AusHSI Statisticians in society

Australian Statistical Conference 2023

(L-R): Dr Karen Lamb, Co-Chair, ASC Scientific Programming Committee and Prof. Sir David Spiegelhalter FRS OBE, ASC Keynote, with Dr Nicole White.

By Dr Nicole White, A/Prof Susanna Cramb and Lee Jones

The Australian Statistical Conference is the Statistical Society of Australia’s biennial conference, bringing together members across academia, government, and industry. Held in December at the University of Wollongong, the 2023 conference theme was Statisticians in society, acknowledging the important contributions that statisticians make as technical experts and communicators in an increasingly data-dependent world.

Attending the conference was an opportunity to learn about new developments in statistical theory and practice. Keynote presentations spanned the philosophy of statistics behind personalised medicine, blending statistics with mathematical biology to inform public health policy, Indigenous data sovereignty and effective statistical communication in the media. As the first conference held in person since 2018, it was also a chance to catch up with old colleagues and mentors, as well as meet new collaborators for the first time in person after several years of working together over email and Zoom.

AusHSI members Nicole White, Lee Jones and Susanna Cramb were among the 300 in-person delegates and presented talks over the 4-day conference program. Nicole was involved in organising the conference as the co-chair of the Scientific Programming Committee.

Nicole shared results from a recently completed meta-research study that analysed the characteristics and publication outcomes for planned clinical prediction model studies. Results found that new clinical prediction models continue to be proposed for a range of health conditions. However, less than 30% of planned studies are published within ten years, indicating that more needs to be done to proactively reduce research waste. This study built on previous work that found evidence of questionable research practices when reporting prediction model performance.

Lee shared results from her PhD looking at statistical quality in health research, where 100 papers from the PLOS ONE journal were randomly sampled to examine the reporting quality of linear regression assumptions and interpretation. Only a third of the authors reported on any assumptions, with most authors wrongly checking the Y variable for normality rather than the model’s residuals. Results suggest that for improvements to occur, a change in practice is required across teaching, research, and reviewing, focusing on the interpretation and understanding statistical methods.

Susanna gave a preview of the next phase of the award-winning Australian Cancer Atlas (ACA), planned for release in 2024. The Atlas is an online resource displaying small-area variation in cancer incidence and survival across the nation, and has been used to target health promotion campaigns as well as guide further research. Excitingly, ACA 2.0 will provide small-area health behaviour estimates, examine small-area changes over time for cancer incidence and survival, and include small-area patterns for selected cancer screening, treatment and tumour characteristics. Bivariate maps will allow for two items to be examined concurrently on the map. In addition, there will be an associated site that allows even more detailed exploration of the spatio-temporal cancer patterns.

Members of the AusHSI Statistics and Data Analysis team have held leadership roles across the Statistical Society of Australia, including Adrian Barnett as President (2018 – 2020), Susanna Cramb as Vice President – Membership (2018 – 2021) and Nicole White‘s involvement running the Society’s annual Mentoring program. Current AusHSI PhD student Lee Jones has served as President of the Society’s Queensland branch (2016 – 2018). A list of upcoming Society events, including seminars and workshops open to members and non-members, is available here.