In 1917, the first year for which there are records, King George V sent birthday cards to 24 British centenarians to congratulate them on turning 100. Since the beginning of her reign Elizabeth II has sent over 110,000 100th birthday telegrams/cards to delighted recipients.
In passing, a recent article in The Independent noted the expected number of Britons aged 100 or more would be 100,000 in 25 years time and calculated that our then monarch will be congratulating centenarians “at a rate of 250 a day”.
“We understand the universe much better than we understand our own societies” said Professor Helbing, Chair of Sociology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Dirk Helbing was speaking at a session entitled “Predictability: from physical to data sciences”. This was an opportunity for participating scientists to share ways in which they have applied statistical methodologies they usually use in the physical sciences to issues which are more ‘societal’ in nature. Examples stretched from use of Twitter data to accurately predict where a person is at any moment of each day, to use of social network data in identifying the tipping point at which opinions held by a minority of committed individuals influence the majority view (essentially looking at how new social movements develop) through to reducing travel time across an entire road system by analysing mobile phone and GIS (Geographical Information Systems) data.
‘What the budget numbers tell us, and what they don’t’ an RSS-getstats parliamentary panel event took place on 19 March. Read on for a brief account of discussion.
Budgets are ‘political’ and interpretation of the numbers they present will always be ‘pluralist’, the RSS getstats panel audience was told - the event taking place a day before Chancellor George Osborne did his best to prove the point.
Last year there was a surge of measles in England and Wales and already this year health authorities in South Wales and the north east of England are reporting spikes in cases of a disease that had been on its way out – thanks to the success of the MMR vaccine says NHS Choices.
A causal link can’t definitively be made with the Wakefield case in 1998 and the way, then and since certain media – notoriously the Daily Mail – have campaigned against immunization. But rates of vaccination did slip, probably because parents had read and believed reports linking MMR to autism. There’s more here about the disease.
The Guardian reports Facebook users are ‘unwittingly revealing intimate secrets – including their sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs’.
What a writer calls ‘algorithmic detective work’ — the use of common Big Data techniques – could allow Facebook and similar operations to work out that if you like certain films or express certain views you are more likely to have this or that sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
Doctors have to have a minimum understanding of basic statistics and if they don’t they put patients and professional integrity at risk. That surely is a lesson from the report of the Mid-Staffs inquiry and now the enforced closure of a children’s heart unit at Leeds.
Doctors will complain their training curriculum is already crowded – they don’t just have to conquer medicine but acquire personal, business and (if they are to play a part in the brave new world created by the Health and Social Care Act 2012) learn to be managers too. But without stats, how can they know whether a therapy or an intervention (or the performance of surgical colleagues) is effective and safe?
We’ve been here before, but that doesn’t make the pain of statistical abuse any lighter.
A government, down in the polling dumps, gets anxious to extol its policies. It seizes eagerly on any sign they are working. Temptation looms, in the shape of exaggerating or, as some would say, actively misinterpreting data.