Statistical Solutions to Environmental Problems

News & Updates

Australian COVID-19 Analysis
April 5, 2020 
State-by-state predictions.

Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission slams CSIRO
January 30, 2019 
Commissioner of the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission, Bret Walker SC, has released his report into the Murray Darling Basin Authority. CSIRO's lack of interaction with the Royal Commission has drawn heavy criticism.

Revised Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality Released!
After 5.5 years, the "Revised method for deriving Australian and New Zealand water quality guideline values for toxicants" has finally been released.

Adelaide Coastal Waters Study - South Australia's illegitimate child.
December 15, 2016 
It's almost a decade since the completion of the Adelaide Coastal Waters Study. Project Director, Prof. David Fox shares some insights into how the study and the final report were managed.

Vale Brian White
21 October, 2016 
One of the country's best mathematics educators recently passed away.

Time to shut down tabloid journals and Academic Doping
19 August, 2016 
The academic and research communities are being swamped under a tsunami of junk journal invitations promising rapid publication in their "prestigious" publications.

Ten Simple Rules
June 21, 2016 

Statistics may be everywhere, but they aren't always understood, calculated, or communicated effectively. After a suggestion from the ASA, a group of leading statisticians penned "Ten Simple Rules for Effective Statistical Practice"  to help researchers avoid pitfalls of misrepresenting data or formulating hypotheses based on faulty statistical reasoning.

Joe Gani on CSIRO
June 10, 2016 
Professor Joe Gani was a distinguished mathematical statistician and was Chief of CSIRO's Division of Mathematics and Statistics between 1974 and 1981. In a 2008 interview he reflected upon his CSIRO years. What's extraordinary is how very little has changed with respect to CSIRO's penchant for change!

As we've long been advocating - it's time this endless, unproductive cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction ceased (or at least had a longer return period).

If you think all the current rhetoric about CSIRO needing to become more relevant, more commercially focused and 'customer' driven is new, reflect for a moment on Professor Gani's experience more than 40 years ago.

Climate Science on the Skids
May 30 2016 
CSIRO CEO, Dr. Larry Marshall makes another extraordinary claim.

New paper published
May 25, 2016 
Professors David Fox (Environmetrics Australia / University of Melbourne) and Wayne Landis (Western Washington University) respond to renewed calls to retain the NOEC in ecotoxicology.

Larry Marshall - Same dog, different leg action
April 11, 2016 
Although CSIRO has a new CEO in Larry Marshall, the 'innovation' rhetoric and restructuring is not. You'd think that with the passage of 10 years, the organisation (indeed any organisation) would be reaping the benifits of structural change. Regrettably, CSIRO never got off the slash and burn treadmill.

CSIRO suffers the bends after Deep Dive
April 08, 2016 
CSIRO in the spot-light again - for all the wrong reasons (again)

Hey Larry - it's not either / or
February 12, 2016 
CSIRO's boss, Larry Marshall takes the axe to climate research

Statisticians and (eco)Toxicologists Unite!
January 5, 2016 
As debates about the legitimacy of NOECs and NOELs continue unabated, we believe it's well and truly time to establish a sub-discipline of Statistical (eco)toxicology.

Revised ANZECC Guidelines officially released!
22 December, 2015 
It's been a long process, but the Revised ANZECC Water Quality Guidelines for Toxicants has been officially released.


SETAC Australasia - Nelson NZ
27 August, 2015 
"Toxicant guideline values for the protection of aquatic ecosystems -  an improved derivation method and overview of priority toxicants."

Rick van Dam, Graeme Batley, Michael Warne Jenny Stauber, David Fox, Chris Hickey,  John Chapman

Is data scientist sexiest job of the century?
19 April, 2015 
A few years ago, The Harvard Business Review hailed the burgeoning role

of data scientist  "The sexiest job of the 21st century" . With big
data technology driving the change, how does the new role stack up?

Social 'Science' - Science No More!
18 March, 2015 
This is not a bad dream - the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology has banned the use of statistical inference!

