Australia Risks Heavyweight Reputation As Data Leads Health Research

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The role of mathematics and statistics in medical discovery is set to grow as researchers use big data to unlock new insights into human biology, says Assistant Professor of Statistics and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Genevera Allen.

Speaking ahead of her AMSI Summer School 2017 Public Lecture sponsored by the University of Sydney’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, Assistant Professor Allen, who is based at Rice University in Texas, says Australia needs to develop the skills to lead in data-driven discovery.

“Globally, we critically need more people trained in statistics and data science. Australia needs to be equipping its workforce to tackle the exciting opportunities created by this data deluge,” says Assistant Professor Allen.

According to the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) the proportion of Year 12 students choosing maths has fallen by 32 per cent since 1995. Confirmed by recent international rankings, this decline is putting Australia’s medical science leadership at risk.

Australia doesn’t need to look far to see the impact and potential of advancing biotechnologies and data science, with the work of researchers such as Assistant Professor Allen already opening doors to discovery.

“The capacity to measure multiple aspects of systems in finer detail than ever before is deepening our understanding of human biology and revealing new avenues for tackling disease,” she says.

Visualising Neural Activity
For Assistant Professor Allen, this includes arming neuroscientists with never before seen insights into brain function and how different regions communicate with each other within the active brain.

“Representing the brain as a network allows us to visualise the brain’s neural activity and explore changes linked to neurological diseases and decline,” said Assistant Professor Allen.

While data is opening avenues for discovery, it is also presenting new challenges, in particular the need to separate true discoveries from possibly spurious findings. This task is made more complex, as new technology generates greater amounts of data than ever before. Assistant Professor Allen describes this process using an example of coin tossing:

“If heads came up 27 times in a row out of 100 coin tosses, you may conclude this isn’t a fair coin. If you went on to flip the coin a thousand, ten thousand, or a million times, would this initially interesting finding still be indicative of the coin being unfair? No!  As data becomes bigger and more complex, we need to use statistics and mathematics to ensure that seemingly interesting findings are actual true discoveries and not due to chance alone.”

Members of the public are invited to join Assistant Professor Allen on 31 January from 6.30 pm at the University of Sydney, as she discusses the revolutionary impact of data science on health discovery.

Setting New Standards for Research Training and Networking
Australia’s leading residential mathematical sciences training event, AMSI Summer School is a four week program providing research students with access to advanced courses, networking and career development opportunities.

“We are excited to welcome Assistant Professor Allen to Summer School. Outreach continues to play a critical role in reinforcing the value and impact of mathematics and statistics,” says AMSI Director Professor Geoff Prince.

A key event in the Institute’s flagship training calendar, AMSI Summer School is jointly funded by the Department of Education and Training and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, with support from The University of Sydney, AustMS, ANZIAM, the BHP Billiton Foundation (supporting the CHOOSEMATHS Initiative), the Australian Signals Directorate, and Optiver.

To register for the public lecture visit,

For Interview:
Assistant Professor Genevera Allen
Professor Geoff Prince, AMSI Director

Media Contact:
Laura Watson
M: 04215 18733
P: +613 9035 3683

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