

There are several parts and several themes in Truth or Truthiness, with different degrees of depth and novelty. The more involved part is in my opinion the one about causality, with illustrations in educational testing, psychology, and medical trials. (The illustration about fracking and the resulting impact on Oklahoma earthquakes should not be in the book, except that there exist officials publicly denying the facts. The same remark applies to the testing cheat controversy, which would be laughable had not someone ended up the victim!) The section on graphical representation and data communication is less exciting, presumably because it comes after Tufte’s books and message. I also feel the 1854 cholera map of John Snow is somewhat over-exploited, since he only drew the map after the epidemic declined.  The final chapter Don’t Try this at Home is quite anecdotal and at the same time this may the whole point, namely that in mundane questions thinking like a data scientist is feasible and leads to sometimes surprising conclusions!

“In the past a theory could get by on its beauty; in the modern world, a successful theory has to work for a living.” (p.40)

The book reads quite nicely, as a whole and a collection of pieces, from which class and talk illustrations can be borrowed. I like the “learned” tone of it, with plenty of citations and witticisms, some in Latin, Yiddish and even French. (Even though the later is somewhat inaccurate! Si ça avait pu se produire, ça avait dû se produire [p.152] would have sounded more vernacular in my Gallic opinion!) I thus enjoyed unreservedly Truth or Truthiness, for its rich style and critical message, all the more needed in the current times, and far from comparing it with a bag of potato chips as Andrew Gelman did, I would like to stress its classical tone, in the sense of being immersed in a broad and deep culture that seems to be receding fast.