2015 Conference and AGM
Saturday 7 March, 2015
Conway hall, 25 REd Lion square, london WC1R 4RL
Coffee & registration 9:00 am. 9:15 start, 5:00 close. 5:15 AGM
Conference Theme: Good data, good policy? Taking place in the run-up to the May 2015 general Election, the conference will focus on public policy and its relationship with the availability of ‘good data’. We aim to address questions such as: How good is the data we have, and is it used well for policy-making? What are the possibilities for the production and democratic use of good statistics, and the threats to such developments?
View the full programme of talks and break-out sessions.
Further information here
Register via Eventbrite
Plus, thinking of coming along for the welcome reception?
Lucas Arms, 245A Grays Inn Rd, WC1X 8QY
Friday 6th March, 6:30-10:30 pm
Suggestions for those who wish to read something beforehand:
1. the set of critiques published in Real World Economics, including articles by Yanis Varoufakis (quite mathematical!) and by Ann Pettifor (et al.) who spoke at RadStats 2012:
2. interview of Varoufakis by the head of the Henry George School:
On 19 January 2015, I attended the meeting on Big Data at the RSS. The speakers included: Kenneth Cukier (Data Editor at The Economist); Haishan Fu (Director of Development Data Group at the World Bank); Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland (Professor at MIT and Academic Director of Data-Pop Alliance); Nuria Oliver (Scientific Director at Telefonica); John Pullinger (UK National Statistician), with Denise Lievesley (Dean of Faculty, King’s College) as Chair.
It is impossible to summarise the contributions or the excellent discussion, but here are some comments (recorded approximately) that give a flavour of the discussion.
Kenneth Cukier: “Big Data allows data to be produced as frequently as is needed, not at the convenience of the producers.”
Haishan Fu: “The WB’s aim is to support national data producers and to incentivise the private sector … with a particular aim to help poorer countries ‘leap-frog’ to catch up”.
Nuria Oliver: “Access to data from phone systems allows inferences, at macro levels about responses to large-scale flooding, and at individual levels about the socio-economic status of the user or their likely responses on a range of social issues.”
Sandy Pentland: “Having access to more data will allow us to solve more problems … data [ownership? / access?] should be decentralised to the citizen.”
John Pullinger: “Big Data provides a wake-up call, and an opportunity, for our statistical institutions.”
At the end of the session, the Chair, Denise Lievesley, asked for reactions from the audience, in terms of what we would take away from the meeting. My reaction was that the discussion had made me realise, even more strongly, that statisticians (along with others) over the years have refined a number of crucial ideas, based on a sense of methodological quality (or validity). These relate to several issues.
First, causality is to be distinguished from correlation. This can of course be accomplished by RCT designs, as well as by carefully-controlled and replicated non-experimental studies.
Second, it is important to appreciate how the available indicators have been constructed and understood by the human beings (or processes) producing them. Hence John Pullinger’s timely offer of a course in questionnaire design to one of the “Big Data-enthusiasts” on the panel.
Third, the data analyst also needs knowledge of how the sample before us has been selected, and attenuated by various forms of non-response.
These three methodological concerns are not always fully acknowledged by enthusiasts for big data. An era when “Big Data” is being extensively hyped will produce additional challenges for statisticians re. data management and data analysis. These are already being addressed by inter-disciplinary teams many in universities and organisations. But there is no reason for statisticians to be reticent about the contributions they can make to these clearly important debates.
This issue begins with two articles about the effect of demographic
change. Maria Sol Torres Minoldo turns a spotlight on Argentina,
while Alan Marshall, John Read, and James Nazroo focus on the
United Kingdom. Both pieces take issue with the argument, common
in the media and amongst politicians of all stripes, that an ageing
population is increasingly likely to constitute an unsustainable drain
on national resources. Specifically Minoldo produces considerable
data to show that the ‘dependency’ ratio (of ‘working adults’ to
‘pensioners’) is seriously flawed at assessing levels of real material
dependency in society. Marshall, Read and Nazroo decompose estimates of
population ageing. They show that, contrary to public discourse, older
age longevity accounts for only a small part of expected demographic
change, with the far larger part due to the ageing of the baby boom cohort.
As such population ageing may largely be a temporary, not permanent,
We follow this article with two reflections on the research process. In
the first Alan Sloan provides us with some qualitative reflections from
his work as a survey interviewer. He highlights the social context of
non-response and the emotional and practical ways that interviewers
respond. For many of us who work regularly with survey data this
reflection from the messy and human side of data collection serves as
a salutary reminder of the social uncertainty that data retain.
