Editorial, Radical Statistics issue 109

This issue of Radical Statistics begins with three pieces which provide an overview of the value of the UK census and the damage that its potential cancellation will wreak. These articles highlight the disquiet that academics, policy makers and the public should feel about government plans for 2021 and beyond. In the first piece Danny Dorling highlights some of the surprises that have emerged from the 2011 census and suggests that only a government that does not care about its citizens would favour a plan which effectively makes it impossible to find out about them in the future (about where people live, about their needs, about their ages… etc). In the second piece Paul Norman makes the argument for the census and for small area data in particular. He ends with an appeal to everyone who has used (or is intending on using) census data to contribute their experience to the ‘business case’ for retention. The third piece, by Emma Stevens, is based on research conducted for an undergraduate dissertation. Emma surveyed human geographers about their use of the census and about how the proposed changes will affect their work. This article shows that the arguments made by Danny Dorling and Paul Norman are echoed by human geographers from across the UK.

In the next section are three very diverse articles. The first, by Lucy Borland, provides shocking data on how changes in the regulation of lead in water in the UK (whereby 99th centile data is treated as a ‘maximum’) may mean that dangerous contamination is going unnoticed. Using equivalent data from Northern Ireland Lucy highlights the importance of absolute values where health is an issue. She also raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of tap-water sampling practices.

The next article, by Robert Grant, provides a timely overview of the history and potential of graphical representations. Robert shows that graphics can provide a fruitful way to make and disseminate radical arguments where these depend on statistical data. Perhaps most helpfully, he provides a wealth of practical suggestions, which will be invaluable for anyone toying with the prospect of learning more about data visualisation.

In the last article, Jonathan Bradshaw has written up his Radical Statistics conference presentation from February 2012. In this he uses York as a means for thinking about inequality and poverty and the ways in which these are measured.

The issue concludes with David Elliman’s enthusiastic review of The Geek Manifesto, Larry Brownstein’s comment on an issue raised in this book (and the review) – assessing tests of scientific competence, and finally Russell Ecob’s brief summary of the Radstats conference discussion on whether a fair voting system is possible, and what it would look like.

We hope that you enjoy, or at least are stimulated by, the articles in this issue. If you think that you have something to say that would be of interest to Radical Statistics readers, get in touch. We are always keen to receive articles, news stories or book reviews. If you are unsure about whether something is suitable, drop us an email and check.

Rachel Lara Cohen

Alastair Greig

Larry Brownstein

Email: editors @ radstats.org.uk  


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/


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


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.

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


Radstats 2012 Conference Announcement

Bookings are open for the Radical Statistics conference on February 24th 2012. This year we are hosted by the British Library and have a challenging programme on:

  • Measuring health – history and methods
  • Deception in medical research – scientific and regulatory failure
  • Deception in financial statistics – how this contributes to financial mayhem

This conference gives an opportunity to learn 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. There are eight speakers and smaller group sessions, with lunch included.

The Radical Statistics AGM and activity debate will be on Saturday morning February 25th.

 Please pass on by email, print and distribute the
A4 flyer
advertising the programme, and visit the conference site at www.radstats.org.uk/conf2012, where you can make your booking now!

Alistair Cairns, admin@radstats.org.uk
Radical Statistics

Results of the Radstats 2011 Critical Essay Competition

The judges have chosen the following winners to the Critical Essay Competition which closed in July, 2011 with decisions in Oct 2011.

Two prizes were awarded in the student category. No prizes were awarded in the open category.

The essays will appear in an upcoming issue of Radical Statistics.

  • 1st Prize: Nick Wattie – Relative age effects in education and sport: An argument for human, not statistical solutions.
  • 2nd Prize: Chi-lin Tsai – Would both the trade unions and the Labour Party benefit from an amicable divorce?
The award for first prize is  £60 and the second prize of £40, both in vouchers.Each prize winner has been given a one-year subscription to Radical Statistics and free entry to the 2012 conference.

Owing to the high standard of the entries this year, a few of the shortlisted entries were given a one-year subscription to Radical Statistics.

Congratulations to the prize winners entries on behalf of the Radical Statistics Troika!

Also, many thanks on behalf of to the contest organisers Alan Marshall and Lee Williamson to our judges Claire Boag, Jay Ginn and Paul Norman for making the 2011 Radstats Critical Essay Competition a success.

Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters

Moral panic about overpopulation: the distracting campaign of Population Matters

—For Immediate Release —

28th October 2011

On the 31st October the world population will pass 7 billion. It is essential that evidence rather than myth informs the challenges and opportunities that such population growth presents.

Population Matters describe themselves as “the leading environmental charity and think-tank in the UK concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment”. The group have promoted their apocalyptic views of population in well funded media campaigns to mark the passing of 7 billion global population.

Radical Statistics’ Population group of UK demographers/population scientists and statisticians, have examined the claims and policy of Population Matters finding them guilty of frequent overstatement, rhetoric and one-sided assertion rather than evidence that population growth is the main cause of environmental threats. Like others concerned about overpopulation before them, Population Matters promote policies that erroneously focus on the groups who consume the least. The Radical Statistics group calls on high profile patrons of Population Matters to reconsider their support, including the naturalists and broadcasters David Attenborough and Chris Packham, environmental campaigner Jonathan Porritt, and senior academic and cultural figures.

Seven key myths that are promoted by Population Matters are summarised below:

Myth 1Population growth is increasing at an ever faster rate.Evidence

Current UN projections indicate slowing growth and a maximum world population that remains between 10.0 and 10.5 billion from 2083. In the UK levels of fertility are below the level required to replace the current population.


Myth 2Population causes resources to run out.Evidence

This myth has a long history; it has been expressed by Malthus, Plato, Aristotle and Tertullian, and many times since. Resources are not fixed or knowable; what is considered a resource changes over time. This myth overlooks the potential for human ingenuity to overcome problems, discover and use resources more efficiently. Historical evidence of steadily increasing population fed by successive productive revolutions demonstrates that a fixed human carrying capacity for planet earth is nonsense.


Myth 3More population means more environmental damage. 


The link between population growth and environmental damage is not supported by evidence. For example, there is a weak relationship between a country’s population growth and carbon emissions. The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection’s final report in 2011 found consumption and the impact associated with each unit of consumption more important than population in terms of environmental impact. Historical experience clearly shows that current population growth has not the prime driver of environmental degradation.


Myth 4The economic and social inequality experienced by women and their access to contraception are being ignored. Evidence

Improvement of women’s educational and economic conditions, and non-coercive facilitation of family planning throughout the world, are embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, although more efforts to empower women are needed.


Myth 5Population growth causes poverty by preventing development in poorer countries.Evidence

There is no empirical evidence for this claim. Poverty is recognised to be a result of inequality stemming from social factors rather than population size. For example, globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, farmers produce more than the necessary nutrition requirement to feed the world population. This supports views that not limited world resources but the unequal distribution of resources mainly explains the current poverty and hunger problems in the world.


Myth 6Reducing teenage pregnancies will reduce the population of the UK (a policy advocated by Population Matters). 


Teenage births represent only 7% of all births and births to young women below the age of 18 and around 2% of all births in 2008. Reducing teenage pregnancy would very likely have little impact on population size especially as many teenagers would simply delay having children to a later date.


Myth 7Reduction of migration is needed to reduce the impact of population on the environment (a policy advocated by Population Matters).Evidence

The Royal Commission on the Protection of Environment (2011) found no case for further controls to regulate non-EU migration on environmental grounds. Any policies on migration will have no direct impact on population size. Population Matters are keen to restrict immigration to the UK but do not encourage migration away from the UK to less populated regions. Restricting non-EU migration to the UK might well lead to greater world population in the future as research suggests migrants to the UK from developing countries tend to have lower birth rates than the country they came from.


For more detail on the critique of Population Matters see the paper ‘Moral panic about overpopulation: a distracting campaign?’ by the Radical Statistics Population Studies group available at:


Dr Alan Marshall is the contact for Radical Statistics Population Studies Group on this matter and is available for comment on Friday 28th October 2011:




Editorial: Cuts and Corporations Conference issue

The Radical Statistics Annual Conference 2011, held at the newly opened Heart Centre in Leeds was very successful with a record attendance. There was a full programme of papers that focussed on the twin themes of the ongoing effects of the coalition’s financial cuts and the increasing influence of corporations. This issue [104] includes four of these conference presentations and two workshops based on the presentations.

One issue that has been a thorn in the side of many scientists at least since Simon Singh published his book on homeopathy (co-authored with Edzard Ernst) is litigation in the area of science criticism. Dr Peter Wilmshurst presented a harrowing and yet very humorous account of what began with his participation as principal cardiologist in a sponsored clinical trail. This involvement led to severe and painful disruption of his career and family life over three years, caused by extended legal action. His commitment to professional integrity left him victim to UK libel laws, and his case is not alone. There are other examples of scientists being sued for libel for scientific presentations and research publications. This should be a concern for scientists, statisticians and the public, restricting as it does scientific communication.

