Biographical details of nominations for election to RSS Council

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In the latest edition of RSS NEWS we communicated the names nominated by Council for election to fill the six vacancies for terms beginning in 2014.  Their biographies are now listed below.  
 
Fellows may still make other nominations if they wish and can contact the executive director for more information.
 

Testers needed for Office for National Statistics website

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The Office for National Statistics is looking for volunteers take part in an exercise to help it improve the way people access and navigate information on the ONS website.

The ONS is now reviewing the classifications on its website with a view to introducing a simplified version that is easier for users to access and understand. To this end, tests are being conducted with a range of ONS website users, and RSS members are welcomed to volunteer.
 
Tests will take place on the 17-19 June and 22-26 June 2013. Volunteers can test the site from home or a workplace with internet and phone access.
 
The test will take no longer than one hour, and time slots are being allocated through a booking system.
 
RSS members, and other interested parties, can volunteer by emailing Lisa Davies by 10 June 2013.
 
 
 

Stanford statistician wins Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences

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David Donoho, a professor of statistics at Stanford University, is this year’s recipient of the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences.
 
The American Statistical Association member was honoured ‘for his profound contributions to modern mathematical statistics’. Donoho was also noted for his role in developing mathematical and statistical tools to deal with problems such as large data-sets in high dimensions to contamination with noise. ‘His work provides fast, efficient and often optimal algorithms which are founded on rigorous mathematical analysis,’ the judges commented.
 
The Shaw Prize honours six individuals who have achieved a significant breakthrough in academic and scientific research, or whose work has resulted in a positive and profound impact on mankind. Six individuals are honoured within three categories – astronomy, mathematical sciences, and life science and medicine. Each winner receives $1 million US dollars.
 
Run Run Shaw is a philanthropist who runs several foundations promoting education, scientific research, medical services and the arts. The Shaw Prize Foundation is based in Hong Kong and a presentation ceremony, scheduled for 23 September 2013, will mark its tenth year since inception.
 

Edward Snowden revelations spark debate on Big Data

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The recent revelations by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden have raised important questions surrounding the issues of Big Data and the right to privacy.

Edward Snowden is an ex-CIA employee who last week leaked details of US top-secret phone and internet surveillance to The Guardian newspaper. The leaks reveal that the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) uses a programme known as Prism to directly tap into the servers of leading internet firms to track online communication. It has also been alleged that UK surveillance agency GCHQ used the system to spy on British citizens, although on Monday (9 June 2013) William Hague reassured Parliament that all British agencies ‘practise and uphold UK law at all times’. Barack Obama has also reassured Americans that ‘nobody is listening to your telephone calls.’
 
Since the leaks were disclosed, a debate has emerged among commentators around the issues arising from the proliferation of data and data mining techniques and where the lines should be drawn. Some remain relatively relaxed by the news. ‘So far, I have never seen or felt any real-world consequences from this theoretical vulnerability,’ Gideon Rachmann wrote in the Financial Times (behind paywall).
 
Benedict Brogan posited in The Telegraph that we have already reached a point of no return: ‘There is far more information about us out there than governments, let alone spy agencies, know what to do with. In the age of Big Data, we provide it willingly every time we swipe our travel pass or click to agree a website’s terms without bothering to read them.’ A Washington Post opinion poll conducted after the leaks were published suggest that the majority of Americans think government monitoring of phone records is acceptable if the aim is to combat terrorism.
 
However, others have voiced dismay. Hugo Rifkind in The Times called the revelations ‘sinister’, and that sweeping powers of surveillance ‘are only justifiable if they are granted with transparency […] subject to a system of checks and balances in which everybody can have faith.’ Ai Weiwei in The Guardian called it ‘abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals’ privacy.’
 
Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS said: ‘This incident shows that the ubiquity of data is now putting strain on established norms and laws around privacy. Government and regulators need to get on the front foot to frame a regulatory regime for data that both protects individuals and promotes the public good. This will take a major public conversation, as nobody yet knows what this looks like.’
 

