6,000 Statisticians Are in Washington for International Meeting of Data Junkies

T-shirts on display at the international gathering of statisticians being held at the Washington Convention Center.
T-shirts on display at the international gathering of statisticians being held at the Washington Convention Center. (By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Real superheroes, most people know, skip the capes and tights. Too bulky, too flashy, spandex doesn't breathe well, etc.

Which is why they can be easy to miss when they're in town, even when there are 6,000 of them, super-number crunchers, data heroes, with powers of finding meaning in digits far beyond those of mortal men and women.

The 6,000 is just rough data, not accounting for last-minute arrivals. Their median annual income is $65,720. Their employment is expected to grow 9 percent by 2016.

That's not even getting into their standard deviations.

Ladies and gentlemen: statisticians. At the Washington Convention Center this week for the Joint Statistical Meetings, the largest international gathering of data junkies on the continent.

The geek-chic beacon of hope for a nation of thoroughly confused individuals.

* * *

Signs you are at a statistics conference:

1) In the gift shop, a woman giggle-snorts over a T-shirt reading "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink and Derive."

2) At a job-fair booth, someone has categorized the candy by shape, color and chocolate/non-chocolate.

3) In a dimly lit session -- one of several hundred this week -- a speaker puts up a slide that makes the packed audience groan. It's a public service announcement for colon cancer awareness: "The Early Warning Signs of Cancer -- You feel great. You have a healthy appetite. You're over 50." Some 50,000 Americans will die from colon cancer, the PSA says.


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