Conference 2018 session: Lets talk about stats

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in News

While pretty much everyone attending the Royal Statistical Society conference can agree that statistics are very important and interesting, how do we convince everyone else of that fact?

Many in the science community devote a significant amount of their time engaging with children and young people to show them how statistics and data analysis techniques can lead to greater insights about the world around them, and three of those people spoke in the RSS conference session on ‘Showcasing statistics through outreach and public engagement’.

The session, organised by the RSS Young Statisticians' Section and the RSS education committee, featured three speakers experienced in statistical outreach work in schools, science festivals and other public engagements. Jeff Ralph, who has just finished his year-long tenureship as RSS William Guy lecturer, spoke about inspirations for engaging with young audiences, such as speakers using game theory, the Duckworth-Lewis method in cricket and cryptography as topics. When writing his William Guy lecture, which focused on statistics that show how life has changed for teenagers over the past century, he found that a great way to capture his audience’s attention was to open his talk on the topic of baby names. By covering this and other themes of interest to his audience, Jeff’s aim was to convey the importance of official statistics.

Jo Burnett of NHS Blood and Transport talked about her work as a STEM ambassador in the Bristol area. She became an ambassador in 2017 and gives regular talks to primary, secondary and early undergraduate students. Jo emphasised the importance of considering your audience and tailoring your presentation depending on their age. She showed how she adjusted a presentation previously delivered to undergraduates for year ten students, where she included greater explanation of statistical terms and background information. Younger audiences respond better to fewer words and more images than older children, she noted, but regardless of age, colours can draw the audience’s eye to key points and data visualisations such as heatmaps tend to go down well.

Laura Bonnett, RSS Education Committee member and postdoc fellow at the University of Liverpool, talked about the Hands On Statistics activities, which are focused on promoting statistics in settings such as science festivals and careers fairs, where you only have a student’s attention for a maximum of five minutes. She helped develop eight activities along with Simon White and Scott Keir of the Royal Statistical Society.

The activities require little in terms of props and each introduces one statistical concept to the participant. Laura demonstrated a number of them, including How Many Penguins? which uses penguin guana (poo) data from aerial photos to count penguins, and Capture Recapture, which introduces the idea of sampling to estimate populations. The activities are listed at and each activity has a downloadable PDF listing everything you need (including copy-and-paste risk assessment text!). The RSS website will be updated with Stage 2 shortly.

This was the RSS conference session on ‘Showcasing statistics through outreach and public engagement’.

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