The Department of Biostatistics at the Harvard Chan School believes that addressing the greatest public health issues of the 21st century requires bold steps for the future. In the same way we strive to address cancer, climate change, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, we must also view racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, as threats to public health that must be addressed.
While several of our faculty, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and students are engaged in research to combat these threats in the outside world, we are also working to address these issues closer to home– within the greater statistical community and our own department.
As a part of the statistics community, we must confront the uncomfortable truths of the field’s history, particularly with regards to eugenics, and the lasting and harmful reverberations still felt in modern society. Eugenics was once deemed a “scientific movement” and was supported by many of the founding figures of statistics who developed statistical tools with the eugenics agenda in mind. The agenda sought to “improve” the genetic quality of the human population through practices meant to increase the inheritance of characteristics judged to be superior or more desirable. Practices such as mandated sterilization and anti-miscegenation laws were supported by this movement.
As the community confronts our history and works to untangle the ties between eugenics and statistics, it is a good reminder that although statistics is perceived to be an objective discipline, it is not immune to human bias. We must continuously work to identify, address, and work against these biases both in terms of research approaches and institutional structures.
Core Principles and Mission:
- We expressly condemn racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of hate, discrimination, and oppression in all its manifested forms.
- We will continue to collaborate closely with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in support of the school’s mission, principles, programs, and initiatives.
- We will reflect, learn, listen, have discussions, evaluate systems, improve practices, and take meaningful action to drive us toward a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive community where everyone has a sense of belonging.
We must also acknowledge that health disparities still exist in our modern society. Life expectancy, considered the ultimate health indicator, is still considerably lower for those in marginalized communities – even after 100 years of global progress. Environmental racism, bias in the health care system, and income inequality are just a few factors that contribute to the continued harm that historically oppressed people must endure. The quantitative disciplines of public health, namely biostatistics, computational biology, and health data science, play a critical role in ensuring that studies that address health disparities are designed and analyzed with full scientific rigor. The biostatistician’s strength in inference is critical for understanding how to accurately sample a population when researching answers to health disparities.
As a department, we recognize that many of these systemic issues have consequences for our community. Various forms of structural barriers, implicit bias, and inequities have negatively impacted our Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other BIPOC students, staff, faculty, research scientists, and postdocs. It is our mission to proactively break down these obstacles, challenge biases, promote anti-racism, and commit ourselves to equity and justice.
Our department strives to offer an unparalleled environment to pursue research and education in statistical science while standing at the forefront of efforts to benefit the health of populations worldwide. In order to achieve our goals, we must harness the power of a diverse, supported, and empowered community of students, scholars, and administrators.