CSIRO and the Gutting of Wisdom
21 December, 2014 
Read Bridie Smith's story about the impact of funding cuts to the CSIRO.

Hello 2015. Goodby Linkedin
January 2, 2015 
Have you stopped to think about the actual value YOU derive from having a Linkedin account?

Statistical Janitorial Services
December 31, 2014 
We've written about BIG data before and while some reckon it's sexy, you better roll up your sleeves because you'll invariably need to do a lot of 'janitorial' (a.k.a. shit) work first!

The problems of very small n
December 4, 2014 
Professors Murray Aitkin and David Fox are invited speakers at the Australian Applied Statistics Conference (AASC) 2014.

BIG data is watching you
November 6, 2014 
Ron Sandland recently wrote about the new phenomenon of 'big data' - weighing up the benefits and concerns. Terry Speed reflected on the same issue in a talk earlier this year in Gothenburg, Sweeden noting that this is nothing new to statisticians. So what's all the fuss about?
Here's another take on the 'big data' bandwagon.

New Method for Water Quality Guideline Calculations
Sep 15, 2014 
The ANZECC (2000) Guidelines are currently being reviewed.

The Explosive Growth of R
Sept 3, 2014 
Have no doubts - R reigns supreme!!

R - the Wikepedia of statistical software?
August 20, 2014 
The R computing environment is feature-rich, incredibly powerful, and best of all - free! But to what extent can we trust user-contributed packages?

Let there be light!
May 22, 2014 
New Industry Standard for managing seagrasses during dredging projects.

Statistical Accreditation
May 20, 2014 
Make sure you're dealing with someone who knows their stuff!

Job losses at CSIRO bigger than expected
May 15, 2014 
Confirmed in a message yesterday from CSIRO Chief Executive, Megan Clark:

Australian Science takes a hit
May 15, 2014 
Joe Hockey's budget has not been kind to science

Information-gap decision theory creates a gap in ecological applications and then fills it
May 14, 2014 
You may not of heard of Info Gap Decision Theory (IGDT) but don't worry, not many people have.

Probability Weighted Indicies for Improved Ecosystem Report Card Scoring
May 09, 2014 
A new way for calculating an environmental index is described in an upcoming paper "Probability Weighted Indices for improved ecosystem report card scoring" has been published in Environmetrics. Click here.

New Report on Ecosystem Report Cards
April 4, 2014 
'Report Cards' and their associated scoring techniques are widely used to convey a measure of overall ecosystem health to a wide audience. However, as with most things, developing, testing and validating these metrics is not straightforward.

Revision of Australian Water Quality Guidelines
March 27, 2014 
The long-awaited review of the ANZECC/ARMCANZ (2000) Water Quality Guidelines is now well under way!

Turbidity Monitoring clouded by dubious science
February 17, 2014 
Regulators and industry around the country are using a potentially flawed method to set environmental limits on water column turbidity.

Breaking down the team barrier
21 January, 2014 
New research suggests that team effectiveness may actually benefit from tension and hostility.

Mathematics of Planet Earth
May 30, 2013 
Local and international experts come together to discuss how mathematical and related scientific disciplines can be utilised to better understand the world around us.

Canadian Environmental Science and Regulation under threat
12 April 2013 
The Canadian Federal Government is making drastic reductions in the reach and capabilities of its environmental science departments.  Read Peter Wells's Marine Pollution Bulletin article.

High Impact
15 March 2013 
The peer-reviewed journal "Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management" (IEAM) lists Fox (2012) as one of its most accessed articles in 2012.

New Predictive Capability for Dredging projects
29 November 2012 
Environmetrics Australia has developed a unique water column turbidity and benthic light forecasting system.


Breaking down the team barrier
21 January, 2014 

New research suggests that team effectiveness may actually benefit from tension and hostility.

