Lords criticise ‘lack of clarity’ regarding open access policy

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The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has criticised Research Councils UK (RCUK) regarding the planned implementation of its open access policy following concern from academics and publishers that they were not adequately consulted.
 
There has been significant confusion around some of the policy’s wording, which does not make clear what embargo periods will allowed after the policy is implemented. The lack of clarity over whether embargo periods of 12 and 24 months were allowed after April 2013 was deemed ‘unacceptable’ by the report, which welcomed RCUK’s recent clarification that it will phase in its open access policy gradually over a five year implementation phase.
 
The Committee conducted a short inquiry in the light of these concerns, and produced a report last week (22 February 2013), titled ‘The implementation of open access’. The RSS contributed to the consultation and among other concerns, commented that the proposed timescale for implementation was ‘too tight, and that insufficient money has been allocated to support transition to open access’.
 
Lord Krebs, Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, commented: ‘RCUK did not consult or communicate effectively with key stakeholders in the publishing and academic communities when implementing its open access policy. While we are delighted that our inquiry has shown that RCUK are proposing to phase in their open access policy during the initial five-year implementation phase, this should have been made clear much earlier.’
 
The report recommends that RCUK should hold regular reviews during the implementation period, and that these reviews examine a number of different aspects regarding the process. Considerations should include: whether different disciplines require different embargo periods; how the UK compares to other countries implementing their own open access policies; what effect the policy has on the number of journals published; any effect on the quality of peer review; and also the impact it has on research and learned societies.
 
‘There are still many unknowns concerning the impact of the open access policy, which is why RCUK must commit to a wide ranging review of its policy in 2014, 2016 and before it expects full compliance in 2018,’ explained Lord Krebs. ‘We heard, and are pleased that RCUK are both aware of these concerns and prepared to act on them.’
 

Statistics Authority clarifies Miliband’s use of youth unemployment figures

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Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority has this week written to Labour leader Ed Miliband over his claim that ‘only crisis-hit Spain has higher numbers of young unemployed than the UK’ in Europe.
 
The claim was made in The Sun newspaper on January 31 and Harriett Baldwin, Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, wrote to the Authority to complain about the leader of the opposition’s use of the statistic. She pointed out using numbers rather than percentages painted ‘a more damning comparison than is actually the case’.
 
In his response, Dilnot acknowledged that while Miliband’s claim was factually correct (the UK has 951,000 unemployed youths and Spain 959,000), it didn’t reflect relative unemployment as the size of each country’s labour force was not taken into account. ‘Accepted statistical practice is that comparing unemployment rates between countries is preferable to comparing absolute numbers,’ he wrote. ‘The latter, of course, may be heavily affected by the relative sizes of the general population.’
 
He included a two tables of Eurostat data to accompany his response, one showing numbers of unemployed and a second showing percentages of the population. With the UK’s youth unemployment rate at 20.7 percent (compared to Spain’s 55.4 percent) it also showed that there are 17 countries with a higher rate of youth unemployment than the UK.
 
However, Dilnot also cautioned that even using percentages, comparing unemployment between countries is not without difficulties. ‘The normal basis to derive unemployment rates is to use the percentage of the “economically active” population and in the case of youth unemployment such a concept can sometimes be inconsistent between countries,’ he noted.
 

Government announce new ‘What Works’ evidence based policy centres

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The government has just announced the creation of four new independent centres that will provide evidence and research to help inform the government’s social policy in a number of areas.
 
Four ‘What Works’ centres will examine issues of key public concern, such as crime, promoting independent ageing, early intervention in childhood and fostering local economic growth.
 
The rationale for the initiative is set out in the following paper: ‘Too often, new public policies are rolled out nationally with little trialling or evaluation,’ it states. ‘In effect, governments experiment on the whole population at once.’
 
The centres will aim to provide accessible information to local authorities, head teachers, police and crime commissioners as well as central government. They will follow a similar model to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which helps develop guidelines and inform policy in the National Health Service, and as of April this year, will take on extra responsibility for social care guidance.
 
Together with NICE and the Sutton Trust’s Education Endowment Foundation – which has created a teaching and learning ‘toolkit’ for schools, the four new centres will form a What Works Network, chaired by a national adviser (to be appointed) who will advise ministers and also explore the merits of creating a role of government chief social scientist.
 
Funding for the new centres will come from a variety of sources. The centre for Local Economic Growth will receive £1million over three years, partly from the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC). The Better Ageing centre will receive lottery money (tbc) and the Early Intervention Foundation has been allocated £3.5 million of government funding over the next two years. The Crime Reduction centre, to be hosted at the recently launched College of Policing, will tender for academic partners with the ESRC over the summer of 2013.
 
The RSS supports the creation of these new centres. ‘It is excellent that the government is investing in more evidence informed policy,’ says RSS executive director Hetan Shah. ‘We hope that these pilots will be successful in increasing the up-take of evidence to inform policymaking, and that the relatively small investment in these What Works centres will be increased over time.’
 

StatsUserNet celebrates first anniversary

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StatsUserNet, the Royal Statistical Society’s interactive website for all users of official statistics, has just celebrated its first anniversary.
 
Launched in February 2012 with support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Statistics Authority, it now has over 1,700 members signed up to around 25 communities of interest. Members come from a wide range of sectors, including central and local government, academia, business, the voluntary sector and the general public.
 
StatsUserNet has a number of aims which include:
 
  • To enable users to exchange information and experience freely on all statistical topics
     
  • To enable communication between users and producers of official statistics (producers are increasingly announcing their outputs on StatsUserNet and actively seeking feedback)
     
  • To involve users in the planning process and strategy for official statistics, with the “Consultations” community being used for gathering views on plans for changes to statistical outputs
     
  • To provide support to wider user activities, including User Groups
     
  • Increasing awareness of official statistics and their use more widely.
 
