Longitudinal studies: Not just for Christmas

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

The UK has rich datasets of longitudinal population studies, dating back to the end of the Second World War, that help researchers study how our changing world affects people’s lives long term. As the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) undertakes a review of its longitudinal studies portfolio, we look at the background to the review and why the RSS (via its Social Statistics section) will be making its own contribution to help shape the future of this key part of the nation’s social science data infrastructure.

The ESRC’s review is covering future need, methodology, potential for data linkage and how its current longitudinal studies portfolio fits with the UK’s broader data infrastructure.

Does air pollution kill 40,000 people each year in the UK?

Written by David Spiegelhalter on . Posted in Features

Air pollution is news. The Daily Mail claims that 'Air pollution is "killing 40,000 a year in the UK"’ Greenpeace says 40,000 lives were cut short by air pollution in the UK', while the Guardian reports 'Air pollution crisis "plagues" UK, finds UN human rights expert'. But where does the 40,000 figure come from, what does it mean, and is there really a ‘crisis’? I discovered that digging down to the basis for this figure required some statistical detective work, so brace yourself for some forensic details…

Teaching statistics in Africa - reflections from a volunteer

Written by Ian Plewis on . Posted in Features

The RSS launched a Statistics In Africa campaign last year to help fund RSS fellows' travel to Africa, enabling them to volunteer with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). One of those fellows is Ian Plewis, emeritus professor of social statistics at the University of Manchester, who has just returned from Tanzania where he taught a statistics course at the AIMS centre there. He has sent us some of his reflections and experiences from his time as a volunteer course leader at AIMS Tanzania.

AIMS has several centres in different countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The centre in Tanzania is in Bagamoyo, a relatively small town about 40 miles north of Dar es Salaam. The building that houses AIMS is, as you can see, idiosyncratic but the location is delightful, overlooking the Indian Ocean and a beach busy with small fishing boats.

Economic Statistics in a Digital Age: an ONS conference preview

Written by Malindi Myers on . Posted in Features

The Office for National Statistics launched its economic statistics transformation programme just under a year ago, and will be hosting the first international conference on 'Economic Statistics in a Digital Age’ on February 21st and 22nd, at the Celtic Manor near Newport, South Wales. This will be the inaugural event of a stream of annual conferences around economic statistics, their improvement and expansion, and the use of digital data sources, which is open to experts and users alike.

The wider context to this conference begins with the high-level report into UK economic statistics commissioned by the government, conducted by Sir Charlie Bean and published in 2016. This review focused on the gathering of data, compilation of UK economic statistics, publication, communication of the story, and so on – the full production exercise from start to finish.

Event report: Post-truth: what is it and what can we do about it?

Written by Olivia Varley-Winter on . Posted in Features

On 7 February 2017, the RSS hosted the event 'Post-truth: What is it and what can we do about it?' in association with Sense about Science, Full Fact, the Oxford Internet Institute, and SAGE publishing. The panel of speakers comprised James Ball, special correspondent for Buzzfeed News and author of a forthcoming book on 'post-truth', Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, Will Moy, director of Full Fact and Helen Margetts, director of the Oxford Internet Institute. The event was chaired by RSS executive director Hetan Shah.

Opening the event, Hetan Shah dedicated it to the memory of Hans Rosling, who had died that morning. Rosling was well known for his public presentations of statistics, which challenged his audiences on subjects such as global healthcare, population, prosperity, and the problems of the poorest around the world. His strongly expressed support for ‘factfulness’ (that the public should base their opinions on fact) provided a clear counterpoint to ‘post-truth’ narratives.

Looking for a statistician? The RSS stats consultants directory could help

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

Finding a statistical consultant can be a tricky business; the RSS reception desk receives at least one call a week from people looking for recommendations. As the RSS charter forbids us from favouring a particular member over another, we direct them to our neutral Consultants Directory. Published online on the RSS website, the directory lists details of dozens of statisticians, all of whom hold the Society’s esteemed Chartered Statistician (CStat) status. Between them, those listed have a variety of specialisms, ranging from randomised control trials to survey analysis.

The Consultants Directory was originally created around ten years ago to pull together a list of professionally qualified members who offer a statistical consultancy service. It contains profiles created by the consultants, with information on their specialisms and background as well as their contact details. It only contains Chartered Statisticians who are professionally active and available to undertake consultancy work.

A hot debate: How dangerous is burnt toast?

Written by David Spiegelhalter on . Posted in Features

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) today launched its Go for Gold campaign, encouraging us not to burn our roast or fried vegetables and keep our oven chips at a nice golden colour. The idea is to reduce people’s intake of acrylamide, a chemical that is 'created when many foods, particularly starchy foods like potatoes and bread, are cooked for long periods at high temperatures, such as when baking, frying, grilling, toasting and roasting'. (FSA).

Acrylamide can be, in large doses, a very nasty substance. It is used as an industrial sealant, and workers with very high exposures suffered serious neurotoxicity. Very high doses have been shown to increase the risk of mice getting cancer. The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) considers it a ‘probable human carcinogen’, putting it in the same category as many chemicals, red meat, being a hairdresser and shift-work.

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