New JASA Co-Editors Discuss Inspiration, Plans

In January, Jane-Ling Wang, Ian McKeague, and Marina Vannucci became the Theory and Methods co-editors of our flagship publication, the Journal of the American Statistical Association (JASA) . Here, we ask them a few questions to find out more about them as editors and what the job entails.


Ian McKeague - Columbia University

Ian McKeague - Columbia University

Marina Vannucci - Rice University

Marina Vannucci - Rice University

Jane-Ling Wang - University of California, Davis

Jane-Ling Wang - University of California, Davis

What or who inspired each of you to be a statistician?

Jane-Ling Wang: No particular person or cause. It might be attributed to a growing awareness among my classmates from National Taiwan University that statistics was the best playground for mathematics. We were the first generation of mathematics majors to choose statistics as our PhD training. Prior to that, only very few had switched to statistics for a PhD but, in our class, 11 out of the 45 graduating majors eventually completed a PhD degree in statistics, so it was a real fashion. In my own case, I first went to UC Santa Barbara for a PhD in mathematics but decided to pursue a career in statistics from UC Berkeley two years later. That was a decision I never regretted.

Ian McKeague: It is hard to put a finger on this. It was probably a combination of growing up in New Zealand, where statistics was and still is an important part of the high-school curriculum, along with an early interest in geology and physics (Ernest Rutherford has inspired many a New Zealander in that way). This led me to study mathematics at Cambridge University in the 1970s, where a number of influential probabilists and statisticians were active. These included Bruce M. Brown, who taught an inspiring course on statistical inference; Andrew Barbour, who supervised students in probability and Markov methods; and David G. Kendall, who was head of the statistical laboratory at the time. Ross Leadbetter later inspired me to do a PhD in statistics at UNC Chapel Hill.

Marina Vannucci: After getting my BS in mathematics, I was awarded a fellowship from IBM to work on “statistical software evaluation.” That experience inspired me to eventually pursue a PhD in statistics. Later on, a recognition that was particularly instrumental to my career was the SIS (Italian Statistical Society) prize, “Best Doctoral Thesis in Statistics,” that I won for my PhD thesis work on the application of wavelets in statistics. It came at a point in my life when I was trying to decide what to do next and gave me confidence in myself and in my abilities as a researcher. Why did each of you accept the position as co-editor? Jane-Ling Wang: It was an easy decision as JASA is a premier statistics journal with a top-notch editorial board. The opportunity to work with and learn from those talented associate editors was a major draw, as was the opportunity to get first-hand opportunities to learn about new developments in the field. Where else would I get such a unique opportunity to expand my scientific horizon?

Ian McKeague: Mainly because I was flattered to be asked! I also felt that it would be rewarding to contribute to the continued success of JASA as one of the premier statistical journals in the world. Marina Vannucci: Service to the profession is something I value and an aspect of my professional career to which I have dedicated considerable effort, never shying away from time-consuming and, at times, challenging roles. I am particularly proud of my editorial work, which includes serving as editor-in-chief of the journal Bayesian Analysis and, currently, as co-editor of JASA Theory & Methods.

What is the most challenging part of being a Theory and Methods co-editor?

Jane-Ling Wang: Rejecting a good paper, especially one from a junior researcher. JASA has very limited space and can only publish about 10% of the submitted papers, so many interesting and strong papers do not make it to acceptance. Ian McKeague: Certainly, it is an enormous amount of work, and not to be taken on lightly, but the rewards are numerous, especially in having a role in shaping the future of the field, and in the sheer intellectual enjoyment of it. Another challenge is the difficulty in handling unconventional submissions that fall outside the usual scope of JASA, especially when there is no associate editor with expertise in the area.

Marina Vannucci: Having organizational skills is key to the job. As editor, I make sure that high-quality submissions go through a rigorous review process, while working with associate editors (AEs) to ensure timely reviews. I communicate with AEs, referees, and authors in a constructive and transparent manner. I respond to comments from the authors and am willing to reconsider my decisions, after appropriate consultation with the AE. I set aside specific time daily to handle my editorial responsibilities, which helps in keeping my head above water!

Have you made any specific changes to the section, or do you plan to in the future?

All: The major change we have worked on is recruiting [more than] 30 new associate editors, while letting go [of] about 40. This change was important to reflect emerging areas and to bring in a fresh cohort of associate editors.

In addition to revamping the AE board, we have added a new option of “reject and resubmit” for papers under the first review, which allows resubmission if a paper shows promise but is not acceptable in its current form.

Also, over the last year, we have engaged in extensive discussions with Chris Paciorek and Heping Zhang to introduce a reproducibility review process for Theory and Methods that is similar to the current one for Applications and Case Studies. The reproducibility associate editors for A&CS have also contributed greatly to these discussions. The upshot is a plan that, beginning on September 1, 2021, authors submitting to Theory and Methods will be expected to provide relevant code and data upon submission of an invited revision (code and data will not be required at the initial submission, unlike A&CS). The plan will be announced in an upcoming issue of Amstat News.