Society backs call to scrap pre-release access to official statistics

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RSS President Valerie Isham has written to prime minister David Cameron in support of the UK Statistics Authority’s call to abolish pre-release access to official statistics.
 
UK Statistics Authority chair, Andrew Dilnot, wrote to the prime minister [opens as pdf] last week, 25 October 2012, urging him to review the arrangements for pre-release access. The UKSA had received complaints that David Cameron breached the Code of Practice on Official Statistics 2008 when he had stated ‘the good news will keep coming’ at Prime Minister’s Questions the day before, prior to new GDP figures being released.
 
In her letter, Valerie Isham argued that pre-release access perpetuates a public perception of ‘political control or interference’. ‘In our view the practice of issuing ministerial or policy commentary to coincide with statistical releases is pernicious,’ she wrote. ‘It skews any debate over the figures and perpetuates the impression that ministers control the data.’ Professor Isham cited another example, when in December last year, consumer price data was inadvertently disclosed.
 
Finally, the RSS President noted that the power to set the arrangements for pre-release access rests with ministers and not with the UK Statistics Authority. This, she said, was a ‘further factor that compounds the lack of trust’, and urged the PM to consider reviewing current arrangements, ‘with the clear aim of seeking its abolition’.
 
A copy of the Society’s letter in full is available to view here.
 

Business & Industrial Section AGM 2012

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The annual general meeting of the Society’s Business & Industrial Section will take place at the start of the next meeting of the Section on Wednesday 28 November 2012 at the RSS in London.
 
In accordance with the regulations of the section, the following are recommended by the section committee as members of the committee for the 2013 session:
 
Chair: Housh Mashhoudy (Coventry University)
Vice-chair: Giuliana Battisti (Warwick University)
Secretary: Kirsty Horrocks (Johnson and Johnson Inverness))
Meetings secretary: Jake Ansell (Edinburgh University)
*Gordon Blunt (Gordon Blunt Analytics Ltd)
Steve Ellison (LGC)
Trevor Duguid Farrant (Kraft Foods)
Dean Fletcher (ONS Newport)
Giovanni Montana (Imperial College)
*David Smallbone (Asset Management Consulting)
Ben Torsney (Glasgow University)
Kostas Triantafyllopoulos (Sheffield University)
 
Unless alternative nominations are received by the theme manager for sections Paul Gentry before 14 November, these persons will be declared elected at the annual general meeting.
 
* indicates new member
 

RSS long term strategy ratified by Council

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At its June meeting, the RSS Council approved the final recommendations of the Long Term Strategy Group, which provides a route map for the future work of the Society in the period 2014-2018.
 
The paper, which is downloadable from this page, is the result of a consultation process that began in April 2012 that included input from individuals, committees and other stakeholders. In March 2013 the Society invited comments from fellows on a draft document, and the feedback from that has now been incorporated into the final recommendations to Council.
 
The 2014-2018 Strategic Plan is now a public document which outlines six strategic  goals that will provide the direction for the next five years. The strapline ‘Data, Evidence, Decisions’ will be adopted to augment the RSS logo to explain to the wider world the context within which the Society operates, using words that are readily understood. An outward facing document will be developed by the Society in due course to communicate the strategy more widely. This strapline directly links to a vision statement: ‘Where data are at the heart of understanding and decision making.’
 
The document summarises six strategic goals, where the Society works to support statistics, statisticians and society. It includes four core goals (1-4 below) which relate directly to the Charter and two (5 and 6) that support the achievement of these core goals.
 
  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 would like to thank everyone involved in the process and who provided feedback, including sections and local groups, various RSS committees, individual members, and external stakeholders.
 
Download the document by clicking here (links directly to Word document).
 

RSS Council ballot results

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The results of this year’s Council member ballot have just been announced.
 
A total of 1,278 votes were cast, representing a turn-out of 20 per cent, and the votes were counted using the single transferable vote system.
 
The following members were declared elected:
 
  • Professor Steve Brooks
  • Dr Helen Clough
  • Professor Peter Diggle
  • Dr Rob Mastrodomenico
  • Dr Moira Mugglestone
  • Mr Stephen Pyke
  • Professor Geert Verbeke
 
Members of Council serve a four-year term and are also trustees of the Society. More information on Council’s role in the Society is available here.
 
Further details of the vote can be obtained in by emailing Sarah Simpson at Errol Street.
 

Society hosts dial-in meeting for professional statisticians

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PSF online event
The Society’s Professional Statisticians’ Forum (PSF) held its first virtual meeting in June, using the Society’s teleconferencing system.
 
The meeting, titled ‘A statistical career in engineering and industry’, featured Tim Davis outlining his 30+ year career in industry, at Dunlop, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, through to setting up his own consulting business. More than 35 members, many from outside the UK, signed in and participated in the discussion. Slides from the meeting are currently available on the PSF webpage www.rss.org.uk/psf and a podcast of the meeting will be made available shortly.

Nate Silver’s US election predictions hailed as a victory for statistics

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The outcome of the US presidential elections was so close to the prediction made by statistician Nate Silver, that it has been deemed by some as a victory for statistics itself.
 
Nate Silver, who blogs for the New York Times, predicted the outcome of this election when he gave Barack Obama a ‘nearly three in four chance’ of winning the election back in September. Since then he has consistently put President Obama ahead of Mitt Romney, despite Romney leading in several national polls during that time.
 
Silver is famed for using statistical models to predict elections based on poll results and historical form. During the weeks running up to the election he admitted that he was ‘running about 40,000 Electoral College simulations each day.’ He was, however, heavily criticised by some political commentators who believed his calculations to be biased in Obama’s favour. Josh Jordan, of the political website The National Review, said that the distribution that  the ‘weighting’ Silver’s calculations attributed to state polls were ‘highly subjective’ and gave an edge to Obama. Silver recently responded on Twitter to criticism by MSNBC presenter and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, by challenging him to a $1,000 bet on the election outcome.
 
It was not just Silver crunching numbers to predict the election result, however. Professor Sam Wang, a biophysics statistician at Princeton and blogger at the Princeton Election Consortium, also correctly predicted the outcome of the election using mathematical models based on polls. Betting companies were also calling the election earlier than the pundits, as Mike Smithson of PoliticalBetting.com noted: ‘even when Betfair punters had all but given up on Romney the media was still calling it a tight race,’ he said.
 
The results now show that Silver predicted every single state outcome accurately and many are hailing the election result as not just a victory for Obama, but also for statistics. Rafa Irizarry of the Simply Statistics website yesterday wondered: ‘Will the Pundits Finally Accept Defeat?’ in a blogpost responding to the outcome.
 
Mark Henderson, head of communications at the Wellcome Trust, said on his blog: ‘The success of Silver and Wang shows that geeks have something rather important to contribute to political analysis, which is rather more valuable than much punditry. I hope editors take note.’ Simon Singh, author and TV presenter, tweeted: ‘Obama’s win a big vindication for Nate Silver, king of the quants.’
 

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