Non-fungible token honors a pioneering Yale statistician

The auction honors the Department of Statistics and Data Science's long tradition of academic excellence and will also help fund new research.
The letters N F T in multiple colors.

(Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

Anscombe’s Quartet
Anscombe’s Quartet

S&DS, meet your first NFT.

Yale’s Department of Statistics and Data Science (S&DS) has found an innovative way to honor its long tradition of academic excellence and also help fund new research: by auctioning its first non-fungible token.

Non-fungible tokens, known as NFTs, have become something of a phenomenon in recent months. They are unique, one-of-a-kind digital assets — collectibles, if you will — that reside on a blockchain platform, similar to cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. They can represent anything from photographs and videos to digital sound files and GIFs.

An NFT of the first Tweet, for example, sold for $2.9 million; the National Basketball Association sells NFTs of famous league moments via NBA Top Shot.

It has exploded in popularity,” said Roy Lederman, assistant professor of statistics and data science. “It has taken hold first in the realm of art, but in many ways, I think we are only at the beginning of NFT culture. I think it can also work in the context of research and academia.”

Working with colleagues in S&DS and other departments, including Jason England from Yale Printing and Publishing Services, Lederman helped devise an NFT that honors Anscombe’s Quartet, a classic piece of research by Francis Anscombe, the founding chair of what was then the Yale Department of Statistics.

Anscombe’s Quartet, published in 1973, is a group of data sets with almost identical descriptive statistics. But, when they are graphed, the four datasets have highly different distributions. Anscombe’s Quartet is commonly used to teach why researchers should graph data before analyzing them.

We wanted something simple and classic for our first NFT, something that represents the history of our department, as well as our commitment to teaching,” Lederman said. “This is a tribute to great work of the past and also a way to contribute to future research.”

On Saturday, June 5, the newly-minted Anscombe’s Quartet NFT (minted on May 28) will be auctioned via the web platform Foundation. All proceeds from the sale, minus fees, will be used to help fund research by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers at S&DS.

We have no expectations for a specific dollar amount from the auction,” Lederman said. “It’s an experiment in exploring a new way to fund academic training.”

S&DS has more details on the new NFT here.

I think people are still a little confused by NFTs, which is natural,” Lederman added. “This is a new culture that is starting to form.”

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