Statistically Significant: Will Fairley Named an ASA Fellow

Will Fairley receives the fellowship award from American Statistical Association President Barry Nussbaum during last week’s ASA convention. Photo courtesy of the American Statistical Association.

It’s a fact: Dr. Will Farley of Swarthmore is one of 52 statisticians among the 18,000 members of the American Statistical Association who were named fellows of the organization at ASA’s Joint Statistical Meetings last week. Fellowship recognizes “contributions to the theory and practice of statistics in law, innovative curricular contributions, leadership in statistical consulting, and service” to the ASA.

Fellowship is permanent; there is no money involved, just the honor of being numbered among the most distinguished members of the ASA. Fellows have been named for more than a century, and are limited to one-third of one per cent (.0033333…) of membership per year.

Will co-founded Analysis & Inference in 1979 in Boston, moving with the company to Swarthmore when he married. The firm, now based in Victoria Mills in Wallingford, consults with law firms, companies, government entities, nonprofits and others, providing data analysis and conclusions based on statistics and probability. Dr. Fairley is joined at Analysis & Inference by director of client services Mares Stellfox, researcher John Livezey, database expert Anteneh Tesfaye, and data scientist consultant Bill Huber.

“Analysis & Inference is a fact finder,” Dr. Fairley said recently. “We ‘work on behalf of’ clients, we don’t work for them. We go in as consultants, not witnesses, and we go where the facts lead us. If you get a reputation for being on one side, you lose credibility.” For instance, he said, the firm consults on behalf of both defense and plaintiffs in the legal matters that make up about half its work.

In a polarized society where propaganda battles increasingly deploy “alternative facts,” such impartiality has become elusive. “It’s a tough environment for facts,” Dr. Fairley said, but no matter the complexity of the data analysis, he said, “We try to present facts as simply as possible.” The essential truths held within data, analyzed honestly, can help bring about agreement and progress rather than discord, with benefits to public policy as well as private citizens and companies.

Dr. Fairley’s contributions to the field include work which has brought about fairer solutions in federal compliance control of state social services, state insurance rate regulations, model criminal procedures, and nuclear power plant safety analysis. His body of work, complementing more than 40 peer reviewed papers and book chapters, made his selection as a Fellow of the ASA highly probable.

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