Late registration of deaths is a public health risk, RSS warns

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RSS president John Pullinger has written to the National Statistician Jil Matheson, to the director general of the Office for National Statistics Glen Watson, and to the chief executive of the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) Tim Straughan, re-affirming the Society’s concern about delayed registrations of deaths in England and Wales.
 
The letters follow the adoption of a further statement on the issue by the Society’s Council on 30 January 2013, and call for action to ensure that users of official statistics and registration data are made aware of what the available data do, and do not, deliver.
 
In a policy statement issued last year on 25 January 2012 the RSS had expressed concern that delayed registration of deaths in England and Wales posed a risk to public health by potentially undermining the statistics used for public health monitoring.
 
In England and Wales, coroner-referred deaths are not registered until the  cause of death has been established. However, if a death is subject to an inquest, it may not be registered for months or even years, while awaiting the coroner’s verdict. Moreover, the ONS and HSCIC are essentially unaware that these deaths have even occurred. The Society points out that around 10,000 deaths every year in England and Wales (including one in five deaths in England and Wales at 5-44 years of age) are not registered until at least six months after the event. Late registration affects premature deaths in particular, including some specific causes of death, such as drug-related deaths and suicides.
 
The RSS has called for the registration of deaths to be uncoupled from the registration of cause of death in England and Wales (and has set out ten arguments against late registration in full) – this, however, requires legislation. Therefore, the RSS also recommends that until legislation is changed, users of these statistics, including researchers, are properly informed of the discrepancy and are fully aware of which datasets are affected by it.
 
Former RSS vice president, Professor Sheila Bird, who is leading the Society’s work on this issue, explained the significance of this policy: ‘At least half of the drugs-related deaths registered in 2011 would have occurred in calendar years preceding 2011. The potential for registration-delays to confound underlying calendar-year trends in England’s cause-specific mortality needs to be addressed for the good of our public health.
 
‘In novel epidemics, referrals to coroners are likely to alter, which means that chief medical officers need the back-stop of knowing that all deaths in their nation, without exception, are registered promptly so that follow-up inquiries can be made as a matter of urgency to establish if the novel pathogen might have been implicated.’
 
The RSS argues that such discrepancies between the year of death and the year in which the death is registered as occur in England and Wales can impede discovery in record-linking studies and hinder safety monitoring in randomised controlled trials as well as obscure trends in mortality rates. ‘Record-linkage generally requires us to establish the survival-status of participants at a specified date,’ Sheila Bird explains. ‘To get the required information about deaths in England and Wales, I may have to delay analyses by two years or more, which is unacceptable.’
 
She added: ‘The RSS is particularly grateful to Patrick Mercer OBE MP who, through a series of parliamentary questions, has helped us to reveal  the extent of the problems posed by late-registration of deaths.’
 
The latest statement by the RSS can be read in full here.
 

ISI introduces new prize for contribution to statistics

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The International Statistical Institute (ISI) is inviting nominations for a new award recognising a contemporary research contribution in statistics: The Karl Pearson Prize.
 
The prize, to be awarded biennially, comprises a cash award of 5,000 euros plus a trip to the ISI World Statistics Congress (WSC) in Hong Kong in August 2013. The inaugural prize will be presented at the WSC, where the winner will also present the Karl Pearson Lecture.
 
The nominations, which must be made to the ISI by 10 March, 2013, should be for a research contribution that has had profound influence on statistical theory, methodology, practice or applications. The contribution should be a research article or book published within the last three decades, ie on or after January 1, 1983.
 
Karl Pearson (1857-1936) was an English mathematician and philosopher and a key figure in the development of mathematical statistics. His contributions include the correlation coefficient; the Chi-squared statistic for testing goodness-of-fit and for measuring association in contingency tables; the method of moments and the Pearson family of frequency curves. He started the advanced study of statistics at University College London as well as co-founding the statistics journal Biometrika in 1901, which he edited until his death.
 
Nominations for the prize are due in the ISI Office by March 10, 2013. Further information and the nomination form are available on the ISI website.
 

Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education seeks new members

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The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) is seeking three new members to join the committee for the next three years.
 
Candidates should have experience of maths education research, teacher education and development and/or teaching in schools, colleges or higher education. Applicants with teaching secondary/primary experience, continuing professional development, higher education and education research are particularly welcomed.
 
