Radstats Issue 129 Editorial

Contents of this Issue

Following on from the discussions at the London Conference in February
2020, I asked contributors if they would agree to a student
converting their power-point presentations into short texts. This was
partly successful that year and also this year, although they will both be in the next issue.

The first article is the paper presented by Sally Ruane at the Conference. The second article is by the author, making a few comparisons with previous pandemics and also demonstrating the difference in portrayal of the ‘League Table’ by Death Rates as distinct from Number of Cases. The third article is a tour de force by Sean Demack on pupil segregation in England; and the final short piece is by John Bibby on a variant of Stigler’s dilemma.

Prospects for RSN 130

We have two articles ready, which have been converted from presentations
into papers with the help of an ex-student but, clearly, we are
going to have to rely on further contributions from the 2021 Conference
and/or anonymous or encouraged contributions.

We are still waiting for follow-ups to the relatively recent publication
of the third RadStats compendium, Data in Society, which was presented
by the books’ editors on Saturday 28th 2020. It is a landmark
publication, bringing together many of the crucial issues around the
production and use of quantitative information.

The contributors to Data in Society summarise many of the concerns
around the accessibility and use of statistics in contemporary society.
Examples include the lack of data from banking and financial
organisations hides the extent of tax evasion of taxation. Government
agencies are reducing the number of data series they make available
for public scrutiny. The number of healthcare treatments in Britain
provided by private groups is growing steadily.

The book is an eye-opener on the difficulties in holding governments
and large organisations to account. Do you agree with the authors’
interpretations?

As the editors acknowledge there are data topics the volume does not
cover in detail. These include the use of statistics by legal practitioners,
housing and homelessness data and climate change data.
The editors of the RadStats journal have been planning to devote one
journal issue to topics raised by Data in Society, and to topics not
discussed in the book. Could you write an article for the journal on
any of the topics above? Are there are areas of debate missing from
Data in Society? For example, is anyone prepared to comment on
the statistical inequalities arising out of the impact of the COVID-19
pandemic?

Administrative Issues

As the Administrator informed those receiving printed copies of the
issue that, at the AGM held in London at the end of February 2020,
the decision was taken to raise the subscription from £25 to £35 for
those wishing to continue to receive printed copies (whilst the membership
subscription only – with online access – would remain at £25
for those £10 for those on low incomes), otherwise they would be
taken off the distribution list which originally includes all 300+ members.

Please make sure you have updated your subscription, or make a
donation! – by going to www.radstats.org.uk/membership/ where
you can pay by cheque, standing order, PayPal – or by filling in your
details on page 52.

Radical Statistics, Issue 127

Cover image, empty auditoriumContents of this Issue

This issue is in two parts: Part I contains papers that were ‘carried over’ from the COVID issue 126, simply because we couldn’t exceed 88 pages even with a reduced font size without having to move to a spined binding which would have been more expensive. Part II contains a diverse set of papers:

  • Dave Byrne, with a critique of the IFS Deaton Review showing how a combination of policy moves (e.g. abolition of schedule A, progressive reduction of tax rates and ability for couples to separate their tax returns) has led to widening inequalities in income and wealth;
  • Danny Dorling, prompted by John Bibby, on gender differences in mortality suggesting that – with reference to Marc Luy’s writing on how much of the sex difference in mortality could be attributed to gender – the gap in life expectancies will narrow substantially by 2050;
  • Anna Powell-Smith, displaying the types of information that are
    missing from the UK government’s extensive compilations.

Prospects for RSN 128

Following on from the discussions at the Conference in February, I asked contributors if they would agree to a student converting their power-point presentations into short texts and two or three speakers have complied. There was also one article for this issue which we collectively decided could do with revision and we have returned to the author who has agreed. So, the issue might be short but not empty!

Another proposal for generating material is the recent publication of the third RadStats compendium, Data in Society, which will be presented by the books’ editors on Saturday 28th. It is a landmark publication, bringing together many of the crucial issues around the production and use of quantitative information.

