Archive for University College London

down with Galton (and Pearson and Fisher…)

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2019 by xi'an


In the last issue of Significance, which I read in Warwick prior to the conference, there is a most interesting article on Galton’s eugenics, his heritage at University College London (UCL), and the overall trouble with honouring prominent figures of the past with memorials like named building or lectures… The starting point of this debate is a protest from some UCL students and faculty about UCL having a lecture room named after the late Francis Galton who was a professor there. Who further donated at his death most of his fortune to the university towards creating a professorship in eugenics. The protests are about Galton’s involvement in the eugenics movement of the late 18th and early 19th century. As well as professing racist opinions.

My first reaction after reading about these protests was why not?! Named places or lectures, as well as statues and other memorials, have a limited utility, especially when the named person is long dead and they certainly do not contribute in making a scientific theory [associated with the said individual] more appealing or more valid. And since “humans are [only] humans”, to quote Stephen Stigler speaking in this article, it is unrealistic to expect great scientists to be perfect, the more if one multiplies the codes for ethical or acceptable behaviours across ages and cultures. It is also more rational to use amphitheater MS.02 and lecture room AC.18 rather than associate them with one name chosen out of many alumni’s or former professors’.

Predictably, another reaction of mine was why bother?!, as removing Galton’s name from the items it is attached to is highly unlikely to change current views on eugenism or racism. On the opposite, it seems to detract from opposing the present versions of these ideologies. As some recent proposals linking genes and some form of academic success. Another of my (multiple) reactions was that as stated in the article these views of Galton’s reflected upon the views and prejudices of the time, when the notions of races and inequalities between races (as well as genders and social classes) were almost universally accepted, including in scientific publications like the proceedings of the Royal Society and Nature. When Karl Pearson launched the Annals of Eugenics in 1925 (after he started Biometrika) with the very purpose of establishing a scientific basis for eugenics. (An editorship that Ronald Fisher would later take over, along with his views on the differences between races, believing that “human groups differ profoundly in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development”.) Starting from these prejudiced views, Galton set up a scientific and statistical approach to support them, by accumulating data and possibly modifying some of these views. But without much empathy for the consequences, as shown in this terrible quote I found when looking for more material:

“I should feel but little compassion if I saw all the Damaras in the hand of a slave-owner, for they could hardly become more wretched than they are now…”

As it happens, my first exposure to Galton was in my first probability course at ENSAE when a terrific professor was peppering his lectures with historical anecdotes and used to mention Galton’s data-gathering trip to Namibia, literally measure local inhabitants towards his physiognomical views , also reflected in the above attempt of his to superpose photographs to achieve the “ideal” thief…

advanced computational methods for complex models in Biology [talk]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2016 by xi'an

St Pancras. London, Jan. 26, 2012

Here are the slides of the presentation I gave at the EPSRC Advanced Computational methods for complex models in Biology at University College London, last week. Introducing random forests as proper summaries for both model choice and parameter estimation (with considerable overlap with earlier slides, obviously!). The other talks of that highly interesting day on computational Biology were mostly about ancestral graphs, using Wright-Fisher diffusions for coalescents, plus a comparison of expectation-propagation and ABC on a genealogy model by Mark Beaumont and the decision theoretic approach to HMM order estimation by Chris Holmes. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to come back to the Department of Statistics at UCL more than twenty years after my previous visit, at a time when my friend Costas Goutis was still there. And to realise it had moved from its historical premises years ago. (I wonder what happened to the two staircases built to reduce frictions between Fisher and Pearson if I remember correctly…)

and another position in Oxford

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on July 20, 2016 by xi'an

St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, Feb. 01, 2016After a position in Bristol advertised a few days ago, I want to point out there also is a position opening in Oxford, Department of Statistics, in conjunction with a fellowship from University College. The deadline is August 26, 2016, and applicants should contact Professor Arnaud Doucet for details.

Model selection for genetic and epidemiological data [back]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , on March 31, 2012 by xi'an

The afternoon on model choice at the London School of Hygiene (!) and Tropical Medicine was worth the short trip from Paris, especially when the weather in London felt like real summer: walking in the streets was a real treat! The talks were also interesting in that the emphasis was off-key from my usual statistics talks and thus required more focus from me. The first talk by Stijn Vansteelandt emphasized (very nicely) the role of confounders and exposure in causal inference in ways that were novel to me (although it seems in the end that a proper graphical modelling of all quantities involved in the process would allow for a standard statistical analysis). I also had troubles envisioning the Bayesian version of the approach, although Stijn referred to a recent paper by Wang et al. While Stijn has a joint paper in the Series B that just arrived on my desk, this talk is more related to appear in Statistical Methodology in Medical Research  (The second talk was mine and presumably too technical in that I should have gotten rid of the new mathematical assumptions [A1]-[A4] altogether.) The third was a fascinating statistical analysis by Doug Speed of an important genetic heritability paper, by Yang et al.,  where he took the assumptions of the model one at a time to see how they were impacting the conclusions and found that none was to blame. The fourth and final talk by David Clayton covered the role of link functions in GLMs applied to epidemiological models, in connection with older papers from the 1990’s, to conclude that the choice of the link function mattered for the statistical properties of the variable selection procedures, which I found a bit puzzling based on my (limited) econometric intuition that all link functions lead to consistent pseudo-models. In any case, this was a fairly valuable meeting, furthermore attended by a very large audience.

A heap of PhD studentships at UCL

Posted in R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2011 by xi'an

Mark Girolami sent me this announcement for six PhD studentships in Statistical Methodology and Its Application at University College London (UCL) that are great opportunities for anyone interested in computational statistics!

The studentships are attached to the Department of Statistical Science at University College London, and a subset of them are UCL Impact awards. Impact awards support collaborative studentship projects with organisations such as charities, companies, government institutions and social enterprises. The impact awards are joint with Lloyds bank, Xerox Research Centre Europe, and NCR Labs, respectively. Continue reading