Issue 120 now online

I/we had hoped that this issue would include some of the conference papers but it was not to be.  However, my rather hopeless intervention at the beginning of the London Conference, which most – including myself – thought unlikely to be successful has, in fact generated several papers from new authors so that there is not only this issue but a surplus for the next issue.

Contents of this Issue

 The result of course is that the contents of this issue are a mixed bag, so they have been put in the order of author’s surnames. We start, appropriately with a homage to Arthur Bowley, one of the pioneers of statistics and especially a precursor of Tukey’s approach to analysis and presentation.  Written and illustrated, lovingly, by John Bibby, who found it buried in a mess of papers somewhere.  It is followed by a novel approach by Riekkinen and Burns to understand daily journey-to-work commuting behaviour in London and link this to environmentaland health impact, and to devise a replicable framework through which areas can be rated based on low carbon and active travel with this information then being used to support policy implementation for more sustainable commuting.

The next two articles are clear critiques of the current use of statistics.  The first is by Frank Houghton expanding on the revelations concerning the extensive falsification of breathalyser testing statistics by the Irish Police (O’Sullivan, 2017), which have recently escalated into a damning expose of a series of more incriminating practices. What started out as an investigation into inflated activity figures by some Irish Police officers (Garda) has subsequently revealed financial misconduct, wholesale errors and incompetence, and extensive data falsification and a nefarious cover-up at the highest levels. The second is by Brendan Lawson on the coverage of the 2017 South Sudanese Famine by The Guardian and BBC News.  There were three interlinked findings: one, the United Nations was the source for the vast majority of statistics; two, these statistics were unilaterally accepted as indisputable truths by the news media; three, they underpinned and constructed a narrative of constitution-measurement-solution. This framed journalists’ use of statistics as serving to reinforce existing power dynamicsof the humanitarian field.

Prospects for RSN 121

Whilst we do have some material forthe next issue RSN 121, due in October 2018, we would like it to be at least partly devoted to that conference.  The Editor has written to each of the speakers asking if they can produce a paper but we think it would also be very useful if any of those who attended (or did not attend) have any ideas or thoughts on the subjects raised could make a contribution, however short. I/we have written to all of the authors individually and circulated all members asking them to submit anything they want to write on one or more of the themes addressed in the conference. 

The themes addressed at the conference were the issue of inequality as it relates to income, reproductive health and intimate partner violence, while the fourth explored the feasibility of low-carbon towns. The day included workshops specifically related to these themes, and one on the role of the statistician in the age of alternative facts.

Please send anything directly to Roy Carr-Hill roy.carr_hill@yahoo.com with Subject Title: Contribution on 2018 London RadStats Conference: theme Income Inequality OR ReproductiveInequalities OR Inequality and Intimate Partner Violence OR Feasibility of Low-Carbon towns OR Role of statistician in the age of alternative ‘facts’.

Roy Carr-Hill

Osborne’s Autumn statement

Well, many of you will have seen the budget and Balls’ response which began with a good deal of stuttering, widely reported by no explanation. If anyone has a hypothesis about why Balls began his retort by effectively stuttering, I would be glad to know. Even though he recovered after a few minutes, his response wasn’t very effective.

The primary reason for that I would argue for his ineffectiveness is that Balls, and Ed as well, has no well developed alternative to articulate. Effectively, he and others in the Labour Party assume as true the neoliberal economic theories that underpin Osborne’s major policies, though he slightly modified them in this statement. Policies guided by neoliberal economic principles have failed not only this time but every time they have been tried, either in western countries or in developing countries. This is fundamentally because they have no empirical relationship to the real world. They only work in toy economies.

They look correct to some people because the Keynesian position has been distorted and Keynes didn’t quite get all of it right. After the publication of the General Theory, he was already thinking about how to revise it. The theory should really be called the Keynes-Kalecki theory, as in a review of the General Theory the year following its publication, Kalecki corrected errors in Keynes’ theory of effective demand.

QE, which King is so fond of, is ineffective re job creation because it directs funds to banks who either hoard it or use it to pay down their toxic balance sheets. Osborne almost seemed to realize this when he proposed infrastructure projects. However, it looked a bit too little too late. And he doesn’t yet seem to have bitten the bullet. Besides, the money that has been put into the various QEs undertaken by certain sovereign governments is not enough to even make a dent in the banks’ toxic balance sheets, so great are their debts. Basically, it is money thrown away.

An interview with Robert Choate showed that Choate, while not being able to criticize Osborne due his present position, showed that he knows that credit ratings are meaningless for sovereign states with their own currency and that government doesn’t have to borrow, unless it decides to because the relevant interest rate is low. As for the basic interest rate, it can be kept low in perpetuity. Taxes should be used to control inflation by inhibiting spending and to direct spending into certain areas, as well as legitimating the sovereign currency. They should never be thought of as a basis for government spending, because government doesn’t need taxes to back their spending, something Choate knows only too well.  When pressed by Paxman in the interview, to explain his hints, he only said that we will have to wait to find out in his memoirs. However, no one, even Paxman, later picked up on Choate’s hints in the interview about what he really thinks of Osborne’s policies.

To rely on exports when every other country with whom you would do business is experiencing the same difficulty is incredibly stupid and shows that Osborne doesn’t quite know what he is doing. His comments about those on welfare were exceedingly ignorant. The stupidity of his position is that people who aren’t working don’t really want to would only be true were there jobs to go to. The basic fact is that there are fewer jobs than there are people looking for them. The jobs have to be there first to justify his basic assumptions about people’s motivations. History does not support Osborne’s ignorant comments.
In fact, Osborne’s social policies and comments directed to those on benefits, who are obviously not well off, is redolent of the ideas of the late 19th and early 20th century social Darwinists. For those of you interested in the way in which evolutionary biological ideas creep into discussions of the nature of human society, it may be of interest to those who do not read in this area that Darwin did not subscribe to the view of unbridled competition even for the Primates. It follows mutatis mutandis that Darwin’s view of chimpanzees applies to human social groupings. This view of unbridled competition may have seemed self evident in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but seems rather dated now. Yet, the idea refuses to die. A number of Osborne’s social policies could have come right out of early 20th century social Darwinist tracts. One of social Darwinism’s greatest critics was Lester Ward. Alas, no commentator has yet made this connection. It seems so obvious to me. Am I missing something?

Now, one problem with the post by Pilkington is that it is rather technical. And it is a piece on the political economy of the financial sector rather than economics per se. That should make it easier to read, but for some it might not. Basically his message is that by putting the money back into banks, it acts as a feeder mechanism for financial speculation, which is what needs to be toned down rather than reinforced.

I have also included a piece from the Independent by David Blanchflower. His position is that Slasher Osborne’s jobs policies are guided, not by empirical evidence, but by ideology. We all know this, but is is salutary to see figures from the Department of Works and Pensions that reinforce this view. It is impossible to believe that millions of people are scroungers. It defies rational consideration.

Here are the links:

Blanchflower: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/david-blanchflower/david-blanchflower-ideology-rules-the-coalitions-jobs-policies-8374461.html

Pilkington: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/12/philip-pilkington-monetary-policy-and-metaphysics-how-economists-try-to-naturalise-terrible-policies-and-disappear-into-their-own-theories.html

Post contributed by Larry Brownstein

Mis-measurement of health and wealth: Radstats Conference & AGM, 24-25 Feb 2012, London

British Library logoFebruary is upon us! If you’ve not had the chance, please note that you can still book a space for the Radical Statistics conference to be held on Friday, February 24th 2012 at the British Library Conference Centre, followed by a half-day interactive workshop and AGM on Saturday 25th.

Don’t miss our challenging and engaging programme with talks on:

·       Measuring health – history and methods

·       Deception in medical research – scientific and regulatory failure

·       Deception in financial statistics – how this contributes to financial mayhem

Speakers:  Roy Carr-Hill, Val Saunders, Dr Aubrey Blumsohn, Prof. David Healy, Prof. Prem Sikka, Ann Pettifor, Prof. Allyson Pollock & Howard Reed.

Both days will provide a great opportunity to learn and discuss how misleading statistics are used to bolster political preferences and how difficult issues can be demystified with clear statistics.

All interested in research and statistics are welcome – the conference is neither technical nor limited to professional researchers.

Please find the programme and related information at www.radstats.org.uk/conf2012, where you can make your booking now!