NEW BOOK Data in Society: Challenging statistics in an age of globalisation (August 2019)

Data in Society: Challenging statistics in an age of globalisation … editors Jeff Evans, Sally Ruane, and Humphrey Southall; Policy Press, 2019.

It is 20 years since the publication of the last Radical Statistics collection, Statistics in Society (1999), and even longer since Demystifying Social Statistics (1979). This third collection of chapters produced under the auspices of Radical Statistics will be published by Policy Press in August 2019.

The use of both ‘statistics’ and ‘data’ in the title is to capture the tension between two views of the materials, the methods and the professional and disciplinary basis of our work: the statistical data, statistical analysis,and the statistics and allied professions / disciplines, on the one hand; and ‘data’ (sometimes ‘big’), data analytics, and data scientists, on the other. The aims of the book include:

to explore ongoing developments in the uses of data and the role of statistics in today’s society, including the increasing diversity of data producers beyond the state, notably private corporations, especially those based on social media and new technologies;

to raise levels of critical understanding in terms of the role and significance of statistical data and statistical claims, and to invite a wider public of non-specialist readers, including third sector, professional and service user groups;

to consider how statistics are used in social discourse and debate, to advance interests and to achieve particular, often political, ends.

The audience for the book will include: teachers, researchers and students in applied statistics, and in research methods for a range of social science, health and business areas; those training or practising in areas such as social work, youth and community work, teaching and nursing;  community activists and others using statistics as a campaigning tool and wanting to critically understand their use by others; and, of course, members and allies of the Radical Statistics Group.

Most higher education and training courses for the groups above include an introduction to the use of statistics. The introduction of Q Step programmes to enhance the level of teaching of quantitative methods to social science undergraduates in UK Universities has led to an increased emphasis on quantitative material across the whole range of social sciences and related fields, in undergraduate and taught post-graduate programmes. A number of the chapters here include clear signposts to the date used in their analyses.

Throughout its gestation, the book has benefited from the support of Radical Statistics and its members. Early planning meetings and travel to face-to-face Editors’ meetings were supported by the Radical Statistics Troika. Throughout, appeals to members, allies, and the mailing list have elicited valuable help, including reviewing of chapters. We thank everyone who has supported the book’s development, and look forward to your participation in the arguments that we hope will be stimulated by the book.

The contents of the book are as follows.

Foreword Danny Dorling, and Preface the Editors

Introduction Humphrey Southall, Jeff Evans and Sally Ruane

Part 1: How Data are Changing Introduction: Humphrey Southall and Jeff Evans

Statistical work: the changing occupational landscape Kevin McConway

Administrative data: The creation of Big Data Harvey Goldstein and Ruth Gilbert

What’s new about Data Analytics? Ifan Shepherd and Gary Hearne

Social media data Adrian Tear and Humphrey Southall

Part 2: Counting in a Globalised World Introduction: Sally Ruane and Jeff Evans

Adult Skills Surveys and Transnational Organisations: Globalising Educational Policy Jeff Evans

Interpreting survey data: Towards valid estimates of poverty in the South Roy Carr-Hill

Counting the Population in Need of International Protection Globally Brad Blitz, Alessio D’Angelo and Eleonore Kofman

Tax justice and the challenges of measuring illicit financial flows Richard Murphy

Part 3: Statistics and the Changing Role of the State Section Introduction: Sally Ruane and Humphrey Southall

The control and ‘fitness for purpose’ of UK Official Statistics David Rhind

The statistics of devolution David Byrne

The uneven impact of welfare reform Tina Beatty and Steve Fothergill

‘From ‘Welfare’ to ‘Workfare’ – and Back Again? Social Insecurity and the Changing Role of the State’ Christopher Deeming and Ron Johnston

Access to data and NHS privatisation: reducing public accountability Sally Ruane

Part 4: Economic Life Section Introduction: Humphrey Southall and Jeff Evans

The ‘distribution question’: Measuring and evaluating trends in inequality  Stewart Lansley 

Changes in working life Paul Bivand 

The Financial System Rebecca Boden 

The difficulty of building comprehensive tax avoidance data Prem Sikka

Tax and spend decisions: did austerity improve financial numeracy and literacy?  David Walker

Part 5: Inequalities in Health and Well-being Introduction: Sally Ruane and Humphrey Southall 

Health divides Anonymous

Measuring social well-being Roy Carr-Hill

Re-engineering health policy research to measure equity impacts Tim Doran and Richard Cookson

The Generation Game: Ending the phoney information war between young and old Jay Ginn and Neil Duncan-Jordan

Part 6 : Advancing social progress through critical statistical literacy Introduction Jeff Evans, Sally Ruane, and Humphrey Southall

The Radical Statistics Group: Using Statistics for Progressive Social Change  Jeff Evans and Ludi Simpson

Lyme disease politics and evidence-based policy-making in the UK Kate Bloor

Counting the uncounted: contestations over casualisation data in Australian universities Nour Dados, James Goodman and Keiko Yasukawa

The Quantitative Crisis in UK Sociology Malcolm Williams, Luke Sloan and Charlotte Brookfield

Critical Statistical Literacy and Interactive Data Visualisations Jim Ridgway, James Nicholson, Sinclair Sutherland and Spencer Hedger

Full fact: What a difference a dataset makes? Amy Sippitt 

Data journalism and/as data activism Jonathan Gray and Liliana Bounegru

Epilogue Jeff Evans, Humphrey Southall and Sally Ruane

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 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

Editorial – Radical Statistics Issue 118 (2017)

Issue 118 is now online, available as open access. Below is the editorial.

This is the second post-2017 Edinburgh Conference Issue. Anyway,
I/we think that most of the 60+ participants enjoyed and profited from
the Conference.

