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Real Problems, Real Interactions, Real Outcomes Author(s): Richard Tweedie and Sue Taylor Source: Statistical Science,

Vol. 13, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 1-3 Published by: Institute of Mathematical Statistics Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2676708 Accessed: 08/11/2010 21:38
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Statistical Science 1998, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1-29

Consulting: Real Problems, Real Interactions, Real Outcomes


Richard Tweedie (Resources Appendix by Sue Taylor) Abstract.The Pullmanmeeting IMS-WNARhad,as one ofitsthemes, of In "Statisticalconsulting." this overview the case studiespresented of there,an attempt made to drawtogether is someofthe lessonsofthese the in papers,showing diverseroleofthe statistician collecting, analyzing and presenting information the contained the data. in Key wordsand phrases: Statisticalconsulting, clientinteractions, consulting bibliography, consulting resources

1. THE PULLMANSESSIONS The papersin the Pullmanpanel discussion were presented invitation the IMS-WNAR meeting by at in held at Washington State University June 1996. I organizedthis session. I have, over the years, organizedand participatedin a numberof such sessions at conferences both in the United States and in Australia,and it is clearlya perennialtopic for statisticalmeetings,only perhaps rivalled by sessionson the gap between"academic"and "practical" statisticians,or sessions on how to teach undergraduate service courses in our notoriously uncharismatic subject. This timeI was asked to organizethe session in orderto atone for,or perhaps amplify, some commentsI had made on the role of consultants some In thatthe yearspreviously. Tweedie(1992) I wrote comments consulting the Committee New on of on Researchers Committee of (CNR; New Researchers the IMS, 1991) were "glib": in particular,I diswith the Committee stateagreed ratherstrongly

advice. The client should be responsiblefor the actual analysis." This seemed to me to be very optimistic, perhaps verypessimisticdepending or I In on one'sviewpoint. almostanyinteraction have especiallya with,a statistician, everbeen involved is new researcher, not usually seen by clientsas a will notgo far Statisticians guruon a mountaintop. iftheyadoptthatrole,at least notin a real consulting situationwhere it is criticalto understanda that will interactions varietyof client-consultant consultafor influence the requirements effective views on the tion: see the Appendixfornumerous of role. real complexity the consulting
Moreover, the CNR article advises that "... if

in you have put in substantialeffort, termsoftime or developing new techniques, shouldask to be you on a co-author" the paperthatis assumedto be the I of end-product consulting. feltthat this also indiabout what most cated a seriousmisapprehension was thosewhoserolewas consulting about,evenfor conratherthan full-time to be "new researchers" be (Of sultingstatisticians. course,one might justiment that "... unless you need the data analysis fiablycynical about the reasons for these stateis experience yourrole[as a consultant] to dispense ments:giventhe prevailing criteriaforpromotion in academia in particular, CNR mayhave been the wish in theiradvice.) morerealisticthan one might is Even so, in the beliefthat consulting valuable RichardTweedieis Chair,Department Statistics, of nonacato academicand perhapsmoreparticularly Fort Collins, Colorado Colorado State University, with Deb Nolan and LuAnn demic statisticians, 80523-1877 (e-mail: tweedie@stat.colostate.edu), Johnson organizersat Pullman) a (the conference and Directorof the CenterforApplied Statistical session was organized:the first double-barrelled he in Expertise there; was a consultant CSIRO and problems halfwould describesome real consulting the private sectorin Australia (1974-1987). Sue that mightillustratethe range of activitiesthat Taylor was Consultant, FlindersUniversity South of face,of interestin theirown rightas Australia(1990-1995); she is nowa Ph.D. student, consultants well as illustrative the manyfacetsofourprofesof DenUniversity ColoradoHealthSciencesCenter, of and in sion beyondmere advisingand coauthorship; ver,Colorado,and an activeconsultant epidemithe secondpartwouldbe a panel discussion, ologyand medicalstatistics. giving
1

TWEEDIE ET AL.

