Perceptions are real, right? Not so…it seems, instead, that much of our sense of the society we live in is based on misperceptions which run counter to evidence.
A new survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London shows just how wrong public opinion can be on key social issues such as crime, benefit fraud and immigration. See the resultant list of the Top Ten issues where public understanding is most out of touch. From teenage pregnancy to crime levels, benefit fraud, the list goes on…all are issues which we are either underestimating or blowing out of proportion.
New research ‘The Employment Equation: Why our young people need more Maths for today’s jobs’ commissioned by the Sutton Trust, makes it clear that having a good grade in GCSE Mathematics doesn’t mean you have the practical mathematical skills needed in today’s workplace.
Researchers – Professor Jeremy Hodgen and Dr Rachel Marks, King’s College, London – reviewed over 50 studies to examine the maths needed at work. Today’s workforce - everyone from paediatric nurses to mortgage advisers – needs skills in mental arithmetic, estimation and approximation, reasoning, using calculators, interpreting spreadsheets, tables, graphs and diagrams. Young people are taught these skills in GCSE Maths but this doesn’t mean that they know how to apply them.
Film making involves lots of numbers and that’s why, says researcher Nick Redfern understanding films requires statistical literacy. Film data isn’t just box office, production costs and Hollywood quantities, but subtle measures, such as shot length — there’s a great debate about the construction of the Marx Brothers’ classic A Night at the Opera.
Redfern notes that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – at least when it is not distracted by the Olympics or Leveson – wants policy making to be more ‘evidence based’. That, he argues, calls for a greater ability to deal with the numbers in culture. He looks to the British Film Institute. ’The BFI has to take a lead in promoting statistical literacy in order to render consultation processes meaningful, and other film and education bodies have to follow.’
Today’s headlines - the Telegraph’s ‘Crime really doesn’t pay – a third of bank robbers make nothing at all’ and the Scotsman’s ‘Crime does not pay very well: robbers on £ 12k a job’ - share new data-driven insight which can be used in fighting crime.
The articles pick up on a press release on an article which will be coming out in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association, later this month.
With unique acccess to British Bankers Association data, researchers at the Universities of Surrey and Sussex developed an economic model of bank heists, balancing robbers’ efforts against their gains or losses. The model shows that contrary to common perceptions, in the UK, takings per successful raid are equivalent to less than six months’ average wage (and takings in an average US raid are considerably less). Factor in multiple raids to boost sub-average income and an increasing probability of capture and loss of earnings and this ‘career path’ makes less and less economic sense.
Dr Ian McHale, a statistician and Director of the Centre for Sports Business at Salford University (also Chair of the Royal Statistical Society’s Sports Section) is, of course, right to say that sport is a great playground for statisticians. After all, he co-developed the model underpinning the Official Player Rating System of the Barclays Premier League which aims to tell us which football players are best and why. He also spends time thinking through who the winners and losers are in other sports.
Just as we are all turning into Wimbledon tennis heads (I can feel the crick in my neck already), how great to be able to pit our general sense of where our favourite players are in the all time world rankings against some serious statistical analysis…right on cue, we have new research entitled ‘A dynamic paired comparisons model: who is the greatest tennis player?’ completed by Ian and co-author Professor Rose Baker.
How many ‘troubled families’ are there? The government is ultra precise. It says, without hesitation, 120,000. Professor Ruth Levitas of the University of Bristol is sceptical. Do we have an exact definition of ‘troubled’? The Department for Communities and Local Government ‘makes a discursive move from families that have troubles, through families that are ‘troubled’, to families that are or cause trouble.
The government figure comes from work done on 2004 data showing 2 per cent of families showed with a certain number of predefined indicators of disadvantage or problem. But coming from a survey, any figure is subject to sampling error and that means, the number of ‘troubled families’ could be as low as 60,000 or as high as 300,000.
Levitas goes on to show how trying to allocate these families to particular areas is difficult, given the nature of the data.
She concludes after inspecting the data base for the policy the government has not made rigorous use of the research ’In the term ‘troubled families’ it deliberately conflates families experiencing multiple disadvantage and families that cause trouble. The attributed costings are obscure and certainly open to question.’
Stevie Wonder sang it with gusto over the Jubilee holiday but it may not be a happy birthday if you are over 60. A study of Swiss death certificates published in Annals of Epidemiology has found a significant number of ‘extra’ deaths occur on the day people are celebrating their birth.
Researchers checked the data was sound – some people’s birthdays are not exactly known. They calculated the increased risk as broadly the same for men and women at about 13 per cent, which suggests it’s more than coincidence, as NHS Choices helpfully explains.
But why might birthdays be lethal? The research establishes a correlation, but for cause we have to speculate. People might drink more, leading to more accidents. Birthdays see more of what doctors coyly terms ‘vascular events’, such as stroke: blowing out candles on the cake can be stressful. Sadly, birthdays are occasions for sadness, which may produce more suicides.