Promoting Diversity in Statistics & Data Science: Podcast with Dr. Jenine K. Harris

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM

Recently, I had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Jenine K. Harris, author of a new statistics book for social scientists called Statistics with R: Solving Problems Using Real-World Data. Dr. Harris teaches biostatistics courses as an associate professor in the public health program at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her doctorate in public health studies and biostatistics from Saint Louis University School of Public Health in 2008, and is an author on more than 80 peer-reviewed publications and two statistics books. She developed and published the odds.n.ends R package available on the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN). Dr. Harris also leads R-Ladies St. Louis, a local chapter of R-Ladies Global (@rladiesglobal), which is an organization devoted to promoting gender diversity in the R community. Her recent research interests focus on improving the quality of research in public health by using reproducible research practices and increasing diversity in the research workforce.

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Statistics with R: Solving Problems Using Real-World Data is unique in several ways. In an effort to improve representation of women in the data science workforce, Dr. Harris includes three women characters who are experts and learners of R and statistics. She also cites material authored by women when possible and includes a chapter using National Science Foundation data to examine the STEM workforce. Another nice feature of the book is that is uses a narrative approach with each chapter focusing on social issues such as marijuana legalization, transgender health care, opioid overdoses and needle exchange services, and voter fraud, among other pressing public health problems. It also uses real-world publicly available data in order to teach students to think like a scientist. The book uses R, which is open source and therefore accessible to people in low-resource settings.The book has only been out since January 20th, but Harris says she hopes her approach will change how some public health (and other) programs teach statistics and will encourage women in those programs to join the stats workforce.

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Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]