with(we hoped) anecdotesand adviceand insights, audienceparticipation. strong well, and the paThis workedout surprisingly part ofthe sesthe are pers that follow from first and wit of experience the sion:regrettably, insight, the secondpart are lost to all but thosewho were and WWW rethere, althoughthe bibliography readersto sourcesappendedwill enable interested on into the available literature this delve further topic and share at least one of the more tangible the bits ofadvicefrom panel. 2. THE PARTICIPANTS In what followsyou will see fourarticlesfrom When inviting fourrather different perspectives. speakers,we looked fora spectrumof statistical the the represent experibackgrounds: participants faculty ences of graduate students,of university full working timeas consultants and ofstatisticians instruin academia, in-housewith a government and mentality in a privatesectorcapacity. U.C. BerkeKarl Broman,a Ph.D. studentfrom of the classic "on-campus" the best ley,illustrates (even a collaboration a interactions: good scientific some new techniques potential co-authorship!); of and an outcome academic neededand developed; value to bothparties.This is verymuchin themold in of the projectsenvisioned the CNR article,but is even here the consultant doingthe analysis,not just assumingthe clientwill carryit out. now at ColJennifer Hoeting,a new researcher orado State, describes the role of the academic on as advisor-consultant a projstatistician funded invesect. She illustrates way in whichcareful the of tigation the data sourcesis vital forany analysis of (and lack ofknowledge the data to be meaningful of or collection, a limitedclientunderstanding the can cause a well-planned analydata understudy, sis to be inappropriate). where the Sue Taylor describes sortofrareproject the statistician actuallyinvolved is earlyenoughto data collection enhancethe and be able to influence As a consultant theAustralian to to ability analyze. StudyofAgeing,she was able to enLongitudinal sure(withmuchwork)thatanalysiswouldactually be carried out on reasonablyclean and reliable data, thus saving a large amountof later workin analysis. BatBob O'Brienfrom Missingis the paper from telle. From the-perspective an in-houseconsulof a problem, tant,he described majorenvironmental role lay in and one wheremuchofthe consultant's to what the real goals and contrying determine straintswere, since therewere verymany stake-

holdersin the problem:statisticalanalysis would provide the answers if only the questions were of clear. This omissionreveals again the priorities even dutiespreclude his manyconsultants: ongoing paper. of the writing a sole-authored Finally,wearingan oldishhat as a privatesector I consultant, describea situationwheremodelling does work,and an appropriateanalysis yields a solution-but yet and effective counterintuitive the data are revisitedand the again, only after is of wholecontext the problem understood. 3. CONCLUSIONS in will findsomething familiar Most statisticians these case studies. our We know that understanding data and the questions of the client are of paramountimporto tance:it is reassuring see an examplewherethe statisticiancan controlthat process (Taylor).We can reveal far more know that close examination than the client originallytold us (Hoeting).We are knowthat problems rarelystandard,and that can come up with at its best statisticalthinking (Broman),or new ways to cope withnew problems we perhaps moretypically can see the role of our and decide how well the old ways fit assumptions (Tweedie). However,in the end, these case studies, and war storiesthatmanyofus tell or have manyother twothingsoverwhelmingly. heard,all illustrate First, no matterwhat subject areas we enter, that was not something statisticscan contribute to and we have much to offer there previously, These examples coverbench realmost everyone. pracsocial surveys, management searchproblems, on problems a local and a tices and environmental none of global scale. Withoutstatisticalthinking, theyshow that themwould be solvable.Moreover, rather it is oftenthe mere fact of such thinking, than the specifictechnicalinput,that proves inhowpowerfully valuable. It is hard to overestimate trainsus to thinkabout complicated our discipline issues in ways that allow us to quicklydiagnose to in difficulties esoteric disciplines whichwe have had only several minutesof introduction-a fact by reinforced these examplesand even further by the referees this collection. of at to for But second, thatcontribution be truly its of mustenterintothe context best,the statistician but not the problem, just as an "advisor," as somethe data, analyze the one preparedto understand withthosewho reallyown the quesdata, interact the tionsbeingasked and consider impactofstatistics withinthe real contextof the problem.The

CONSULTING

Pullman case studies show many of these attributes, also illustrate but the we vividly problems have in achieving such an idealisticstate.
RESOURCES APPENDIX