Following this, Stephen Gorard addresses the contentious issue of
how to assess the trustworthiness of evidence. His article produces a
framework to be used both by users and producers of research
evidence that enables a judgement-based star-rating of research
evidence. The framework emphasises design, sample size and quality,
data quality, fidelity of intervention, and threats to validity.
We finish the issue with four comment pieces addressing a diverse
range of contemporary issues – all of which in different ways highlight
the ways in which statistics and social policy are interwoven. The first
piece by Alison Macfarlane provides an overview of what has happened
with care.data, the proposed data linkage between GP and hospital
records. She shows that poor handling of the process and the huge
public resistance engendered has produced serious obstacles for
academic health research. Ludi Simpson then offers a cogent critique
of the ways in which segregation measures are used. He points out
that since there will always be some segregation these measures
provide ready grist for politicians seeking to ignite moral panics over
Boycott Workfare provides us with an important discussion of the
impact of and use of statistics to support the workfare policies forming
part of the government’s social policies. The comment is a critique of
workfare, forming part of the government’s austerity politics, which
involves a toughening of the treatment of and sanctions put on welfare
claimants. The edition ends with a discussion of abortion and abortion
statistics in Ireland by Frank Houghton. His comment exposes the
ways in which the Irish government and public institutions shy away
from openness around the actual number of abortions taking place in
a country which has been criticised for its restrictive abortion
With this issue of Radical Statistics we welcome Trude Sundberg, a
Social Policy expert from the University of Kent to the editorial team
and say goodbye and thank you to Alistair Greig who has been part of
the team for the past two years.
If you have an article or short comment piece that you think would be
suitable for a future issue of Radical Statistics or ideas about a
themed set of articles please get in touch with us at editors @ radstats.org.uk.
Rachel Lara Cohen
The judges have chosen the following winners of the 2014 Critical Essay Competition which closed in July with decisions in Oct.
Two prizes each were awarded in the Student and the Open category.
The winning essays will appear in an upcoming issue of Radical Statistics in 2015.
1st: Clara Musto – On the gateway hypothesis
2nd: Geraldine Clark – Yearning to Earn or Yearning To Learn?
1st: Elisabeth Garrat – The rise in UK foodbanks: What can statistics tell us about the current landscape of food insecurity and food aid in the UK?
2nd: Pauline McGovern – Path Analysis for People who Hate Statistics
The award for first prize is £50 and the second of £30, both in book vouchers.
Congratulations to the prize winners!
Also, many thanks to the judges for making the 2014 Radstats Critical Essay Competition a success.
RadStats is pleased to announce the 2015 conference will be held in London from 9am-5pm on Saturday, 7 March, 2015. The venue is Conway Hall at Red Lion Square, in central London.
There will also be social events on the Friday and Sunday, as well as the RadStats AGM.
Book the date in your diary now. Please feel free to circulate to colleagues and friends!
Many further details to be confirmed. Please send comments or inquiries to email@example.com
“Taking place in the run-up to the 2015 general Election, RadStats 2015 conference will focus on public policy and the need for ‘good data’. We hope to have major speakers including MPs and many others. There will also be scope for contributed papers and ‘breakout’ sessions.”
CALLING EVERYONE to enter the Radical Statistics Critical Essay Competition!
GET your essay published & WIN a book token
Submit an original essay that addresses a current social research/policy question with critical use & interpretation of relevant data sources (3,000 words max) by 1st July 2014
F i r s t p r i z e £ 5 0
S e c o n d p r i z e £ 3 0
Plus 1 year subscription membership to Radical Statistics (RadStats).
All winning essays will be published in the RadStats newsletter/journal.
Please tell students and others and post this flyer in your department or community.
There are two categories:
- Student*: undergraduate or postgraduate
- Open: any non-student
Your submission must be unpublished & unaided original work:
- either specifically produced for the competition
- or originating from your course of study or dissertation
Your essay could address a current social research policy/question with critical use & interpretation of relevant data sources, or be a critique of statistical methodology in an applied context.
Prizes will be awarded on the basis of readability, clear presentation of statistical material, critical perspective & convincing argument.
Essays do not necessarily have to involve statistical modelling, only critical use & interpretation of relevant data sources.
The deadline for submission is 1st July 2014
Judge’s decisions by 1st October 2014
Winning essays will be featured on the website & published in a special issue of Radical Statistics.
Enter by sending your essay, including full name, email & postal address, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Note: if entering in the student category, please provide university & details of essay origin when submitting (ie module details for coursework essays or whether the essay stems from an undergraduate, masters or PhD thesis).