Anyone who's participated as a member of a multidisciplinary team in
recent years may have witnessed a phenomenon known as 'group think'.
This is where there is a rapid convergence of ideas among team members
who appear reluctant to challenge orthodoxy and advance new hypotheses
for fear of being cast as a 'non team player'. Science thrives on
diversity and benefits from the constant poking, prising, and even
tearing apart of conventional wisdom yet over the last 20 years or so the
effectiveness of a team has been measured in part by its ability to
converge to a solution - even when that 'solution' effectively
represents a singular view - usually of the team leader or the most
assertive team member.

Rebecca Mitchell has the full story below ...

Team innovation and success: why we should fight at work

By Rebecca Mitchell, University of Newcastle

When your staff bicker and compete, your initial response should be to remind them they’re part of the same team and encourage them to be friendly, right? Not necessarily; we’re now realising that a level of tension and hostility can actually make teams more effective.

Organisations are increasingly bringing together teams of employees from different parts of the organisation to apply a broad range of relevant skills towards complicated tasks. Over time, these teams can suffer from an over-reliance on shared knowledge and fail to share and discuss points of difference.

This is where conflict can help. When team members are asked to be critical and norms of conflict emerge in a group, members are more likely to share their specialised information, which enhances team performance.

Apples and oranges

Interdisciplinary teams are particularly common in health care, which has been the focus of my research. Teams made up of different professions such as doctors, nurses, dietitians and pharmacists have been shown to improve clinical care, reduce medications per patients and reduce admission to hospital and emergency wards. They’re also likely to be more innovative and more effective than homogeneous teams.

Benefits are also seen outside the health-care industry, with research demonstrating that teams of professionals such as engineers, architects and surveyors are able to decrease costs and design more creative products.

Bringing together different professions poses significant challenges including friction and breakdown in communication. This is explained by theories such as the similarity-attraction paradigm: we tend to like and work effectively with people who we perceive as similar to ourselves – at work this is often based on profession – and dislike people who we see as different.

The typical approach to this dilemma has been to charge leaders with minimising negative dynamics and boosting positive aspects of team interaction. But it is very difficult to reduce the sources of conflict that cause hostility, such as differences in professional status and values.


When team interaction is characterised by tension and hostility, their work can be more effective. Marco Gomes/ Flickr


When team members perceive a threat to their profession, such as pressure to compromise on their profession’s priorities or change their professional approach, teams are more innovative. When team interaction is characterised by tension and hostility, their work can be more effective.

This seems counter-intuitive, but our findings do not advise a team climate that is overwhelmingly hostile and characterised by threat. Successful leadership requires the ability to create a tension between positive and negative dynamics.

Leadership style

Transformational leaders are known to have high expectations and like to set goals and lead by example. They’re also thought to be well-suited to teamwork.

Yet, while these leaders can increase motivation to work across occupational boundaries, this focus on cooperation can lead to premature consensus and conformity. When this occurs, we found that negative mood (reflecting hostility, upset and tension) can provide an effective counter. Negative mood signals to the team that something is wrong, promoting team members to question existing ideas and rely less on assumptions.

In the absence of negative mood, the motivation to work cooperatively reduces effectiveness, but a tension between cooperation and hostility enhances performance.

The same tension between positive and negative dynamics enhances other styles of leadership. Inclusive leaders strive to assure team members that their individual voices and unique perspectives will be valued.

But while creating a participative climate allows team members to express their viewpoints, it may not motivate them to do so. The capacity of inclusive leaders to engender innovation is dependent on whether team members perceive a threat to their profession. Feeling threatened drives members to advocate the distinguishing attributes of their profession’s position.

It is the tension between feeling included and feeling threatened that motivates teams to find a solution that incorporates diverse and dissenting viewpoints and increases the likelihood of innovation. When teams appear to move towards compromise at the expense of dissent and critical analysis, negative mood and conflict may introduce a useful tension.

But managers should be cautious about engendering such moods, which have also been linked to team failure. One approach with potential for encouraging conflict within safe parameters is through interventions such as devil’s advocacy which direct dissent to task-related, rather than personal, issues.

Rebecca Mitchell has received funding from the NSW Institute of Rural Clinical Services and Teaching.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.