ZAHN, A. and ISENBERG, D. J.(1980). Non-statistical D. aspectsof DC.

statistical consulting. Proceedings theStatistical In of Education Section 67-72. Amer. Statist.Assoc.,Washington,

Electronic Resources

Bibliography for Consultants

is One ofthe mostusefultoolsforconsultants a of information together other by bibliography put consultants. The papersbelowdo notpretend be to exhaustive: theyrepresent thosethat I have found ofmostuse in myprofessional practice. Theyalso containpointers othermaterialcovto ering a wider range if needed. Those references markedwith an asteriskcontainan extensivelist of statisticalconsulting which are not references here. duplicated
ASA AD Hoc COMMITTEE PROFESSIONAL ON ETHICS (1983). Ethiof cal guidelines statistical for practice: report the Ad Hoc Committee Professional on Ethics.Amer.Statist.37 5-20. J. of *BASKERVILLE, C. (1981). A systematic study theconsulting as in literature an integral part of appliedtraining statistics.Amer.Statist.35 121-123. relationships BOEN, J. R. (1972). The teaching interpersonal of in statistical Amer.Statist.26 30-31. consulting. analysis BOEN, J. R. and FRYD, (1978). Six-state D. transactional in statistical consulting. Amer.Statist.32 58-60. D. BOEN, J. R. and ZAHN, A. (1982). TheHuman Side ofStatistiCA. cal Consulting. Lifetime Learning Publications, Guide. CHATFIELD, C. (1988). Problem Solving: A Statistician's Chapmanand Hall, London. C. statistical Statist.Sci. 6 CHATFIELD, (1991). Avoiding pitfalls.
240-268. J. for pracELLENBERG, H. (1983). Ethicalguidelines statistical tice: a historical prospective. Amer.Statist.37 1-4. B. Consultant HAND,D. J. and EVERITT, S. (1987). TheStatistical in Action. Cambridge Univ. Press.

A search of the WorldWide Web as of October 1996 revealed a large numberof sites relevantto The following just a fewof these; are consultants. we have found them to be useful entrypoints, althoughtheyare by no means intendedto cover resourceavailable on the the growing information WorldWideWeb: Web VirtualLibrary:Statistics, . The World-Wide http://www.stat.ufl.edu/vlib/statistics.html . Statisticson the Web, helberg/ http://www.execpc.com/ statistics.html Resourceson the Web, . Statistics stats.html .stats.gla.ac.uk/cti/links http://www Resourceson . A Guide to StatisticalComputing the Internet, http://asa.ugl.lib.umich.edu/chdocs/statistics/ stat_guide_home.html . An "Essential Book List,"and usefulif a year or twoolderthan desirable, http://www.stat.wisc.edu/statistics/consult/ statbook.html the A veryusefuland up-to-date document, "List StatisticsLists" is also available by sendingthe of one-line message sendminitab list-of-lists to mailbase@mailbase.ac.uk at or by pointing yourWeb browser http://www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists-k-o/minitab/ files/list-of-lists statisdetailsofall current contains This document intics-related e-mail lists, includingsubscription to These enable consultants share inforformation. on mationor conduct discussions a timely basis.

is of the HUNTER, W. G. (1981). The practice statistics: real world

R. JOWELL, (Chairman) (1986). International Statistical Institute Statistical declaration on professional ethics. International Review54 227-242. KIRK, R. E. (1991). Statistical consultingin a university:dealing with people and other challenges. Amer.Statist.45 28-34. of RUSTAGI, J. S. and WOLFE, D. A. (1982). Teaching Statistics Academic Press, New York. and Statistical Consulting.
SLOAN,

an idea whose time has come. Amer.Statist.35 72-76. of conHYAMS, (1971). The practical L. psychology biostatistical sultation. Biometrics 201-211. 27 B. *JOINER, L. (1961). Consulting, statistical. In Encyclopaedia of Statistical Sciences147-155. Wiley, New York.

The J. A. (1992). How to consultwith a statistician. 9 Statistical Consultant 3-4. for *WOODWARD,W. A. and SCHUCANY,W. R. (1977). Bibliography 33 statistical consulting. Biometrics 564-565.