We have been waiting for the papers from that February Conference
for four months and have only received two; so we have decided to
publish an issue with those two and including our backlog of
submitted papers, and make the next issue the 2017 Conference

The first Conference paper is by Professor Cathcart on the low level of
trust in journalists in the UK, reviewing a wide range of disparate and
fragmentary survey evidence over several years finding no particular
trend; and comparing with levels of trust in journalists in other
European countries. The levels of trust do not appear to respond to
any specific political event; the most likely explanation is that the
public do not trust journalists because they have seen them not telling
the truth.

The second Conference paper is by Michael Dougan reviewing the
‘research’ that was meant to back up the claims of the Leave alliance
in its deceitful campaign about the Brexit referendum. He focuses on
the mysterious ‘statistical’ so-called arguments they put forward; and
shows that there was no basis to any of their evidence.

Then there is another poem by Larry Lesser – this time on a ‘Test for
Normality’ – whilst we have retained his original poem from the last
issue on the cover page. He has also provided a rare political
statistical joke.

We end with the second paper by John Read on the historical analysis
of UK population data focussing on trends in mortality rates. He
carries out a thorough analysis and suggests that the evidence shows
that the population pyramid is stabilising.

Once again, I have to make an appeal for papers – we are down to only
one, apart from outstanding Edinburgh Conference papers – or are we
simply running into a technology trap?

Roy Carr-Hill
Radical Statistics Editor

Editorial – Radical Statistics Issue 117 (2017)

Issue 117 is now online, available as open access. Below is the editorial.

This is the first post-2017 Edinburgh Conference Issue. I/we have to
apologise for the tardiness in appearance; been more than a bit
submerged by other tasks. Anyway, I/we think that most of the 60+
participants enjoyed and profited from the Conference.

We have been waiting for the papers from that February Conference
for four months and have only received two; so we have decided to
publish an issue with our backlog of submitted papers, and make the
next issue the 2017 Conference papers.

These are a very mixed bag. The first is a paper, which will be seen as
controversial, by Ian Plewis on Glyphosate and Green Politics reviews
the evidence for and against ‘Round-up’ (and glyphosate more
generally) with a special focus on the confusion of hazard with risk
and the dodgy sampling and statistical methods employed. It is most
certainly worth reading carefully before jumping to any hasty
judgements; if nothing else he shows that (most of) the ‘Green’
evidence is hyped and suspect.

This is followed by a forensic examination of Welsh School Inspection
Reports by Robert Moore showing how ……

Then there is a fascinating two-pager by Larry Lesser – our first but I
hope not only statistical poet – on the ‘recent’ history of the portrayal
of the normal distribution, which is our new cover page.

On the other side of the normality sandwich, we have an article on the
appalling state of Irish breathalyser statistics by Frank Houghton
which ‘links’ – totally fortuitously – with the article by Roy Carr-Hill in
the previous issue.

The last article is by Dougal Hutchison analysing and reviewing the
success – or otherwise – of the Indian government in providing equal
educational opportunities to primary school children, focussing on the
bottom quintile and on Scheduled Tribes. He concludes that whilst
impressive gains have been made, there are still wide disparities
between these two disadvantaged groups and the rest.
Obviously a very eclectic collection and I am not going to make any
attempt to link them, other than that they are all very interesting

The issue is back to its usual length because there are two additional
pieces. One is a very critical review by Neil Wilson of a book on Basic
Income by Van Parijs and Vanderborght.

The other is the text – finally agreed on among ‘members; of the
Working Group set up at the 2016 RadStats meeting in York – of a
proposal for the issue raised by Palestinians to support Boycott,
Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israeli University institutions
(not individuals). We’ll know whether they have responded positively
before you get this issue.

Roy Carr-Hill
Radical Statistics Editor

Radical Statistics, Issue 114 online

Issue 114 of our journal is now online for your reading pleasure.

Articles “include a paper by the Acton family and friends on understanding or at least interpreting the demography of the Roma and other gypsy ethnic groups; two papers on thumb114problems with assessment processes, one on work capability assessment by John Hume and one on the predictive assessment of young children; a paper on the demography of the elderly population in 2014; and a paper on scientific collaboration in knowledge networks by Thng. Obviously a very eclectic collection and I am not going to make any attempt to link them, other than that they are all very interesting papers.”

– Roy Carr Hill, Editor

Free PDF of a New Book – “A Better Politics,” by Danny Dorling

“To make a real difference we need to shift common sense, change the terms of debate and shape a new political terrain.” – Doreen Massey (2015)


When people look back on their lives, they often wish they had done things differently.

They wish they had not had to amass such debts, especially in paying for education. They wish one particular relationship had not ended, or that they had been with someone else.

They wish they had become a parent. They wish they had said goodbye to their loved ones properly before they died. And they wish that they had not had to worry so much through so much of their life about so many issues that they later realized were quite trivial.

This book is based on a few ideas that began with the findings of one academic paper published a decade ago, using data from a decade before that.

Those findings are being extrapolated forwards, and I have thrown in many ideas that are buzzing around academia, in books and articles, and reported in newspapers, magazines and elsewhere on the Internet. In all cases I try to give the most accessible source – one that is not hidden behind a paywall – in the endnotes to the book.

Most ideas in the book are not polished ideas and will need rethinking before coming to fruition. Inevitably, some will turn out to be stupid. What is certain is that there is no shortage of ideas and choices.

But before we adopt any ideas, we can all benefit from stepping back and asking what matters most – and why we appear to have forgotten to do this more in the countries, like the UK and the US, that are the most unequal. Then, and only then, can we ask what we should do about it.

Danny Dorling, 22nd March, 2016 on giving Radstats a free digital copy of his book, A Better Politics: How Government Can Make Us Happier.