The International Statistical Institute (ISI) is a worldwide network of statisticians in all statistical disciplines. It holds its conference, these days called the World Statistical Congress, every two years, in locations as diverse as the citizenry of its members. These meetings have been held regularly since 1853, although the ISI itself was only formed in 1885. Today they attract thousands of statisticians from around the globe.
I was fortunate enough to attend the most recent Congress in Hong Kong, both as an individual and as the President of the Statistical Society of Australia. It was my third such Congress, having attended the 2005 meeting in Sydney and the 2007 meeting in Lisbon.
One of the consequences of the diversity of membership is the remarkable contrast of workshop and session themes offered during the event. For example:
- A workshop I attended before the Congress itself focused on ethical issues facing statisticians. These ranged from effectiveness in statistical methodology, to resisting pressure to bias statistical outputs, through to the ownership of data.
- On the opening day of the Congress, I was faced with choosing between parallel sessions on the statistics of climate change – one concerned with modelling future climates and the other with problems of reconstructing records of historical climates
- Another session on the same day concerned statisticians in Greece and Argentina being persecuted by their governments for honestly reporting the economic situation in those countries. The ISI was sending open letters to the governments as well as negotiating behind the scenes to protect these individuals.
- Special sessions discussed “big data” and modern machine learning methods. These were interesting in that they bring computer scientists together with statisticians.
- At any time during the five days of the Congress there was at least one session on statistical education, with discussion on what is required to ensure a future generation of statisticians that is well-trained, skilled and capable as well as wider education issues.