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PROFILES

Kaiser Fung

by Kate Meersschaert

March 04, 2013

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Kaiser Fung has over 15 years experience as a statistician, analyst and statistical data mining methodology expert. Perhaps most interesting to young students of statistics and the growing legion of data visualization fans, he is responsible for a whole genre of critical examinations of data and graphics found in the media, Junk Charts. He marries his interests with both the practical and theoretical side of statistics through his work teaching students at NYU.

EXCLUSIVE NLT INTERVIEW

Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer: I'm one of the lucky people who can honestly say that I'm applying what I learned at school every day. I'm a business statistician, using data to solve business problems. I started my career in management consulting, and it took a few side-tracks before I settled into my current career path, but with the rise of analytics and Big Data, this path looks bright!

Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: My experience working in the business setting has been very influential because every day I have to explain statistics to people who don't have the mathematical training and see the world in a different way. Writing presentations is a terrifically useful way to test my own reasoning because it requires me to develop a coherent theory and supporting evidence. Contrary to others in my field, I love making PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentations. Blogging is also great as I learn how readers respond to my writing.

Question: How do you hope your work will change the learning landscape?
Answer: One of the reviewers of my book commented that it's a book about statistics without statistics. I think this statement captures very well what I hope to accomplish. Most of us are drivers, but few of us know how to build a car. We can understand and use data without knowing how to design algorithms. Through my writing, I hope to show people that statistics can be taught as liberal arts; it doesn't have to be taught as mathematics.

Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: In teaching of statistics, I hope that introductory courses will be developed which involve no formulas at all. With the recent development of some amazing interactive and visualization software, I believe we are closer than ever to such courses. The first thing I tell my NYU class is that there are no correct answers in statistics; once we start teaching the subject as liberal arts, we will discover different teaching tools such as case discussion, critical readings and essays.

Question:What are you currently working on & What is your next big project?
Answer: I have a second book in the works, and it should interest the educational community. In this book, I show how normal people can use simple tools to think critically about the numbers all around us. I feel it's important as the citizen's response to Big Data.

Kaiser Fung is currently VP of Business Intelligence and Analytics at Vimeo. He has designed and implemented statistical and data mining methodologies for SiriusXM Radio, American Express, [X+1] (digital advertising), and Sonus Networks. Fung is also the author of, 'Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability and Statistics on Everything You Do' (McGraw-Hill, 2010). He has an MBA from Harvard Business School, and holds engineering and statistics degrees from Princeton and Cambridge. He is also an adjunct professor at New York University where he teaches practical statistics for managers.

Image: Courtesy of Kaiser Fung