In 2012 ‘Reduced Statistics’, a working group from Radical Statistics, took a detailed look at cuts to official statistics under the coalition since 2010, and what they might mean in local government, housing, health and education. This led to a draft report as well as a debate with the UK Statistics Authority and ONS at the Royal Statistical’s Society’s conference. In a recent blog post and seminar at the London School of Economics, Alex Fenton looks at the latest information from the UK Statistics Authority on official statistics, and considers what it means in the light of the government’s proclaimed enthusiasm for “open data” and “transparency”.
View the LSE British Politics and Policy blog pos by Alex Fenton (3/11/14): Austerity stats: Making sense of cuts and changes to official statistics under the coalition
Radical Statistics is gathering in Manchester today to take a fresh look at inequality in Britain for the 2014 conference, Is Britain Pulling Apart?
Look on twitter for #Radstats to follow along. Presentations will be collected, proceedings are being filmed, and of course there will be a special issue of the journal.
If any delegate would like to contribute a blog post please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
On 7 November, Water Minister Dan Rogerson argued in response to a written question from Chris Ruane, Labour MP for the Vale of Clwyd, that water filtering within households is unnecessary, as monitoring by drinking water regulators shows tap water quality in the UK is “equivalent to the best in Europe”. (I’m not aware of a data series that would underpin this claim).
On 9 December, a statistical study by engineer Marc Edwards was published showing that cheap water filters certified to remove lead, together with advice to run taps and consider bottled water in older buildings, prevented hundreds of miscarriages in Washington DC in 2004-2006, when a change in water treatment caused a city wide spike in lead in water levels (links below). The paper also examines a miscarriage cluster in an office undergoing renovation, where lead in water from solder on copper pipes may have been wrongly excluded as a factor, because water was tested too late.
The study compared fetal death rates and birth rates in Washington DC against a similar sized city with the same water supply (Baltimore), and the US as a whole, before, during and after two incidents when lead “rust” from lead pipes and from solder on copper pipes was disturbed. The first lead spike was caused by a change in disinfection chemicals, the second by attempts to solve the first problem by replacing sections of lead pipe work.
Appropriate domestic water filters can reduce chlorination by-products present in tap water from chemical disinfection, together with the herbicides, other farm chemicals and pharmaceutical residues present in some river water (but not in water from boreholes favoured for bottled supplies). Filtering tap water was recommended in 2010 by the US President’s Cancer Panel, along with washing fruit and vegetables to remove pesticide residues and avoiding charred meat.
Concerned over the known toxicity of disinfection by-products, the Netherlands has abandoned the use of chlorine in a water safety system which prioritizes choosing the safest raw water sources for drinking water (link below). Edwards’ statistical analysis shows that the US change in disinfection practice – initiated and persisted with in an attempt to reduce miscarriages from chlorination byproducts – did not achieve its health goal. Possibly the by-products of the replacement disinfectant regime, though less studied, are equally noxious. A troubling pattern for regulatory changes.
Edwards’ key recommendations – supported by his laboratory test simulating lead release from solder in response to physical disturbance – are that pregnant women should always receive advice to use filters, flushing or bottled water in older premises, and that everyone should receive warnings and take precautions when plumbing is disturbed. Currently no such advice is issued in the UK, despite a predominance of older properties (lead free solder was only available from the late ‘80s), on-going lead pipe replacement to meet a stricter lead in water standard from the end of this year, and programmes to retrofit water meters.
It would be interesting to review fetal death rate trends within the Netherlands, to see whether the package of changes they made to how river water was treated (areas with better water sources never used chlorination) measurably improved maternal health. There is no easy switch to the Dutch method – the need for residual disinfection here goes hand in hand with the c. 25% leakage rate from poorly maintained pipework (vs. 4% for the Netherlands). Bottled water and home/office filtration are the policy options currently available in the UK to safeguard fetal health.
Lucy Borland’s paper on Drinking Water Regulation in Rad Stats: http://www.radstats.org.uk/no109/Borland109.pdf
Hansard, Written Answers 7 Nov 2013: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131107/text/131107w0001.htm#13110787000006
Marc Edwards: http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2013/12/121313-engineering-edwardsnewstudylead.html; http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es4034952; Increase in miscarriages coincided with high … – Washington Post
2008-2009 – Environmental Factors in Cancer: Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now available at http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/
The Dutch Secret: how to provide safe water without chlorine in the Netherlands, P. W.M. H. Smeets, G. J. Medema, J. C. van Dijk: available to download at www.drink-water-eng-sci.net/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf