Radical Statistics, Issue 110

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,
phenomenon.

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
racial segregation.

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
regulations.

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.

Trude Sundberg
Rachel Lara Cohen
Larry Brownstein

Results of the Radstats 2014 Critical Essay Competition

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.

Student category
1st: Clara Musto – On the gateway hypothesis
2nd: Geraldine Clark – Yearning to Earn or Yearning To Learn?

Open category
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.

Lee Williamson

Radstats Critical Essay Competition

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 essay@radstats.org.uk.

* 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).

Is Britain Pulling Apart? Today!

Radical Statistics is gathering in Manchester today to take a fresh look at inequality in Britain for the 2014 conference, Is Britain Pulling Apart?RScrowd2014

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 web-editor@radstats.org.uk.

Robin Rice

Press Release: World Class Conference in York This Weekend

20 February, 2013

This Saturday, a hundred experts will come to York to discuss and debate issues of inequality and poverty in the world today – and yesterday. For over a century, York has been at the centre of this debate, since Seebohm Rowntree completed his pathbreaking poverty survey in 1900.

Rowntree’s story will be addressed by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw from York University in the first session at this weekend’s event, which is at the Priory Street Centre in central York. This session is also co-sponsored by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and will  provide a launch for the new book on the Rowntree family by local author Paul Chrystal (to be confirmed).

Another York speaker is Professor Richard Wilkinson, whose celebrated book ‘The Spirit Level’ argued why greater equality is better for everyone. The conference organiser, John Bibby, said, “This will be an argument accepted by most of the attendees at this conference, which is organised by Radical Statistics, a group of left-wingers interested in applications of statistical data”.

Other sessions will discuss inequality in India, the 2011 population census in the UK and will debate whether the 2021 census should be cancelled.The theme of the final speaker, Stewart Lansley, will be  “The Costs of Inequality”, on which he has written a very well-received book.

You can follow the conference live on Twitter, hashtag #radstats. For full information see http://www.radstats.org.uk/conference/york2013/

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Radical Statistics Issue 107 – Editorial

This issue of Radical Statistics comes out of the February 2012 Radical Statistics Conference, which was held at the British Library in London. The conference focused on the Mis-Measurement of Health and Wealth and was the best ever attended Radical Statistics conference. Five of the eight presentations given at the conference are collected here (we hope to include the remaining three presentations in some form in a future issue of Radical Statistics).1 As a set, the papers published here are very much in the radical statistics tradition: they do not simply critique mainstream methods of measuring, but also reveal the social necessity of challenging such measures and begin to propose alternatives.

The issue begins with Howard Reed’s critique of the ways that UK debt statistics are constructed and interpreted. He unpicks the UK Coalition Government’s ‘maxed-out credit card’ explanation of current government finances, and demonstrates the links between this reading of the data and the ‘austerity’ policies which are responsible for slowing growth in GDP (and therefore exacerbating the debt/GDP ratio). Howard also points out that contrary to popular opinion, the previous Labour government’s real spending was very much in line with historical precedent. Continue reading

Riotstats – Issue 106 of Radical Statistics

Aside

Editorial – by Alastair Greig

The following is a reprint of the Editorial in the special issue of Radical Statistics: Riotstats.

The August disturbances, we are led to believe, brought out the “best” and “worst” of contemporary British society. It is not difficult to find a range of views on the causes and the most appropriate response to the rioting that followed the death of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, London, in the summer of 2011. In this issue of Radical Statistics a couple of articles question the statistical basis for making sweeping empirical claims about the riots. We also have a debate about causes of the riots, which mirrors the one which has taken place in the public domain. Ultimately, however, the statistics do not provide any simple answers, and it remains up to individual readers to decide upon the most compelling approach to understanding the cause and effect of these riots and to contribute to the analysis and dissemination of our understanding of these events.

Roger Ball and John Drury provide, in time-honored Radical Statistics style, a critical analysis of the way in which data have been used, particularly in the media and by politicians, to support various ideological interpretations of the disturbances. The article refrains from putting forward the authors’ own account of the causes of the riots, while providing a convincing account of the way in which dubious statistical evidence appears to have been used to promote narrow sectional and political interests.

Carly Lightowlers and Jon Shute, using the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and Manchester court records, show that individuals from deprived neighbourhoods were disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system as a result of the rioting. To Carly and Jon, the dominant narratives do “not acknowledge the structural roots of the problem or the counter-productivity of ‘get tough’ policies designed largely to appease voter’s concerns”.

Nigel Williams and Nick Cowen argue that the IMD should be disaggregated. Their analysis shows that not all forms of deprivation were associated with areas in which those ‘rioters’ charged were living. Nigel and Nick argue that although crimes were committed in part due to the deprivation-related incentives of the rioters, these would have been averted with a more conspicuous policing deterrent. This aspect of their analysis echoes similarly dispositional interpretations of the riots (Waiton, 2011), which Carly and Jon take to task in a rebuttal. Among other things, they argue that the “rational choice” explanation that Nigel and Nick present inhibits understanding of the myriad of plausible situational factors at work.

Janet Burja and Jenny Pearce recently authored Saturday Night & Sunday Morning: The 2001 Bradford Riot and Beyond, which documents years of work dedicated to making sense of the rioting that occurred in Bradford 10 years ago, and the legacy it has had on the city. Those riots had a particularly striking racial dimension, not entirely dissimilar to the August Riots and in other ways the participants were very similar to the more recent rioters. Janet argues that, in Bradford, local institutions – the police and local government – needed to recognise legitimate grievances of young, deprived individuals. Perhaps to the shock of some Radical Statisticians, Janet argues that statistical analyses have limitations in understanding, and developing responses to, such grievances.*

We are then left with a letter from Brian Quinn, which argues that the Radical Statistics overpopulation working group in its contribution to issue 105, has overlooked the ecological impact of having another child. This is followed by a brief response by the working group in which they address Brian’s points. The issue ends with news from the newly formed Reduced Statistics group.

Changes in Editorship
I would like to thank Janet Shapiro, who is standing down as editor. She had done a miraculous job as editor, and lately had taken on a hefty workload by herself. I am sure I am not alone in thanking her for the marvellous work she has done for Radical Statistics over the years. Rachel Cohen, from the University of Surrey, will take over from her and I am sure all our members look forward to her contributions in the months and years ahead.

Radical Statistics is a not-for-profit membership organisation, and our journal does not aspire to be exclusively academic. We look for contributions from all walks of life and, thanks to our diverse membership, offer a peer review service upon request. If you would
like to help review for the journal or contribute, feel free to contact any of the editors for further information. This year, we are particularly interested in receiving shorter articles from as wide a range of authors as possible. These may highlight the misuse of statistics or promote results, which may not be given a fair hearing in other settings.

References
Waiton, S. (2011). Wellfare Culture: the English Riots and the Collapse
of Authority. Journal of Scottish Affairs, 77, 54-78.

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!

Your memories of Radical Statistics

Bounded texts and study table in library

by JoSzczepanska on flickr

Radical Statistics Group’s 36 years of activity is to be archived for all to learn from. Documents are being collated with a view to offering them to Wellcome Trust library in London, aiming to have as much as possible online and all catalogued.

Much of our activity is documented in the newsletter, which is available on the Radical Statistics website. But the experience and impact of the group has been much wider than is reflected there, with influence through public meetings, press releases and publicity, support to campaigns and inspiration to individuals and groups in the UK and in other parts of the world.

Send your documents, or memories that you can document for the archive, to admin@radstats.org.uk