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Remembering Karl Menger 2019

Karl Menger

The Department of Applied Mathematics at Illinois Tech will host Xiao-Li Meng, Whipple V. N. Jones Professor of Statistics, Harvard University Faculty of Arts & Sciences, as the 2019 Karl Menger Lecturer. He will speak on April 1 at 6:00 p.m., Hermann Hall Ballroom. The event is part of the twelfth annual Karl Menger Lecture and Awards, April 1-2, Illinois Institute of Technology Mies (Main) Campus.

Made possible with the generous support of the Menger family; Department of Applied Mathematics, Illinois Institute of Technology; and the Menger Fund.

Menger Lecture

Xiao-Li Meng

Monday, April 1, 2019, 6:00 p.m. – Lecture, Hermann Hall Ballroom
“How Small Are Our Big Data: Turning the 2016 Surprise into a 2020 Vision,” delivered by Professor Xiao-Li Meng, Whipple V. N. Jones Professor of Statistics, Harvard University Faculty of Arts & Sciences.



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Illinois Tech encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please call Gladys Collins at 312.567.8980 in advance of your participation or visit.

Schedule of Events

Monday, April 1, 2019

Pre-lecture events will begin at 12:50 p.m. and will take place in Hermann Hall Ballroom

12:50 p.m. – AWM/SIAM Clubs Meeting, Hermann Hall Ballroom
Professor Xiao-Li Meng will give the talk “Bias-Variance Tradeoff: A Fundamental Statistical Principle That Can Render You Love or Pain,” hosted by the Association for Women in Mathematics and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics clubs. All alumni are welcome. Light lunch provided.

1:50 p.m. – Faculty Research Overviews, Hermann Hall Ballroom
Several Applied Mathematics faculty summarize recent research in short-format talks.

3:15 p.m. – Speed-Chatting/Speed-Mentoring, Hermann Hall Ballroom
Faculty, alumni, and students pair up for short conversations to share insights.

4:45 p.m. – Poster Session, Hermann Hall Ballroom 
Viewing of student research posters. Light refreshments will be served.

6:00 p.m. – Lecture, Hermann Hall Ballroom
“How Small Are Our Big Data: Turning the 2016 Surprise into a 2020 Vision,” delivered by Professor Xiao-Li Meng, Whipple V. N. Jones Professor of Statistics, Harvard University Faculty of Arts & Sciences.

The term “Big Data” emphasizes data quantity, not quality.  However, many of the current measures of statistical uncertainties and errors are adequate only when the data are of the desired quality, that is, when they can be viewed as probabilistic samples.  We show that once we take into account the data quality, the effective sample size of a “Big Data” set can be vanishingly small.  Without understanding this phenomenon, “Big Data” can do more harm than good because of the drastically inflated precision assessment, hence a gross overconfidence, setting us up to be caught by surprise when the reality unfolds, as we all experienced during the 2016 US presidential election. Data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES, conducted by Stephen Ansolabehere, Douglas River and others, and analyzed by Shiro Kuriwaki), are used to assess the data quality in 2016 US election polls, with the aim to gain a clearer vision for the 2020 election and beyond.

7:00 p.m. - Awards Presentation, Hermann Hall Ballroom
Presentation of IIT Karl Menger Student Awards for exceptional scholarship by a student and recognition of Applied Mathematics poster exhibition participants.

7:15 p.m. - Reception and Alumni Networking, Lobby, Hermann Hall Ballroom

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Professor Meng will meet with students and faculty.

10:00 a.m. - Research Seminar, Robert A. Pritzker Science Center Room 240
“Is It a Computing Algorithm or a Statistical Procedure – Can You Tell or Should You Care?” delivered by Professor Xiao-Li Meng.

3:15 p.m. - Career Advice Seminar, John T. Rettaliata Engineering Center Room 104
“Conducting Highly Principled Data Science: A Statistician's Job and Joy,” delivered by Professor Xiao-Li Meng.


Complimentary parking is available in all visitor parking lots. Contact Gladys Collins at 312.567.8980 or collinsg(at)iit(dot)edu for details.

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Out-of-state travelers: for questions or hotel suggestions, please call 312.567.3132

About the Menger Lecturer

Xiao-Li Meng, the Whipple V. N. Jones Professor of Statistics, and the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Harvard Data Science Review, is well known for his depth and breadth in research, his innovation and passion in pedagogy, his vision and effectiveness in administration, as well as for his engaging and entertaining style as a speaker and writer.  Meng was named the best statistician under the age of 40 by COPSS (Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies) in 2001, and he is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for his more than 150 publications in at least a dozen theoretical and methodological areas, as well as in areas of pedagogy and professional development. He has delivered more than 400 research presentations and public speeches on these topics, and he is the author of “The XL-Files," a thought-provoking and entertaining column in the IMS (Institute of Mathematical Statistics) Bulletin. His interests range from the theoretical foundations of statistical inferences (e.g., the interplay among Bayesian, Fiducial, and frequentist perspectives; frameworks for multi-source, multi-phase and multi-resolution inferences) to statistical methods and computation (e.g., posterior predictive p-value; EM algorithm; Markov chain Monte Carlo; bridge and path sampling) to applications in natural, social, and medical sciences and engineering (e.g., complex statistical modeling in astronomy and astrophysics, assessing disparity in mental health services, and quantifying statistical information in genetic studies). Meng received his BS in mathematics from Fudan University in 1982 and his PhD in statistics from Harvard in 1990. He was on the faculty of the University of Chicago from 1991 to 2001 before returning to Harvard, where he served as the Chair of the Department of Statistics (2004-2012) and the Dean of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2012-2017). 

About Menger

Karl Menger was a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics at IIT from 1946 to 1971, and influenced many students, fellow faculty members, and friends during his lifetime. Regarded as one of the finest mathematicians of the 20th century, he made significant contributions to the fields of dimension theory, probability, economics, ethics, geometry, and calculus.

Each year we invite an outside speaker to be the Karl Menger Lecturer. It is the centerpiece of two days of events for students, faculty, and alumni.

Further Reading

Previous Menger Lecturers