In the December 2022 issue, we marked 60 years of the Statistical Society of Australia with detailed profiles of four of our members. In parallel, we compiled a list of 60 historical and current prominent Australian statisticians, which we present to you now.
We used several criteria to identify statisticians for this list, aiming to have a range of ages, genders and locations reflected. To begin, we included the past presidents of the SSA, and the first president of the Statistical Society of New South Wales, a predecessor to the SSA. Similarly, we considered those who have served as Australian Statistician or Commonwealth Statistician (head of the Bureau of Statistics) or led one of the many statistics-related divisions of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). We also considered statisticians who were SSA Honorary Life Members, had received an SSA award, or a statistics-related medal from the Australian Academy of Science. In addition, the statisticians recognised by having an SSA lecture or prize in their name were considered, as were those who have delivered any of these lectures. Finally, to recognise rising stars in statistics, we considered those who had received fellowships in statistics from the Australian Research Council. Our preference was to include statisticians who were members of the SSA, although this was not always possible for historical figures who were statisticians prior to the existence of the SSA.
A full list of people meeting any of the above criteria would run into several hundred! For this article, we sub-selected 60 to feature, aiming to reflect the breadth and diversity of the Australian statistical community.
Our final list is shown in Table 1. It includes 43% women and features statisticians from each state of Australia. Notable people in the list include Pat Moran, Kerrie Mengersen, Helen Newton Turner and Frances Hui, who were featured in earlier profile articles in Significance, as well as those below.
Alison Harcourt is best known as the co-inventor of the branch-and-bound algorithm, which is now a widely used method for optimisation in many domains (mostly outside of statistics!). She developed this during research at the London School of Economics in the 1950s. Alison later moved to the University of Melbourne in 1963, where she worked for many decades, training multiple generations of statisticians. It is no wonder that Alison is a well-loved figure in the SSA statistical community, and was named an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2019 in recognition of her service to mathematics and statistics.
E. J. G. Pitman
E. J. G. Pitman’s career largely preceded the establishment of the SSA. Although born in Victoria, Pitman was a professor at the University of Tasmania until retiring in 1962, thus ensuring Tasmania was also represented in our list! Pitman made substantial contributions to both statistics and probability theory. Among his claims to fame, he is known for his work on sufficient statistics and the exponential family of probability distributions. As well as being active with the SSA, Pitman was a founding member of the Australian Mathematical Society. In 1978, the SSA named its most prestigious award after him, the Pitman Medal.
Professor Chris Drovandi
More recently, statisticians like Christopher Drovandi from Queensland are leading in Bayesian statistical methodology. He was awarded the Moran Medal in 2021 (for outstanding research up to 10 years post-PhD) and is one of very few statisticians to have received a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council. His research projects span several areas, including methods for complex models, computational techniques and experimental design.
Finally, Emi Tanaka is a leader in experimental design, data visualisation, and software development in R. She also recently concluded her term as President of the Victorian Branch of the SSA.
The diversity of work undertaken by Australian statisticians is impressive. We encourage you to learn more by visiting some of the links in Table 1.
Happy 60th, SSA. Here’s to many more years!
Table 1. 60 Australian statisticians, showcasing the breadth of the Australian statistical community to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Statistical Society of Australia.