The contributors to Data in Society summarise many of the concerns around the accessibility and use of statistics in contemporary society. Examples include the lack of data from banking and financial organisations hides the extent of tax evasion of taxation. Government agencies are reducing the number of data series they make available for public scrutiny. The number of healthcare treatments in Britain provided by
private groups is growing steadily.

The book is an eye-opener on the difficulties in holding governments and large organisations to account. Do you agree with the authors’ interpretations? As the editors acknowledge there are data topics the volume does not cover in detail. These include the use of statistics by legal practitioners, housing and homelessness data and climate change data.

The editors of the RadStats journal are planning to devote one journal issue to topics raised by Data in Society, and to topics not discussed in the book. Could you write an article for the journal on any of the topics above? Are there are areas of debate missing from Data in Society?

Administrative Issues

As the Administrator informed those receiving printed copies of the issue that, at the AGM held in London at the end of February 2020, the decision was taken to raise the subscription from £25 to £35 for those wishing to continue to receive printed copies (whilst the membership subscription only – with online access – would remain at £25;  £10 for those on low incomes), otherwise they would be taken off the distribution list which originally includes all 300+ members.

Please make sure you have updated your subscription, or make a donation! – by going to www.radstats.org.uk/membership/ where you can pay by cheque, standing order, PayPal – or by filling in your details in the form on page 54.

Roy Carr-Hill
Radstats Editor

Editorial, Coronavirus Special issue 126

We are flattered by the large number of papers submitted for this [special] issue.  Unfortunately, for reasons of cost, it was decided at the last Annual Conference not to print in colour, so we hope that the presentation of charts and figures has not been too spoilt.  For the same reason, we have had to limit the number of pages that can be staple bound (88) rather than with a spine.  This has meant:

  • after the tragic death of Professor Harvey Goldstein on 9th April from COVID-19-19, we solicited memorial tributes from members and others receiving heartfelt submissions from sixteen people, which we have decided to put on our website under the title of ‘Harvey Goldstein Memoria’;
  • carrying over some papers to the next issue and specifically those by Danny Dorling, Diana Kornbrot, Said Shahtahmasebi and dropping one planned section ’Epilogue’; the choice was made by myself on the basis of being relatively less directly relevant to COVID-19 or less statistical.

We are of course still ‘open for business’ in the sense of welcoming any commentary on the papers included in this issue, any further papers on COVID-19-19; and are particularly interested in receiving papers on countries not covered in section D of this issue.

Another proposal for generating material is the occasion of the publishing of the third RadStats compendium, Data in Society.  It is a landmark publication, bringing together many of the crucial issues around the production and use of quantitative information.

The contributors to Data in Society summarise many of the concerns around the accessibility and use of statistics in contemporary society. Examples include the lack of data from banking and financial organisations hides the extent of tax evasion of taxation. Government agencies are reducing the number of data series they make available for public scrutiny. The number of healthcare treatments in Britain provided privately is growing steadily.

The book is an eye-opener on the difficulties in holding governments and large organisations to account. Do you agree the authors’ interpretations?

As the editors acknowledge there are data topics the volume does not cover in detail. These include the use of statistics by legal practitioners, housing and homelessness data and climate change data.  The editors of the RadStats journal are planning to devote one journal issue to topics raised by Data in Society, and to topics not discussed in the book. Could you write an article for the journal on any of the topics above? Are there are areas of debate missing from Data in Society?

Roy Carr-Hill, Radical Statistics Editor

What models can and cannot do

Guest blog post by David Byrne

Models have been widely deployed in scientific discussion of the likely course of the COVID-19 pandemic to explore the potential impact of different policy interventions. However, any model is a necessary simplification of the system it describes.

Covid-19 is a biological intervention in the complex social systems – the plural is very important – which include human social interactions and policy interventions within existing social relations and institutional structures. These systems have emergent properties. That is not to say that modelling is useless but its use is necessarily limited.

