Man vs wild data

Keynote address. Young Statisticians Conference 2013.

Abstract:
For 25 years I have been an intrepid statistical consultant, tackling the wild frontiers of real data, real problems and real time constraints. I have faced problems ranging from linguistics to river beds, from making paper plates to selling pies at the MCG, from tax office audits to surveys about the colour purple. University education helps prepare you to be a statistical consultant in the same way that Google maps helps prepare you to cross the Simpson Desert. You have some idea of the main features, but when you get there, nothing looks familiar.

I will describe some of my adventures, and explain how to bluff your way through ignorance, work with completely inadequate tools, and deal with smelly clients. I will tell you the story of the client who wouldn’t give me the data, the client who wouldn’t tell me the problem, and the client who wanted all meetings held at random locations for security reasons.

Along the way we will learn about the skills that statisticians need to survive in the wild.