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Wednesday, 7 Oct 2015

Will Statistics and OR be Dead by 2050?

By Tony Bendell, chair of the Quality Improvement Section of the Royal Statistical Society

Interestingly, and perhaps ominously, there are members and Fellows within both the Royal Statistical Society and the Operational Research Society who are currently questioning the same thing. Is the writing on the wall for our disciplines, and by implication our professional societies?

The trend for the new generation of data and analytical professionals to not identify as either Statisticians or as Operational Research analysts, does not appear to be abating despite both societies claiming that Big Data and Analytics represent an unprecedented opportunity for their disciplines.

It can well be argued that such mismatches between the perspectives of the established institutions within society and an emerging generation of new professionals is itself an indicator of shifting sands, of emerging practice that will change for ever the status quo that those institutions within society represent. Is this happening? And if it is, is it irreversible?

 If it is, then if we don’t successfully recruit the next generation of professionals into our named disciplines then it is our disciplines that lose out, not only suffering from reduced numbers but also from the competition that the emerging group of professionals then represent. This is a real threat, as by definition they are simultaneously both more relevant to current thinking and needs, and less encumbered by the thinking, traditions and infrastructure of the old disciplines which, if they do not successfully and speedily evolve, must be less relevant today than when they were created.

Learned and professional societies such as ours originated in a world which, compared to the one we inhabit today, was slower and less connected. The societies therefore fulfilled a crucial function, unifying members, providing access to information, peer review and discussion with likeminded professionals, as well as professional status.

But the world has changed. The trend worldwide may be to diminishing attendance at local professional group meetings and a greater use of the worldwide web to provide up to date information. Social media resources are now where we debate, so why should a new generation brought up on transient association with a virtual group on an as-needed  or as -interested basis bother about joining a professional society, especially if the society’s defining discipline no longer directly matches the perceived need in society and within that new generation?

This is something that both societies should debate, and they are together at the RSS at Errol Street in London on 4th December. The meeting is organised jointly by the Quality Improvement Section of the RSS and the ORS, with senior participation from both societies, including the President and Vice President of the OR Society.

This is a topic of great importance to all of us, so reserve the date in your diary now, and come along and have your say.


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