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Internationally recognized researcher joins biostatistics faculty

Andrea Rotnitzky, a well-known biostatistician, recently joined the University of Washington School of Public Health as a professor of biostatistics. 

Andrea Rotnitzky
Andrea Rotnitzky joins UW Biostatistics faculty

Rotnitzky was among the 2022 recipients of the inaugural Rousseeuw Prize for Statistics, a $1 million award that recognized five statisticians for their pioneering research on causal inference with applications in medicine and public health.  

Causal inference is a critical field of study within statistics that provides a formal language and powerful data analytic tools to guide policies and decisions. In medicine and public health, it offers mechanisms to study the efficacy of different treatments and interventions, which allows informed decisions that can save lives and improve patient outcomes.

Rotnitzky’s research focuses on the development of methods for causal inference from imperfect randomized trials and from observational studies.  

“Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are widely regarded as the gold standard for establishing causal relationships between interventions and outcomes. However, RCT’s are often imperfect in that several challenges complicate their analysis, including non-compliance, missing data, unblinding, and limited generalizability, to name a few. As a researcher, I constantly strive to develop and improve statistical methods that can help address these challenges,” said Rotnitzky.

When randomized studies are not feasible due to ethical or practical reasons, observational studies may be used to learn about cause-effect relationships. But these studies are limited and prone to confounding bias, which occurs when associations between two variables are driven by the presence of a third variable that is a common cause of both, rather than a cause-effect relationship between them.

“One of the main goals of my research is to develop statistical techniques that provide an honest and accurate assessment of the extent to which confounding bias has been controlled, while also accounting for the possibility of residual confounding. Ultimately, my aim is to create an inferential framework that is both principled and flexible, enabling a nuanced assessment of the strength of evidence supporting causal claims.”

Rotnitzky said countless factors drew her to UW, but the reputation of the UW Biostatistics Department was a major reason.

“The department has an impressive track record of producing groundbreaking research and fostering academic excellence. The faculty members, current and past, have made monumental contributions that have had a profound impact in the conduct of biomedical studies.”

Rotnitzky also cited UW’s strong culture of collaboration between departments and with affiliated research institutions such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the department and the university as a whole creates a unique environment that stimulates intellectual curiosity and promotes creative problem-solving. Moreover, the Biostatistics and Statistics departments are home to one of the country’s largest and strongest group of young and middle-career scholars in causal inference. This presents a remarkable opportunity to work alongside like-minded professionals who share my passion for the field and for innovative research. I look forward to engaging with the vibrant community of scholars and students in the department and contributing to the cutting-edge work being done here.”

Rotnitzky will serve as the 2023 Prentice Endowed Professor and will give the Prentice Lecture later this year. The professorship honors recently retired faculty member Ross Prentice, an internationally recognized statistician known for his work in the development of statistical methods for health and medical research.