Speaking before Dr Wilmshurst, Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director Scientists for Global Responsibility, presented an analysis that anticipated the experiences reported by Peter Wilmshurst. He argued that, while links are increasing between business and science and
technology, there is growing evidence that the science commercialisation agenda brings with it a wide range of detrimental effects, including bias, conflicts of interest, a narrowing of the research agenda, and misrepresentation of research results. All of these can reduce the reliability of statistics based on scientific research. Stuart permits the reprint of an article dated 2009 presenting evidence for these effects across five sectors:  pharmaceuticals; tobacco; military/defence; oil and gas; and biotechnology. Recommendations are made for improving the openness, independence and reliability of
academic research.

The opening presentation was given by Jay Ginn and Susan Himmelweit. With illustrative charts they refuted the government’s claim that its measures to reduce the financial-sector-created deficit are designed to be ‘fair’, that is distributing the pain across the whole of society. Vulnerable groups were shown to be suffering the worst effects of the package of cuts and tax changes, particularly older people and women. The authors’ paper ‘Unkindest Cuts: the impact on older people’ has already been published in Radical Statistics #103;
this was covered in the presentation. The paper printed here covers the additional material without duplication.

Alan Franco spoke on his article published in #103, ‘From Witney to Wigan: How national changes to welfare benefit rules have a differential impact on local communities’. He presented further analysis that demonstrated that while significant cuts in the levels of welfare benefits and tax credits are typically portrayed as ‘targeting help on
those most in need’, a geographical analysis of their differential impact on communities suggests that significant disinvestment in Britain’s most impecunious communities is underway. Alan’s data can be retrieved from the website, but no paper is included.

A similar message was conveyed in Howard Reed’s presentation that showed that the poorer you are the more the cuts bite and vice versa, which is the opposite of what the government has claimed about them. The work carried out for the TUC by Horton, T. and Reed, H. ‘Where the Money Goes: How we benefit from public services’, cited by Ginn &
Himmelweit, is an invaluable source for evidence. Permission has been given to summarise Howard’s presentation and this will appear in Part II #105.

Victoria Johnson’s presentation on the redefinition of wealth and progress argued that it is impossible to have a growth economy indefinitely. She began with a thought experiment on a hamster eating and thereby growing – which if allowed to continue – would eventually outstrip the world’s food supply for it. A real experiment of this kind was carried out in the mid-20th century by an experimental psychologist, Teitelbaum. Upon ablation of a rat’s ventro-medial hypothalamus, he discovered that the rat ate until it became so large that it was unable to move to obtain food and eventually died of starvation. Both experiments, one conceptual the other real, show that indefinite growth leads to a community exceeding the carrying capacity of its environment with catastrophic consequences. A further upshot of developing a new attitude to growth is the necessity of reassessing the implications of population growth and its inextricable relationship to the carrying capacity of the earth.

At the end of the afternoon we broke up into groups to discuss what activities could be conducted between AGMs. Two of the workshops are presented here. One, led by Women’s Budget Group, considered the effectiveness of equality impact assessments (EIAs) of government policy on gender and other inequalities. The other, led by Dr Wilmshurst, examined how libel law operates in the UK and the implications. The workshop concluded with a call for support for the Libel Reform Campaign petition.

The editors hope to trace a report of the third workshop ‘Cuts to Government Social Research Budgets and Ongoing Projects since May 2010: Increasing the Evidence Deficit?’. This was led by Simon Tanner. Please let us know if you attended that one. Hopefully it could be reported in Part II #105 together with full records from the Annual
General Meeting that was held during the lunch break.

In addition to conference papers #104 includes several other items that have accumulated during the delay in publication. These include Jane Galbraith’s response to Danny Dorling’s reply in #103 and articles by Ecob, Marchant and Noble. Russell Ecob proposes an alternative proportional representation voting system and Paul Marchant questions whether new street lighting schemes have reduced crime in London. Hugh Noble’s commentary is designed to raise the level of discussion on the ‘Spirit Level’.
The Troika are given the last word reporting on recent decisions and offering promotional material for Radical Statistics.

Larry Brownstein
Alastair Greig
Janet Shapiro