A variety of topic-based communities is already up and running and has hosted discussions on high-profile areas such as inflation measures, national well-being, the Census and health.
 
Each community provides the facility to host online discussions, post blogs, deposit documents in a library and post details of forthcoming events. It is also possible to develop micro websites linked to a community, as has been done by the Health Statistics User Group. Overall, StatsUserNet provides a useful and free resource for user groups.
 
Dev Virdee, user engagement manager on the programme, is keen for any users of statistics to engage with the site. ‘It is easy to register – go to www.statsusernet.org.uk, provide your email and set a password, and then sign up to any communities that you have an interest in,’ he explains. ‘You will then be able to play an active part. However, even without signing up, you should be able to observe many of the ongoing discussions and see existing documents and blogs.’
 
He adds: ‘If your area of interest is not covered, please contact us to discuss whether a new community needs to be established, or to extend the scope of an existing one.’
 
For further information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

National Statistician responds to criticism of public sector debt measures

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The National Statistician has responded to strong criticism from the Financial Times’ economic editor Chris Giles, who has attacked the way in which the Office for National Statistics measures the UK’s public sector borrowing and has questioned its independence from government.
 
Giles’ criticism refers to an ONS announcement made on 21 February 2013 which sets out how the figures for Public Sector Net Borrowing (PSNBex) will be affected by cash transfers from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund (BEAPFF) to the treasury.
 
Giles points out that the introduction of PSNBex in 2009 was brought in to show public sector net borrowing but exclude measures taken in the wake of the financial crisis, so as not to distort the underlying state of public sector finances.
 
Giles was also critical of the structure of the body behind this decision, the Public Sector Finances Technical Advisory Group, pointing out that the ONS officials on this body are outnumbered by government officials. ‘It is not independent from ministers’ wishes,’ he concluded. ‘Official figures on the British public finances are no longer to be trusted.’
 
In a letter to the newspaper Jil Matheson, the National Statistician, rebuked the criticism by pointing out that since 1997 UK government finances have been aligned with internationally agreed standards. ‘These provide a clear, trusted basis for the UK’s public finances. To ignore that link risks creating a confusing situation in which the measures of gross debt and deficit prepared under European law included these payments, but the leading domestic UK measure ignored them. This would be very hard to justify’, she said.
 
In response to the criticism of the structure of the Public Sector Finances Technical Advisory Group, she pointed out the group is advisory in nature, and is bound by the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.  She made clear the decisions are her responsibility as National Statistician.  ’It is misleading to imply that the process is in any way tainted by political influence,’ she concluded.
 

Society invites comments on its long term strategy draft

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The Royal Statistical Society’s Long Term Strategy Group (LTSG) has drafted a report on the Society’s vision and strategy for the next five years.
 
The draft follows a broad consultation with fellows, staff and other interested parties, as well as an open session at the 2012 RSS conference.
 
The draft report is now available to view on the RSS website (go to ‘Strategy & Business Planning’ under the ‘About’ column) and comments from both members and non-members are invited until Friday 26 April 2013.
 
While the draft report is a comprehensive and internally focused document which provides detail on how each of the six strategic objectives could be achieved, there is also a much shorter, public facing strategy document contained in Appendix 1 (on page 29), which summarises the long term vision and six strategic objectives of the Society.
 
Here, the overall vision is articulated as ‘A world where data are at the heart of understanding and decision-making’.
 
The six strategic goals for the next five years are summarised as follows:
 
  1. For statistics to be used effectively in the public interest, so that policy formulation and decision-making are evidence based, for the good of society.
     
  2. For society to be more statistically literate, so that people’s understanding of data, risk, and probability can inform their daily decision-making, leading to better outcomes.
     
  3. For a strong body of professional statisticians to maintain and develop the skills they need so that they can critically apply methodology, interpret results and communicate findings.
     
  4. For statistics as a discipline to thrive, so that methodology is advanced, applied and made accessible, leading to greater understanding of an increasingly complex world.
     
  5. For an engaged and energised membership and staff to work collaboratively with partner organisations and other stakeholders in meeting these goals, so that the Society can maximise its impact.
     
  6. For the RSS to be a financially sustainable and well run organisation, with effective governance and use of technology, so that it will grow in relevance, exert influence and have wider impact.
 
The group requests that the following template is used to submit comments on the draft so that they can be collated easily. All comments should be submitted by Friday 26 April. The final recommendations will then be presented to Council in June 2013 and these findings will, in turn, be fed into the activity planning process for 2014 and onwards.
 
The LTSG convened in 2012 and is chaired by former RSS vice president Andy Garrett. The group is very grateful to everyone who have contributed so far, including sections and local groups, various RSS committees, members, and external stakeholders.
 

HEFCE call for advice on open access

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The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) is inviting advice, from anyone with an interest in research and academic publishing, on developing the four UK funding bodies’ joint policy on open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).
 
Full details, including the HEFCE documents, are available to view here on the HEFCE website.
 
Those submitting advice will contribute to the development of consultation proposals on implementing an open access requirement in the next REF exercise. The consultation will run later in 2013.
 
Interested fellows can either respond directly to HEFCE, or send comments to the RSS if they feel that there is a particular point the Society as a whole should be making. Responses can be emailed to Moussa Haddad, policy and research manager at the RSS.
 
The deadline for responses to HEFCE is 25 March 2013. Any comments to RSS would need to be made in advance of this date.
 

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