Existing models are basically modifications of traditional epidemiological models of infectious disease transmission with parameters changed to reflect different timings and degrees of social interaction in response to social distancing and lock down regulatory interventions. There is a real problem of scale. Have these models got the scale of the system right before any attempt at description, let alone prediction, is attempted?

Communicable disease public health doctors have consistently made the point that what we have is not one nationwide outbreak but a set of local outbreaks which is why isolation of cases, tracing of contacts and isolation of those contacts is such an important part of the public health armoury. Most modelling seemed to deal only with the national scale and looked at the impact of policies like lockdown at that level although I am aware that local modelling is being attempted. Few models have examined in detail the impact of case isolation, tracing and contact isolation despite this having been a successful strategy in South Korea and elsewhere. An exception is  Kretzschmar, et al (2020). Plainly this is a very important set of interventions to consider.

Although an alternative form of approach has no immediate predictive capacity it is absolutely necessary to develop it in order to learn from this experience, for similar outbreaks will happen again. That approach is case-based process tracing and systematic case-comparison to establish what has worked better. That needs setting up now and whilst data is essential for developing it, and modelling can play a retrospective role if done at the right scale and with full incorporation of structural elements, it is not the only or even the best way to establish wha has worked where.

How might we  learn from this first wave of COVID-19 in order to find out what approaches have worked or not and in what contexts they have worked or not? Note the emphasized plural. Interventions have been interventions in different local complex systems and have themselves been complex. At national or even sub-national scales (where sub-national governments as with provinces in Canada have had appropriate powers) they have combined public health regulatory regimes (again note the plural) – different regimes in different places – with different levels of curative intervention depending on resources and even perhaps (on some limited evidence) different curative approaches, particularly in relation to the diagnostic anticipation and intervening prevention of cytokine storms. On this see the interviews with Chinese Intensive Care Physicians here: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24632783-600-wuhans-covid-19-crisis-intensive-care-doctors-share-their-stories/.

The first thing we need to know is just what has been done in different places alongside descriptions of the spatial and temporal contexts in which those things were done. We need careful process tracing and that means that we need good recording of what things were done in reasonable detail. This is a norm of any complex engineering production process but health systems are weak at full case recording other than those insurance based systems which generate financial records for costing. There have been attempts to improve this in non-insurance based systems but at present they are not fully developed. That kind of recording might be useful at the level of the individual patient and might provide the basis of a new wave of learning algorithm-based data mining to guide intervention, but it does not take account of institutional interventions at higher levels. It will be useful, indeed essential, in establishing treatment protocols – the sheer uselessness and inappropriateness of Randomized Controlled Trials other than for vaccine testing in a pandemic is obvious. It will not guide overall health system management.

There are well established tools in evaluation which can deal with the issue of post hoc exploration of what has worked in different contexts this time to guide policy and practice for next time. These are inherently mixed method in that they require the construction of narratives of what has been done, a mix of descriptive quantitative and qualitative specification of the contexts in which things have been done, and the use of data generated from those account to establish the multiple forms of intervention which have worked to different degrees. Equifinality rules OK!  The same outcome – control over the impact of the disease – can be generated in different and multiple ways. We need comparative process tracing based exploration of the multiple and complex ways in which systems have generated different outcomes.

This is precisely the set of problems addressed by  CECAN – a multi research council and UK government department funded investigation into the problems of Evaluating Complex Interventions Across the NEXUS (food, environment, water and energy). A range of approaches have been developed for this purpose:  CECAN’s website provides a full listing, https://www.cecan.ac.uk/.

Developed outside CECAN but interacting with it has been the very interesting approach of Dynamic Pattern Synthesis devised by Phil Haynes (see Haynes 2019).

This combines exploratory cluster analyses with Qualitative Comparative Analysis to explore how policy and practice systems have come to the outcomes they have reached.

Fundamental to this way of finding “what works” is a combination of qualitative materials and quantitative data. QCA – which is one tool but a good one with an established literature of effective use – requires the interpretation of qualitative narrative accounts of process to yield quantitative descriptions of interventions alongside quantitative descriptions of context. For an example of how this can be done see: Blackman et al.(2013).  Note that the level of measurement is often simply binary or at best ordinal specification of the attributes of the systems and of the interventions made within them.

