RSS contested presidency in 1977 documented

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Radical Statistics, the organisation committed to ‘using statistics to support progressive social change’, has published four accounts of the Royal Statistical Society’s contested election for president in 1977, in its most recent journal.
 
In a piece titled ‘Remembering a pivotal episode for the Radical Statistics Group and the Royal Statistical Society: the RSS presidential elections of 1977’, former RSS council members Harvey Goldstein and David Hill recount their take on the events which took place that saw Dr Henry Wynn contest council nominee Sir Campbell Adamson, and defeat him in a subsequent ballot. It was the first time the RSS presidency had ever been contested, and has not occurred since.
 
As Ludi Simpson summarises in his introduction, ‘Radical Statistics’ role was first to support one of its members Liz Atkins as candidate for RSS Council, forcing an election in which Campbell Adamson was the only candidate not to be elected. When the new Council nonetheless proposed him for president, Radical Statistics members encouraged an alternative candidate, Henry Wynn.’
 
The article provides a fascinating account of the RSS in the 1970s, a decade which saw high profile presidents such as  Harold Wilson take up the post. It also provides insight into an event that is now regarded as helping to make the Royal Statistical Society function in a more democratic way.
 
The article appears in the most recent edition of Radical Statistics’ journal, which will be published on the RadStats journal page later this year.
 
Radical Statistics  is currently creating archives and welcomes other contributions on its history.
 

Society to hold debate on trust in statistics

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The Royal Statistical Society is co-hosting a major policy debate on the issue of public understanding and trust of statistics, as part of its ongoing getstats campaign.
 
Titled ‘Margins of Error: Public understanding of statistics in an era of big data’, the event will explore why statistical literacy remains relatively low for large proportions of the population and examine the potential implications of this for individuals and policy. It will also address how public understanding of statistics might be improved.
 
Also hosted by Ipsos MORI and King’s College London, the meeting will be chaired by RSS president John Pullinger and include talks by Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority; Bobby Duffy, managing director of Ipsos MORI; and Denise Lievesley, former RSS president and head of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at King’s College London. The talks will be followed by a Q&A discussion.
 
The event is to be held on Tuesday 14 May, 5.30-8pm at King’s College London. Further information and details on registration, can be found here.
 
This meeting is the first of a series of events that King’s College London, Ipsos MORI and the RSS are holding to mark the International Year of Statistics. A further event, scheduled for June, will consider the gaps between public perceptions and reality on key policy issues. Interested parties can register advance interest in this event here.
 

Former Society president appointed chair of Council for the Mathematical Sciences

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Professor Sir Adrian Smith, former RSS president and current vice-chancellor of the University of London has been announced as the new chair of the Council for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS). He will take up the post in September 2013, succeeding Professor Frank Kelly.
 
The CMS is made up of five societies: the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS), the Royal Statistical Society, the Edinburgh Mathematical Society and the Operational Research Society. Over the past three years, under the stewardship of Professor Kelly, the CMS has become an authoritative voice in developing and influencing policy issues around the mathematical sciences, both in higher education and research.
 
A former principal of Queen Mary, University of London, Sir Adrian became director general of science and research in the then Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills in 2008, becoming director general of knowledge and innovation in 2010. He was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of London in September 2012. Sir Adrian is also a past president of the Royal Statistical Society; was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001 and received his knighthood in 2011.
 
Sir Adrian said he was ‘delighted’ at the appointment, saying: ‘The CMS plays an important role in representing the views of the UK mathematics community on issues of national importance.’
 
Kevin McConway, vice-president for academic affairs at the RSS, said that the appointment was ‘very good news’ for the RSS and for UK mathematical sciences: ‘Under Frank Kelly, the Council has extended and strengthened its work in representing the mathematical sciences to government and policy makers,’ he said. ‘In the current economic climate, it is crucial that this work continues to be done effectively. With his record and experience in academia and government, including a term as RSS president, Sir Adrian is perfectly placed to take the CMS forward.’
 
Outgoing chair, Professor Frank Kelly, said: ‘Sir Adrian Smith’s work on Bayesian methods has influenced developments across a wide range of the mathematical sciences, and he has deep experience of the workings of government. I and the five societies are very pleased indeed to welcome Sir Adrian as the next Chair of CMS’.
 

New members sought for RSS Conference Board

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At the end of this year three positions as full members of the Society’s Conferences & Events Programme Board will become available.
 