Society to co-host second debate on understanding statistics

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A second major policy debate on understanding statistics, run by the Royal Statistical Society, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, is to be held on Tuesday 9 July 2013.
 
Titled ‘The Perils of Perception’, the lecture will this time examine how people’s understanding of the state of society is affected by personal experience rather than more objective evidence. It will also cover issues where public perceptions are out of step with the data – such as levels of crime, proportion of government money spent on overseas aid and benefit levels.
 
The meeting is chaired by RSS executive director Hetan Shah and speakers include Office for Budget Responsibility chair Robert Chote, BBC home editor Mark Easton, Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government, Professor Ken Young, programme director for Public Policy at King’s, and Bobby Duffy of Ipsos MORI.
 
The panel will address questions such as: Why do these perception gaps arise? Do they matter? If so, what can be done to better align public understanding with the facts?
 
The lecture starts at 6.15pm (drinks from 5.30pm) at the Safra Lecture Theatre, King’s College London, Strand Campus and a Q&A will follow the speakers. The event will be followed by drinks and canapés at 7.30pm. Anyone wishing to attend should register their interest first (click on the green ‘online booking’ button).
 
Those interested in commenting on the event using social media are asked to use the #perceptiongaps hashtag.
 

First Journal Club audio recordings now available

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The audio recordings of the Society’s first ever Journal Club teleconference, held back in April this year, are now available via the PSI website.
 
The event, held jointly between PSI Pharmaceutical Statistics and the RSS and sponsored by Wiley and Quintiles, was on topics relating to survival analysis. This session was chaired by James Carpenter of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and featured two authors, Abdus S Wahed of the University of Pittsburgh and Nicola Schmitt of AstraZeneca.
 
The webcast recordings, along with slides from the presentations, are available to listen to and view here. They are available in WMV, MP4 and MP3 (audio only) formats.
 
The next Journal Club, featuring authors Galit Shmueli and Ron Kenett, examines the concept of information quality ‘InfoQ’ as ‘the potential of a data set to achieve a specific (scientific or practical) goal by using a given empirical analysis method’. The paper, ‘On information quality’, is currently available to view here. Both authors will talk about the paper, its applications and related work.
 
PSI, which has been running its journal club for more than three years, is interested in feedback from readers to help determine the direction of future events. Visit www.psiweb.org/journalclub to be directed to the survey, which takes around five minutes to complete. The survey closes on 8 June 2013.
 

Next getstats in parliament event focuses on constituency data

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The Royal Statistical Society is continuing its ‘getstats in Parliament’ series with two more lunchtime panel events. RSS members are invited although spaces are extremely limited.

The next event, titled: ‘MPs – what do you know about your constituency? How to get the evidence and the statistics’ is aimed at MPs and peers. It takes place in Portcullis House, Westminster, on Tuesday 2 July 2013 (1-2 pm, preceded by a light lunch).
 
Mark Easton, home editor of BBC News will chair the event. Panellists include  Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of Public Administration Select Committee; Professor Danny Dorling from the University of Sheffield; and Aleks Collingwood from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
 
Contributions will also be made by Richard Cracknell from the House of Commons Library and Ross Young of the UK Statistics Authority on the 2011 Census and the case for improving constituency data respectively.
 
The event will address questions such as: Where do MPs and their staff go for the latest, most accurate evidence? Is the data broken down by constituency or do they have to work with figures relating to council areas or even regions? Who is guaranteeing the data is accurate? How up-to-date is census data? Could it come on stream quicker? Is enough use made of information generated by the NHS, councils and the government itself?
 
A further event, ‘Counting them in and counting them out’ is scheduled for Thursday 24 October 2013. This will examine the issue of immigration and migration. Further details are available on the getstats website.
 
If you are interested in attending either event, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to register.
 

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