Statistics. Should this branch of study call its home with mathematics or the sciences? Mark Bailey is a self-proclaimed science enthusiast, so you can guess which way he leans. As a full-time instructor with JMP, Mark use statistics in his job to help customers decipher their data. That means a lot of travel, but he enjoys the variety of interesting people and business challenges. A favorite quote of Mark’s is, “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard.” In his spare time, Mark squeezes in everything from fishing, photography and brewing his own beer to breezing through audio books while he hikes 8 to ten miles a day. Enjoy Mark’s story and also be sure to check out the rest of the SAS loves stats series as we focus on the International Year of Statistics.
What do you do at SAS?
I am a Principal Analytical Training Consultant in the Education division of JMP. I’ve recently celebrated my fifteenth anniversary with SAS.
What’s your educational background?
My BS from SUNY Fredonia, as well as my MS and PhD from the University of Rochester, are in chemistry. I was a science geek for as long as I can remember. You know, dissecting worms and making concoctions in the basement lab. My academic research was in transition metal catalysis (inorganic chemistry) and the mechanism of hemoglobin binding (biophysical inorganic chemistry). I also became the de facto computer scientist in our group for real-time data acquisition and analysis, and early work in visualization of protein structure.
I worked on mechanistic studies of the dry film reagents for a clinical chemistry analyzer in the Eastman Kodak Company Research Labs. I then worked in several venture groups in the Abbott Diagnostics Division. These projects all involved systems for in vitro diagnosis of disease from blood samples. All this time my computing, modeling and statistical skills were stretched as I applied, and helped others with, the design and analysis of experiments and product and process quality studies.
I have been fortunate to work with ‘scary smart’ people all my life. Soon after coming to SAS, my manager, Bob Lucas, acted as my advisor during five years of intense study to make up for not studying statistics in college. Since then, I had course development projects for new subjects that have allowed me to go back to the books to learn a new branch of statistics. My education is far from over.
How do you use statistics in your job?
I teach our users how to run and interpret statistical analyses with JMP. Most of our classes are conducted on-site, at the customer’s place of business. We often customize the course for them. The usual customization is to incorporate their data so that they can immediately see the general idea translated into the specific application. So I constantly use statistics in my job of helping other people to use and understand their data.
What about statistics appeals to you?
I still consider myself a scientist, and statistics is a science, not a math. I am curious about how things work or how to make them work the way I want. Statistics helps me understand such things much better than by observation alone. Statistics can be applied to virtually every area of interest. And I get called to help in many areas as an instructor. To steal a wonderful quote by the late John Tukey, “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard.”
Can you comment on the importance of statistics in education?
So much of what students study in school or will come to deal with in their personal and professional lives involves data. We make large and small decision all day long. Unfortunately, the data or interpretations of it are often misrepresented or misunderstood because the producer or consumer of this information is not prepared. Humans love story-telling, and are naturally attracted to anecdotes, but these isolated and incomplete examples may not be representative. Comparing anecdotes might not inform a decision maker about similarities or real differences. I believe that all of the science departments in the universities should teach statistics around their respective science. The foundations of statistical reasoning and methods should be introduced throughout the K-12 curriculum. I think that it should be a required subject.
What advice would you give to students studying statistics today?
I would tell them that statistics is not a math, which surprises a lot of our students. It isn’t about proofs or just about computation. It is an extension of the scientific method: you postulate a problem (analytical or predictive), identify the data, determine a model, interpret the model, and validate or replace the model. We talk about the model as if it is only a mathematical expression, but it is the heart of our study. It is the ‘word problem’ that my kids hated in grade school!
Humans think about things in their language, in their words. We have to take our whole idea about something and translate it into a form in which statistics can help (like a structural form of the model, the random errors and the method of estimation). The analysis produces statistics or estimates that must then be translated back into words so that we can think about it further. This translation skill is how you maximize the benefit of using statistics in any situation.
Do you have a favorite statistics blog or journal?
You mean besides the SAS blogs? Yes, there are a few blogs: Simply Statistics, Citizen-Statistician, and Perceptual Edge. I read the Journal of the American Statistician, Technometrics, CHANCE, and Significance.
Do you have a favorite statistician?
There are so many amazing statisticians from history to the present time. I think that John Stuart (“Stu”) Hunter epitomizes what a statistician can be. He puts people and their problems first. He is keenly curious about his world, open to lots of interesting problems, and he helped solve many of them. I love the way that he formulates a statistical answer that best suits the situation and then explains that answer, at any level of the problem, perhaps better than anyone else. Dr. Hunter’s life inspires me all the time.
Are there any other hobbies or interests you’d like to share?
As a matter of fact, I have a few hobbies. I like canoeing and kayaking, fly fishing and fly tying, raising fish in aquaria, hiking, brewing my own beer and cooking, and photographing a wide range of subjects. I spend a lot of time with all kinds of music and I read myriad kinds of books. I walk 8-10 miles almost every day and use this two-hour period to listen to audio books. I do not need more interests. I need more time for the ones that I already have!