Professor Nicholas Horton
Nick Horton, professor of statistics

Nicholas Horton, professor of statistics, has been named a fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Horton was elected by his peers in recognition of his “distinguished research contributions to statistical and data sciences, creativity in statistics education and professional service developing curriculum guidelines for statistical education and computing,” according to the AAAS.

Horton and only 395 other scientists won fellowships, which acknowledge “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.” Of those new members, all but four represent major universities and world renowned nonprofits, such as Harvard University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Oakridge National Laboratory and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Horton and colleagues from Kenyon, Hope and Franklin and Marshall colleges are the only fellows this year who are professors at liberal arts institutions.

Horton and his fellow honorees will be acknowledged during a ceremony at the 2018 AAAS meeting in February.

“Statistics and data science make up an increasingly important part of the scientific enterprise,” Horton said. “My own work as a biostatistician involves the development and dissemination of new statistical methods that can help research teams extract meaning from data. Being recognized is important as it demonstrates the key role that statisticians play in this process. 

Founded in 1848, the AAAS is the world’s largest general—and arguably most prestigious—scientific society. It fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in policy, international programs, education, public engagement and more. It includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, and publishes several highly regarded journals, including Science, a leading peer-reviewed academic journal. The tradition of awarding AAAS Fellowships began in 1874.

“I’m delighted that Nick Horton has been named an AAAS fellow,” said Catherine Epstein, dean of the faculty at Amherst. “This is a rare honor, but it’s hardly surprising. Nick is nationally known for both his statistical contributions and his work as a statistics educator. The incredible energy that he brings to his students, his field, and to Amherst College is truly inspiring.  We are extraordinarily lucky to have Nick at the College.”

The AAAS fellowship is not the only high-profile commendation Horton has accepted in recent months. In August, he received a Founders Award, the highest honor of the American Statistical Association (ASA). Two months earlier he won the Harvard School of Public Health’s Lagakos Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognized his leadership and service to his profession. Last December, he was appointed to the National Academies of Sciences Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics; he is the only representative of a liberal arts college on the committee.

Accolades notwithstanding, working with young minds excites Horton the most.

“As a teacher-scholar at Amherst, I have the privilege to work with our students to discover their intellectual and creative passions while helping them develop the ability to ‘think with data,’” he said. “The mission of a liberal arts college like Amherst is to help to develop the capacity of our students to be prepared to enter the world and solve complex problems. What could be more of a liberal art than learning how to make sense of the data that increasingly dominates our society?” 

As an applied biostatistician, Horton’s work is by definition—and in practice—highly interdisciplinary. His research focuses on developing approaches to model complex relationships, analyze longitudinal (long-term) studies and account for missing data. He recently completed a fellowship through the ASA/National Science Foundation/Bureau of Labor Statistics program, where he led a project to methods to “fill-in” missing values in principled ways for the Occupational Employment Survey. He also conducted an important study with collaborators from other institutions that found that depression remains strongly linked to a higher risk of death, and that risk has increased significantly for women in particular in recent years.

Throughout his career, Horton has taught a variety of courses in statistics and data science, including regression and design, foundations of statistics and advanced data analysis. His biggest passions, he said, are improving quantitative and computational literacy for students with a variety of backgrounds as well as engagement and mastery of higher-level concepts and capacities to undertake research. 

Horton earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his doctor of science in biostatistics from the Harvard School of Public Health. Has taught at Smith College and the Boston University School of Public Health, among other institutions. He joined the faculty of the College in 2013.