David Spiegelhalter on being RSS president

Written by David Spiegelhalter on . Posted in Features

Our president writes about what the role has entailed for him since taking up his presidency at the beginning of 2017.

I’ve been RSS President for nearly six months, and it’s been a fascinating experience. Although I’ve been a member of the Society for around 40 years, I never really had much of an idea of all the things it got up to, and I’ve been amazed at the extraordinary breadth of activities, from the familiar planning of events, to preparation of submissions to parliamentary inquiries. 

Fortunately I am shielded from much of the detail due to the wonderfully efficient staff, but it’s been a pleasure to contribute when I can, such as meeting Sir David Norgrove, the new chair of the UK Statistics Authority, and appearing on the Daily Politics during the election campaign – a slightly bizarre occasion drawing numbers and graphs on a flip-chart in front of the Houses of Parliament. 

I also added my tweets to the UK election-night drama, complaining that the BBC was not telling us the margin of error on the exit poll, and then afterwards congratulating the fine performance (again) of the model developed by RSS fellow David Firth and others.

I have chaired, rather nervously, my first RSS Council. Among a long agenda we discussed the recent membership survey, which provided trough-loads (to use a technical term) of comments about the Society, including some criticisms which need to be taken seriously. Someone pointed out that many people seemed to join on the ‘National Trust’ model: pleased to get some benefits, but largely as an expression of support for an idea. 

This seems a fair reflection of the work of the Society, much of which supports the statistical profession rather than being of direct benefit to members. I strongly believe that this profession is honourable and impartial, and I am delighted the Society is doing so much to give statisticians a stronger voice in this age of ‘alternative facts’. However, in the end the Society relies on its members for their subscriptions and voluntary activity, and so all of you deserve credit for supporting this fine institution.

David Spiegelhalter RSS Council RSS President

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