ACME is currently funded by the Department for Education, the Royal Society and a range of other organisations. Its committee comprises eight members and a chair (currently Professor Stephen Sparks) and the organisation produces policy reports as well as responding to policy initiatives in key areas.
 
Successful applicants should expect to start in September 2013 and give 10 per cent of their time to ACME work; their employers are reimbursed for the relevant proportion of their salary. ACME members serve as expert individuals and not as representatives of any organisation or interest group.
 
Applications must be received by Friday 12 April 2013. Further information and details of the application process is available on the ACME website.
 

Society contributes to consultation on migration statistics

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The joint response of the Royal Statistical Society and its Statistics User Forum (SUF) to the House of Commons’ Public Administration select committee’s recent consultation on migration statistics has been published both on the committee’s website and on rss.org.uk.
 
Migration statistics are often a subject of much debate in the UK and the response acknowledged the importance of measuring migration, as well as welcoming the efforts made in recent years to improve migration statistics.
 
Despite these improvements, the response stated that migration statistics are ‘still not fully adequate for the task of producing robust population estimates or understanding patterns of migration.’ It also expressed concern on whether further improvements given the reduction in funding for official statistics.
 
The response noted the limitations of migration data sources such as the International Passenger Survey and data available at local level. While the Census provides a welcome level of detail, the ten year gap between censuses renders it ‘insufficient’ for migration statistics purposes. Also acknowledged were the difficulties in estimating emigration from the UK, with the suggestion that other country’s immigration data should be considered to validate UK estimates.
 
Finally, there was a recommendation that serious consideration be given to the development of a population register, particularly if alternatives to a census are being considered for the future.
 

British Academy highlights benefits of statistical skills in new guide

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The British Academy has just produced a new guide for current social science and humanities undergraduates, highlighting the benefits of quantitative skills (QS) in a number of different professional roles.
 
Stand up and be counted (a pdf downloadable from the British Academy’s website), lists the range of careers in which being numerate and statistically savvy are highly prized qualities. The guide features case studies of a range of figures in the private, public and third sectors as well as academia and the media, for whom data-handling skills are key to their role.
 
Among those interviewed are: National Statistician Jil Matheson; director of YouGov, Joe Twyman; CEO of Waterstones, James Daunt; and the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics, Lord David Lipsey. Each one describes the steps taken to learn QS, and how statistical literacy has contributed to their careers.
 
The guide, produced in collaboration with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), can be downloaded from here.
 

A date for the diary: Big Data Week

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A week-long festival for anyone interested or involved in the growing phenomenon of big data is due to kick-off on 22 April.
 
Billed as ‘a global festival of data’, the week-long event will run until 28 April in a number of participating cities worldwide (London, Sydney, Barcelona, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Chicago and Utrecht are among those listed so far). The festival aims to bring together data scientists, visualisers, technologies and businesses from sectors as diverse as government, finance and entertainment. Planned events will include meetups, networking events, hackathons, debates, discussions and data visualisation demos.
 
Further information on events and participants in the event, along with information on how to get involved, is available at www.bigdataweek.com.
 

GSK signs up to AllTrials campaign for full clinical trials disclosure

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GlaxoSmithKline last week (5 February 2013) announced its support for the AllTrials campaign, which is calling for full disclosure of clinical trial results, and to which the RSS added its support earlier this year.
 
While GSK already publicly discloses information of almost 5,000 clinical trials on one of its websites, the company is now committing to make clinical study reports (CSRs) for all of its medicines publicly available through its clinical trials register. CSRs provide details on the design, methods and results of clinical trials.
 
GSK has also indicated its intention to publish CSRs for previously approved medicines. While this is a large project anticipated to take years, priority will be given to its most commonly prescribed medicines.
 
Patrick Vallance, president of pharmaceuticals research and development at GSK, said: ‘All those involved in the conduct and publication of clinical research, whether healthcare companies like GSK, academia or research organisations, have a role to play in ensuring that the data they generate are made publicly available to help bring patient benefit.’
 
Welcoming the move, Jenny Freeman, RSS vice president of external affairs and senior lecturer in medical statistics at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘The RSS is keen to promote transparency in all areas which involve statistics and its uses, whether this be clinical trials or elsewhere. It is only possible to make informed decisions when all the relevant data are available.’
 

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