Demanding documentation during crises is a hard thing to do but the construction of narratives, preferably on an ongoing real time basis but if necessary by careful historical investigation is absolutely necessary. We must always be able to say what has been done and if we can’t then we won’t learn what needs to be done.

References

Blackman et al.(2013). “Using Qualitative Comparative Analysis to understand complex policy problems.” Evaluation 19(2):126-140.

Haynes, Phil (2019). Social Synthesis – Finding Dynamic Patterns in Complex Social Systems. Abingdon: Routledge.

Kretzschmar, Mirjam E, Ganna Rozhnova, and Michiel E van Boven (2020). “Isolation and contact tracing can tip the scale to containment of COVID-19 in populations with social distancing.”

 

Call for Papers for a Coronavirus special issue

Papers from all disciplines are invited on any relevant topic addressing political aspects of data and statistics.

Joint Editors are John Bibby and Roy Carr-Hill. Please submit an indicative title and brief description. Email: jb43@york.ac.uk

Papers are due by 1st May 2020, for publication the same month (provisional).

Recent issues of the journal are viewable at https://www.radstats.org.uk/journal/.

2020 Conference and Events

2020, London: “Learning from the Past to Build a Better Future
Friday 28th & Saturday 29th February, 2020
Radical Statistics 46th annual conference will take place at
St Luke’s Community Centre, 90 Central St, London EC1V 8AJ.
Register on Eventbrite.
On Saturday, 29th at the same location Radical Statistics will hold its AGM, discussion about Data in Society, and an extended discussion on the future of Radstats, as we approach our 50th year. All welcome.

Register now – Radical Statistics 2020 Conference

“Learning from the Past to Build a Better Future”

London: Friday 28th February 2020, with associated events on 27th and 28th February evenings, and the morning of 29th February.

The 46th annual Radical Statistics Conference will take place at St Luke’s Community Centre, 90 Central St, London EC1V 8AJ.

2020 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale who was noted as “The Passionate Statistician”. We are proud to mark this with a Keynote Address from Lynn McDonald of Guelph University, world authority on Nightingale and editor of her collected works. Lynne’s talk is entitled “Florence Nightingale and Statistics: What She Did and What She Did Not”.

There will be many other talks and plenty of time for discussion, including:

Danny Dorling on The UK health crisis
Eileen Magnello on Nightingale: A radical and passionate statistician
Andrew Street on Revisiting Nightingale’s vision and hospital outcomes

Dave Byrne on The IFS Deaton review
Paul Marchant on Bad Stats and the public purse
Greg Dropkin on Radiation & A-bomb survivers in Japan

And discussion and sessions on the new Radical Statistics book ‘Data in Society: Challenging Statistics in an Age of Globalisation’

On the following morning, Saturday the 29th, Radical Statistics’ AGM will be held at the same location. In addition all are invited to discuss the future of Radical Statistics as an organisation as we prepare to enter our second half-century. There will be informal social events on the evenings of the 27th and 28th. We hope to end with a guided walk on a FN theme by a professional guide, immediately following the Saturday meeting.

Registration is now open.

Radical Statistics 123 (2019)

Cover pages
Editorial

Submitted Papers

Lies, damned lies, metrics & semantics: Exploring definitions of the end of leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and their implicationsF Houghton, M Winterburn, S Lama & B Cosgrove
Teaching for citizen empowerment and engagementJim Ridgeway & Rosie Ridgeway
Book Reviews


New Book: Data in Society – Challenging Statistics in an age of globalisation – with greatly reduced ‘pre-order’ price for members
Ludi Simpson
News


Minutes of AGM at Liverpool

Commission on ‘Future of Radical Statistics’

Radical Statistics Conference 2020

Revision of Book Reviewing process

New Book: Data in Society – Challenging Statistics in an age of globalisationwith greatly reduced ‘pre-order’ price for members