VanderWeele, Lin honored for contributions to the field of statistics

Xihong Lin and Tyler VanderWeele
Xihong Lin and Tyler VanderWeele

August 11, 2017 – Tyler VanderWeele and Xihong Lin, faculty members at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, have both received prestigious awards from the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS), in honor of their outstanding contributions to the profession of statistics.

The awards were presented on August 2, 2017 at the Joint Statistical Meetings in Baltimore.

VanderWeele, professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, received the 2017 Presidents’ Award. Along with the International Prize in Statistics, the Presidents’ Award is considered one of the highest awards in the field—one of the “Nobel Prizes” of statistics. The award is presented annually to a statistician under the age of 41, and is jointly sponsored by five statistical societies: the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Statistical Society of Canada, and the Eastern and Western North American Regions of the International Biometric Society, operating through the COPSS.

The award citation recognized VanderWeele “for fundamental contributions to causal inference and the understanding of causal mechanisms; for profound advancement of epidemiologic theory and methods and the application of statistics throughout medical and social sciences; and for excellent service to the profession including exceptional contributions to teaching, mentoring, and bridging many academic disciplines with statistics.”

VanderWeele is also co-director of Harvard Chan School’s Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality, faculty affiliate of the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and director of the Program on Integrative Knowledge and Human Flourishing. His research concerns methodology for distinguishing between association and causation in observational studies, and the use of statistical and counterfactual ideas to formalize and advance epidemiologic theory and methods. His empirical research spans psychiatric, perinatal, and social epidemiology; the science of happiness and flourishing; and the study of religion and health, including both religion and population health and the role of religion and spirituality in end-of-life care.

Lin, Henry Pickering Walcott Professor of Biostatistics, Chair of the Department of Biostatistics, and professor of statistics, Harvard, received the COPSS 2017 Florence Nightingale David Award. Sponsored jointly by COPSS and the Caucus for Women in Statistics, this award is granted biennially to a female statistician who serves as a role model to other women by her contributions to the profession through excellence in research, leadership of multidisciplinary collaborative groups, statistics education, or service to the professional societies. The award citation recognized Lin “for leadership and collaborative research in statistical genetics and bioinformatics; and for passion and dedication in mentoring students and young statisticians.”

Lin’s research focuses on the development and application of statistical and computational methods to analyze high-throughput genetic and genomic data in epidemiological, environmental, and clinical studies, and to analyze complex exposure and phenotype data in observational studies. She is coordinating director of the Program in Quantitative Genomics.

In receiving his award, VanderWeele said that he appreciated that his work—focusing on the needs of the biomedical and social sciences—was seen as being valuable to the profession of statistics. “It is from the foundation provided by statistics that so many other disciplines are able to proceed,” he said.

Lin—who herself won the COPSS Presidents’ Award in 2006—said that receiving the Florence Nightingale David award is “much bigger than me,” noting that it is for all women in statistics as well as for all who have made efforts to support and promote diversity in the profession. She encouraged junior statisticians, especially young female students, to pursue their passions and dreams.

“Being able to contribute to the statistical profession has been a joy and a privilege that I am grateful for and cherish every single day,” she said. “Statistical science challenges and inspires me. I cannot imagine a world without it, and I cannot imagine doing anything more rewarding.”

Karen Feldscher

photo: Sarah Sholes