I once talked about the relationship between astronomers and statisticians in the slog posting Data Doctors. To astronomers, statisticians are assistants. Statisticians are just helping astronomical data analysis with statistically limited eyes. Less frequently statistical improvements and modification occurred in the astronomical society through collaborations with statisticians compared to other fields.

Not all agree with it. I myself changed this biased opinion to the lesser degree. However, I still think astronomers appear to be full of pride from the eyes of non astronomers.

Having educations from both fields, while learning statistics and being away from astronomy for some years, I’ve tried to talk astronomers if I have some chance. For years I couldn’t get rid of the impression that astronomers are arrogant in a sense that they believe they can do statistics without the help of statisticians. When I was looking for a job as statistician in astronomy, most of astronomers said they only need technicians who are good at coding algorithms including statistical ones. Their behind implication looked as only astronomers do statistics and statistical data analysis with astronomical data.

However, as mentioned above, my opinion has been changed by some degree after coming to CfA and working with CHASC. The reasons for this change are:

  • Assistants can serve arrogant chiefs (this is for a laugh).
  • When you work with astronomers, you don’t feel they are arrogant at all. Astronomers are very passionate about what they are doing and have very pure minds. The passion and objectivity of astronomers is different from that of statisticians, which gave a little barrier me talking to astronomers, particularly when I was looking for a job.
  • Most importantly, astronomers know better in their data, in general very expensive, and the data peculiarity, partially discussed in Quote of the week, Aug. 31, 2007 hinders quick collaborations between two communities (Instead of explaining instruments and physics to statisticians years and years, it could be quicker that astronomers do statistics).

As we separate probability, theoretical statistics, biostatistics, spatial statistics, bioinformatics, applied statistics, data mining, machine learning, etc, I hope astrostatistics could share its position equivalently with other subfields in the statistics community. I hope more astronomers explain astronomy to statisticians with patience. Eventually, the impression of proud astronomers will die and many statistics for improved estimation and inference will born.

[Addendum] A few senior statisticians, in a casual fashion, expressed that my interests in astrostatistics is reckless.

One Comment
  1. hlee:

    To prevent any misunderstanding, astronomy has made a lot of contributions to statistics over the many centuries. Somehow, the strong bond became weak as other scientific fields developed firm relationships with statistics. Regardless of the separation and the prejudice (like my impression of proud astronomers), small number of astronomers and statisticians continue working together and personally I respect them a lot.

    09-06-2007, 9:11 pm
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