Measuring public trust in official statistics

Written by Ian Simpson on . Posted in Features

Ian Simpson of NatCen explains some of the findings published in a recent report looking at the public's views of UK official statistics. 

As part of its annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, NatCen Social Research measured views on UK official statistics and the organisation that produces them, the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The questions were also asked in the 2014 BSA survey, allowing for comparison of results.

Building bridges between Westminster and science

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

Since 2001, the Royal Society has run the Parliamentary Pairing scheme, enabling scientists and parliamentarians – either MPs or civil servants – to shadow each other at work. The aim of the scheme is to promote greater understanding between the science community and those who make the decisions that affect them.

One of the Royal Statistical Society’s statistical ambassadors, Liberty Vittert (pictured, left), took part in the scheme this year. Liberty is Mitchell lecturer in statistics at the University of Glasgow, and spent a week in London back in December 2016. For two days she shadowed her local MP Patrick Grady (also pictured), the Scottish National Party’s MP for Glasgow North. Prior to that she attended a series of preparatory talks for the scientists participating in the Parliamentary Pairing scheme, run by the Royal Society, to explain how parliament works and where opportunities for influencing policymaking exist.

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.

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.

RSS analysis of the REF shows breadth of stats in research

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

The multi-disciplinary nature of statistics is evident in the way it's being utilised in research, examples of which range from predicting election results and modelling the spread of infections to creating a football player index, creating 3D models of heritage sites and improving weather forecasting. And these are just some of the areas of research that statistics is playing a significant part in, according to an RSS analysis of the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Last year, the RSS conducted analysis into hundreds of ‘impact case studies’ submitted to the 2014 REF; which were introduced to illustrate the impact that academic research has had across the UK and internationally, beyond academia. The RSS analysis sought to find out how many of these case studies included statistics.

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.

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