Process to Guide ASA’s Determination of Whether to
Make a Public Statement on a Policy-Related Issue
Background: The ASA is the premier professional association that speaks for the field of statistics and professional statisticians. Consequently, the ASA is often asked to comment about proposed policies, support policy positions, and provide amicus (friend of the court) briefs. The ASA has limited resources to respond to such requests but also has a duty to provide the public with the benefit of its particular scientific knowledge. Further, the choice of issues on which the ASA speaks (and on which it remains silent) may be interpreted as meaningful.
Therefore, the ASA has this transparent process for making a decision about the policy issues on which it has been asked to take a public position. This process was proposed and drafted by the ASA Scientific and Public Affairs Advisory Committee, and then revised after a call for comments in the March 2021 issue of Amstat News. The board considered and approved the process as written below during its April 2021 meeting.
SCOPE AND GUIDANCE
The process set forth here covers ASA Board statements, amicus briefs, and other such positions that go beyond the scope of ASA spokesperson, as stipulated in the ASA bylaws: “The President and the Executive Director are the official spokespersons of the Association.”1
The process below is not meant to apply to the ASA signing or sending of letters, nor to responses to federal call for comments. Briefly, the process for both of those is as follows: The ASA executive director can make the decision if he/she judges the letter or comments align with a previous board decision on the issue (e.g., board statement or other letter). Otherwise, the executive director will consult the ASA Board of Directors. He/she may also consult an ASA committee, section, or other relevant expert. All ASA policy letters and call responses are posted to the ASA letters page. Committees responding to federal calls for comment should make the Professional Issues and Visibility Council aware of the work and welcome comments from other committees.
The process set forth below assumes Article XI of the ASA bylaws holds:
Article XI. RESOLUTIONS
- Partisan Issues. The name of the Association must not be used in connection with support for partisan issues or for candidates for public office. Resolutions by the Board of Directors on nonpartisan issues require approval by two-thirds of the voting members of the Board who are not required to recuse themselves due their government employment or a conflict of interest. When there is concern as to whether an issue is partisan, a majority vote of the voting members of the Board is required to declare it non-partisan.
- Referenda. Upon petition of at least 100 individual members of the Association, any resolution of the Board of Directors, as specified in Article XI, Section 1, will be subject to a referendum by the membership. The resolution will be published in a news bulletin as early as possible. A ballot will be sent to the individual members within 30 days after the publication date of the news bulletin. The will of the membership, as expressed by a majority of those voting, governs.
- Commitment. Resolutions and recommendations of councils, chapters, sections, or committees of the Association will be so phrased as not to commit the Association or its membership
Article XI of the bylaws empowers the ASA Board to act in a way it believes is in the best interests of the association. The bylaws do not require the ASA Board to poll members about decisions the board makes but members are welcome to communicate any opinions to the board.
The board’s questions from 2017 about when the ASA should make a public position, as supplemented below, should be used in evaluating whether the ASA should respond to requests to take a position:
Is the ASA particularly well positioned to respond to the issue?
- Does the issue have impact on the statistics profession or on the ASA itself?
- Does this issue have impact on the quality or integrity of science, including statistics, or on the ability to inform public policy?
- Is there an opportunity to educate about statistics, or is there a statistical perspective on this issue that we should speak to?
- In our judgment, would our members expect us to be involved in the issue?
- Does the issue involve an unambiguous violation of accepted norms of practice in statistical science or the ethical principles of the profession?
- Does the issue relate to possible infringement on scientific freedom or human/civil rights?
The ASA should not wade into discussions more appropriate for expert witnesses, engaging only when—in the judgment of the board—there is general agreement among statisticians with the position stated in the brief.
ASA committees, sections, and other sub-units—as well as the board—also initiate the issuance of the ASA positions discussed here, sometimes at the recommendation of ASA staff. The process for such remains the same, with the board using the supplemented 2017 questions as its guide for whether to proceed and following the ASA bylaws, with this addition: The Professional Issues and Visibility Council should be notified of a statement in development or consideration by the ASA unit leading the effort.
- Those wishing to ask the ASA to take a position will make a formal request to the ASA executive director, with the director of science policy copied, or to a member of the ASA Board of Directors to transmit the request to the executive director.
- The request must include a one-page summary that includes the following:
- A brief, clear statement of the issue to which the ASA is requested to respond, along with the time sensitivity, if any, of the request
- Short explanations of how the proposed statement satisfies the criteria listed above
- Relevant information about those making the recommendation, including any conflicts of interest
- ASA staff will first consider the request, ensuring the application is complete and merits further consideration. ASA staff will also determine the appropriate ASA section(s) or committee(s) to which to refer the request. This step should be completed within a week. Similarly, ASA staff will monitor the progression of the request to ensure a timely response. Once ASA staff has completed this step, they shall inform the Professional Issues and Visibility Council that a committee has been asked to review a request, also naming the committee. Staff may decide the Council of Sections Governing Board should be the entity informed. If staff decide a request should not be advanced, they must inform the requester upon their decision.
- The consulted section(s) and committee(s) will be asked to make a recommendation to the ASA Board as to (a) whether the ASA should provide the requested support and (b) whether the consulted section(s) or committee(s) will draft documents in collaboration with the ASA staff or an independent committee of ASA members or others who might be a more appropriate drafting entity.
- If a consulted entity recommends the board consider the request, it will submit the draft document to the ASA Board for its consideration.2
- Notice of new board statements, and any other public statement covered by this process (e.g., amicus brief), shall be communicated to ASA membership.
1 “When the President is unable to serve as a spokesperson, this role can be delegated to the President-Elect.” Further, the bylaws presume that no other individuals should claim to have authority to speak on behalf of the ASA unless so delegated.
2 To be placed on a board meeting agenda, the proposal must be received two weeks in advance of the board meeting. The board meets four times a year.