Neath receives Annette and Henry Baich Award

Andrew Neath, professor of mathematics and statistics, is the 2011-12 recipient of the Annette and Henry Baich Award for his project “Statistical Model Selection and the Theory of Social Choice.”

The prestigious award, according to SIUE’s Web site, is given annually to the most outstanding STEP (Seed Grant for Transitional and Exploratory Projects) grant proposal for basic research conducted within the scope of the Sigma Xi Society.

Andrew Neath, professor of mathematics and statistics, is the 2011-12 recipient of the Annette and Henry Baich Award.

Neath’s proposal stood out amongst the proposals of over 50 other applicants.  The son of two mathematics professors, Neath has been teaching and researching in the field of mathematics and statistics, at SIUE, since 1994.

“I received my Ph.D. from the University of California – Davis and I did a nationwide search; I liked what I saw here [at SIUE] and I took the job,” said Neath.

Over the past 17 years, Neath–who specializes in statistical model selection–has authored 36 research publications and has served as the advisor for 27 master’s theses and 21 senior project papers.

The experienced researcher proposed–in his latest research venture–to create a method for determining models or theories that can more accurately describe experimental data.

“Right now, I’m interested in essentially ‘decision making in the presence of uncertainty,’” explained Neath.

According to Neath, although his topic is a broad one, it accurately summarizes what he believes statistics should be.

“When assessing data, you need to make some sort of a decision–if not make a decision–at least assess your options,” explained Neath. “You have the data available to do that. Now if the data were perfect, then, they would point you to what decision you should make and you would make that decision without err.  But, the data is not perfect; the data is valuable to you because it is leading you towards one of the decisions.”

Neath explains that the question that the decision maker must then address is: “based on what I know and based on what I know from the data, what is the chance that each of these decisions is the correct one?”

According to Neath, this approach has a wide range of applicability.

“A decision could be something like deciding whether one of several medical treatments is the best approach; deciding whether a production process is working properly or not; or it could be based on a theory–the theory of genetics, for example,” said Neath.

The major theory that is driving Neath’s research is voting theory or social choice theory.

Andrew Neath, professor of mathematics and statistics, beat out 55 applicants to receive the Annette and Henry Baich Award.

“In statistics, we’re still in love with ‘taking an average;’ however, that’s just one way of summarizing data. It is essentially the same thing as looking at an election in that each voter has some sort of a belief. But, instead of taking an average of voter beliefs, there are other things that one could do and that’s what I’ll be studying,” Neath said.

Since Neath is researcher for whom voting theory is a new topic, the STEP grant is ideal as it is specifically designed to fund transitional research.

Neath is enthused by the many opportunities that the competitive award will afford him.

“Part of what the award will enable me to do is to hire a graduate assistant. So, I will be able to pass on some direct knowledge,” said Neath. “It has already influenced the way I teach; there are standard ways of making decisions in statistics and, as I’m looking at new ideas, I’m going back and seeing that the standard ways that we’ve been going about it are not the best ways. So, it’s changing how I’m teaching; it’s changing how I’m thinking about statistical decisions.”

Neath added that he also hopes to prepare more research papers to submit to statistical peer reviewed journals.

He further expressed his gratitude to SIUE’s graduate school and its staff for their valuable support of his research ventures.

“It is a great honor.  I am particularly appreciative of the Annette and Henry Baich Award. Annette Baich was a biology professor and I knew her when I first started so I’m appreciative of all those who kept her and Henry’s memory [alive] by keeping an award,” said Neath. “One of the appeals of this university is the ability to be at a smaller university and still have them support your research to the extent that they do here; it really is a remarkable thing.”

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