The Board, chaired by the Theme Director for Meetings & Conferences and comprising nine full members plus a number of co-opted members, develops and delivers the Society’s annual conference programme, oversees special lectures and events, and review the overall meetings programme.
 
Full details of the remit and responsibilities of the board and its members can be found here.
 
Three members of the board will step down at the end of 2013 and therefore volunteers are sought to fill these vacancies for three years (2014-2016).  We seek to ensure that a broad range of sectors are represented on the board so while all applications are welcomed we are particularly keen to receive applications from Fellows working in the following areas: official/social statistics, pharmaceutical statistics and business/industrial statistics.
 
Further information can be obtained from and applications for the vacancies should be sent to Paul Gentry, RSS Meetings & Conferences Manager.
 
The deadline for applications is Friday 31 May.
 

Pioneering statistician, George Box, dies

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It is with great sadness that we report the death of George Box, one of the most important statisticians of the past century. He was aged 93.

Box was a pioneer in statistical inference, Bayesian analysis, design of experiments, time series methods and quality control. Throughout his career, he wrote numerous influential research papers and books. His 1949 paper in Biometrika on likelihood ratio criteria is required reading for all students learning multivariate analysis; and his 1964 JRSSB article with David Cox on transformations is one of the most cited papers in statistical literature.

Statistics top of the agenda in Cambridge lecture series

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A series of four lectures, discussing the use of statistical evidence in the modern world, are to be hosted at Cambridge University.
 
Starting on 29 April, the talks will examine how statistics affect our world from a variety of perspectives. Tim Harford, presenter of Radio 4′s More or Less programme, will present ‘a self-defence guide for the statistical battlefield’, while Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge’s Statistical Laboratory will discuss how statistical science has transformed healthcare.
 
The former chair of NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), Sir Michael Rawlins, will talk about how evidence affects health policy, and Sir John Beddington, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, will address the question: What’s happening to the world?
 
Co-hosted by the University of Cambridge Statistical Laboratory and MRC Biostatistics Unit, the series of events have been organised to celebrate the International Year of Statistics. The talks are particularly suited for sixth-formers, although all are welcome.
 
The lecture series have been organised to celebrate both the Medical Research Council Centenary and the International Year of Statistics. Please note that advance booking is required for David Spiegelhalter’s lecture. Visit www.statslab.cam.ac.uk/IYS2013/ for details.
 

Society criticises mathematics curriculum proposals

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The Royal Statistical Society has submitted a critical response to the government’s public consultation on reforming the national curriculum in England.
 
The new curriculum will be available in autumn 2013 and will be first taught in schools from September 2014.
 
As well as addressing specific questions raised in the consultation document, the RSS raised a number of broader issues around statistics in schools. In a letter accompanying the consultation response, RSS president John Pullinger stressed the importance of statistical literacy. ‘In a world awash with data, statistical understanding is increasingly important in all areas of society,’ he wrote. ‘The ability to understand numbers, interpret data and communicate evidence is an essential feature of the modern workplace, and crucial to competitiveness in the global market. And in the academic world, almost all subjects are increasingly quantitative.’
 
The consultation response made it clear that the curriculum proposals have insufficient statistical content. It also identified a lack of attention being given to promote students’ acquisition of transferable skills, in order to provide students with the ability to use their knowledge outside the mathematics classroom.
 
It stressed that the current curriculum at secondary level focuses on data presentation ‘to the detriment of statistics as a problem solving cycle’.  There are  ‘weaknesses’ in the way in which statistics is co-ordinated in subjects other than maths, and in the way its practical nature is assessed. ‘It is important that the government is aware, also, that mathematics teachers can themselves lack understanding in how to teach statistics in the manner we describe,’ John Pullinger’s letter states.
 
The RSS commended the current approach being used in New Zealand, which it praised for its integration of mathematics and statistics.
 
Finally, the RSS pointed out the ‘significant opportunities’ of using ICT in the teaching of statistics. ‘The way in which today’s students will use their statistical knowledge and understanding in the workplace and in HE will be closely linked to the way in which technology is opening up the possibility of using new and bigger datasets,’ Pullinger wrote in his letter.
 
The response referenced the RSS report ‘The Future of Statistics in our Schools and Colleges’ (opens as a pdf) as a detailed view of promoting statistical education, and also reiterated the Society’s willingness to be involved in discussions regarding the National Curriculum going forward.
 
The response and accompanying letter are available to download on the RSS website.
 

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