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.

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.

Is dementia risk really that much higher near busy roads?

Written by Jen Rogers on . Posted in Features

‘Dementia rates “higher near busy roads”’ was a headline from the BBC News website last week which I was invited to comment on. [1] The article concerned an 11-year Canadian study which had monitored around 2.2 million people to investigate the risks associated with living close to a busy road and incidence of dementia.[2] This study found that for people living within 50 metres of a busy road, the risk of dementia increased by 7%.

A shocking statistic when you consider the fact that dementia affects almost 50 million people worldwide and there are over 7.5 million new cases every year.[3] So, should we all think about picking up sticks and moving to the countryside in search of a dementia free life? Well, here is an example of where risk isn’t all that it seems.

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.

Stats journalism: Uncovering stories using stats in a post-truth era

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

At a time where the term ‘post-truth’ has become so prevalent it was named ‘word of the year’, the ability to present facts and figures in a way that engages with people is becoming a much sought-after skill. Not only that, but the increasing amount of data becoming available means it’s more important than ever before to be able to use that data to say something meaningful about the world around us.

The Royal Statistical Society’s awards for Statistical Excellence in Journalism has been celebrating these skills for a number of years now and its recipients are celebrated for their ability to turn figures into meaningful stories that help shed light on a particular issue, using data to show us something we didn’t know before.

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