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.
 

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.’
 

Society’s Member Survey 2012 – results published

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The results of the Royal Statistical Society’s recent member survey, compiled and presented by the RSS’s honorary officer for membership Ed Swires-Hennessy, are now available to download on the Society’s main website.
 
The electronic survey was completed by 1,240 members – approximately 20 per cent of the total membership – during November and December 2012. The profile of respondents, in terms of length and type of membership, was similar to the Society’s overall membership.
 
As a membership organisation, the Society is held in high regard by the survey’s respondents, who gave it a weighted mean score of 8.1 out of 10 (overseas members rated it even more highly, at 8.5 out of 10). Furthermore, 94 per cent indicated they would recommend RSS membership to a friend or colleague.
 
The survey also shows that community aspects of membership and supporting the profession are among the most important reasons for membership, while member benefits and career development appear to be deemed less important.
 
Of the member benefits, however, Significance magazine was rated most highly, with 93 per cent of respondents considering it very/moderately important, and more than 90 per cent rating it either ‘good’ or ‘very good’. The RSS journals, RSS NEWS, regular news by email and the professional awards also scored well.
 
While almost one thousand of the respondents indicated that they would be interested in actively contributing to the work of the Society, only 11 per cent of respondents currently volunteer for the RSS (in organising activities, attending governance meetings or producing materials). ‘The challenge will now be to activate these resources,’ commented Ed Swires-Hennessy.
 
Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS, said: ‘Overall, these are heartening findings. We are taking note of what our members say and feeding this into the current strategy review, so that we can continue to improve the way we work.’
 

Office for National Statistics revamps website theme pages

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The Office for National Statistics has introduced new ‘theme’ pages on its main website – aimed at the non-specialist user – to encourage more people to take an interest in statistics.
 
The theme pages cover key areas – economy, labour market and population – with plans to roll out others over the next couple of months. The newly created interactive theme pages pull together a variety of sources and use formats such as video, podcasts and infographics, aimed at making the topics easier to explore and more appealing to the general interest user.
 
The ONS is continuing work to improve the accessibility of its website, and recently enhanced the search function as part of its ongoing programme of work. It now has a social media channel and users can subscribe to email alerts when data or publications in their chosen themes are released (click the ‘Join us’ tab on the right-hand side of the homepage to see the full range of options).
 
The remaining theme pages will be rolled out during spring and early summer. Users can see how this work is progressing at www.ons.gov.uk
 

John Pullinger interviewed by Statistics Views

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Statistics Views, the statistics website of the publishers of the Royal Statistical Society’s Journal, Wiley Blackwell, has just published an interview with John Pullinger as he begins his presidency of the Society.
 
In the interview (viewable as video footage and in transcript format), John talks about his career as a statistician and its highlights so far. He explains why big data is so important at the moment, and the potential for innovation that it could bring – as well as the challenges that come with it.
 
John also talks of another important role for statistics – in measuring progress and guiding policy making decisions, commenting that ‘statisticians need to have a seat at these decision-making tables.’ He also outlines the importance of recognising professional statisticians, and the value of chartered status.
 
Another priority outlined by John is promoting the value of professional statisticians, particularly those with chartered status. ‘We need to distinguish professional statisticians from someone who uses statistics to support an argument and purely purvey the numbers for their own use,’ he says.
 
Read/watch the interview in full here.
 

Major changes to school league tables announced

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The Department for Education has proposed changing the way in which school league tables are constructed and has launched a consultation on the matter.
 
In a statement to the House of Commons on 7 February 2012, education secretary Michael Gove announced new proposals to change to the measurement of secondary school performance. Rather than focusing on how many children achieve a C pass in five GCSEs, which Gove said focused teachers too closely on pupils on the C/D borderline at the expense of other students, he proposed two new measures which are currently out for consultation.
 
The first would be to measure how well pupils do in English, maths, three subjects from his defined ‘English Baccalaureate’ subjects plus three further subjects. The second would be a point score showing how much progress every student makes from Key Stage 2 to 4.
 
The RSS welcomes the move in principle and will be studying the proposals in depth before formulating its own response. Former RSS council member Harvey Goldstein, a chartered statistician and professor of social statistics at the University of Bristol, has already authored ‘Measuring Success’, a 2012 report on school league tables, which highlighted the limitations of school league tables and recommended that they should be accompanied by prominent ‘health warnings’. The shortfalls of the current system have also been highlighted by Chris Cook, Martin Stabe and Cleve Jones at FT Data (video footage viewable [subscribers only] here).
 
The consultation period ends on 1 May  2013 and the Royal Statistical Society will publish its response on www.rss.org.uk in due course after this date.
 

RSS president urges ‘scrupulously fair hearing’ for Greece’s chief statistician facing felony charges

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The Royal Statistical Society’s president John Pullinger has written to the president of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias (pictured), to urge that ‘a scrupulously fair hearing’ be given to Andreas Georgiou, the head of the Greek statistics agency, ELSTAT.

Georgiou is facing felony charges and has been accused of falsifying Greece’s 2009 fiscal data, along with two other ELSTAT employees. The former IMF statistician was appointed to ELSTAT in November 2010, a year after the start of Greece’s debt crisis. After he took over, the country’s 2009 budget deficit was revised up from 13.6 to 15 per cent of GDP.

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