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.


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

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

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

Editorial, Issue 121

This issue is now available online.

I/we had hoped – yet again – 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 that not only filled the previous issue but provided a surplus for this issue (although none for the next!).

Contents of this Issue

The result of course is that the contents of this issue are again a mixed bag, so they have been put in the reverse order of author’s surnames (to distinguish from the previous issue).  Westart, with a critique of statistics as reification from Simeon Scott, including diatribes on Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics, Bolshevism and Statistics, IBM and the Nazis, Identity Politics, the Neutrality of Numbers, the Mean value as Reification, Big Data, the Data Scientist, Econometrics concluding with the Tyranny of Numbers. It is followed by anovel approach by Daniel and Burns to map real pedestrian catchment areas by factoring in elevation to the street networks to understand daily journey-to-work commuting behaviour, taking Milton in Galasgow as an example. As expected, the ‘real’ ‘ped-shed’ is smaller than the 2D ‘ped-shed’for both current and proposed networks. This research builds on existing established practice in walkability analysis, and prompts a discussion on other factors which may affect walkability and could be included in a more sophisticated walkability index.

After that there are two short articles.  Houghton contributes an expose of corruption and mismanagement in Irish Credit Unions, set up to be an ethically ‘cleaner’ than the disgraced banking sector, in their operation of prize draws (Misappropriation of funds; Mismanagement of prize draws funds; Poor systems and controls; Lack of independence where officers of the credit union have been prize-winners).  The last article is a final contribution by Roy Carr-Hill on meta analyses, examining the specifically statistical issues.  The issue is completed by a comprehensive report on the 2018 Conference in London.

Prospects for RSN 122
We now have no material for the next issue RSN 122, due late January. We would like it to be at least partly devoted to the 2018 conference
papers, and 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; and
reports of these workshops are included in the report at the end of this

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 Reproductive Inequalities 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

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