RSS president John Pullinger is to deliver his Presidential Address after the Royal Statistical Society’s 179th Annual General Meeting, scheduled this year for June 26 2013.
Titled ‘Statistics making an impact’, John’s Presidential Address will emphasise the ‘vital role’ that statistics has to play in a world where ‘the information landscape is confused’. A summary of the speech is published on the Society’s events page and a full transcript of it will appear in the Series A Journal of the Royal Statistical Society.
The Presidential Address will start at 6pm following the Society’s AGM and will be followed by the Society’s summer reception.
The Shakespeare Review, an independent report commissioned by the UK government on next steps regarding the opening up of public sector data, was published last week.
Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of pollsters YouGov and chair of the Data Strategy Board, was invited in October 2012 to lead a review of public sector information (PSI) and explore the growth opportunities of information held by the public sector.
The research concludes that open data has the potential to deliver nearly £2 billion to the UK economy in the short-term, with a further £6-7 billion further down the line.
Key recommendations include the production of a National Data Strategy and the formation of a single body with enough clout to drive its implementation. It also recommends using a ‘twin-track’ data release schedule, where datasets are released quickly, followed by ‘Core Reference Data’, published later but to a higher standard.
‘We welcome the Shakespeare review in taking the discussion forward about open data,’ said Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS. ‘This government has started off very well in taking open data forward, but there is a risk that the agenda will stall unless continued political will is applied.’
One of the key recommendations of the review points to a number of capability and skills issues. It identified a skills gap when it comes to data science and mentioned the RSS’s getstats campaign as a key initiative promoting statistical literacy. The review’s findings also reinforce the Society’s statistical education agenda, stating: ‘At school age, all students should have a basic understanding of where data comes from and how it is used to solve problems’ (p40).
Recent research conducted for the RSS has also indicated that the government will need to build public trust in open data. ‘Our recent survey with Ipsos MORI shows that the public lacks confidence in the government holding their data,’ Hetan Shah continued. ‘Much work remains to be done to think through privacy issues and reassure the public, in order to gain the potential economic and social benefits that open data holds out.’
The Guardian will be hosting a webchat with an expert panel discussing practical ways forward regarding the open data agenda on Friday 24 May, 12-2pm.
The Society’s Official Statistics Section will be holding their Annual General Meeting on Tuesday 25 June 2013 at Errol street. The AGM will take place prior to the open meeting on Strategy of the UK Statistics Authority.
The 2013 committee nominations are below:
Chair Michael Baxter
Vice Chair David Matz
Secretary Deborah Aniyeloye
Meetings Secretary Fred Johnson
Member Alison Cousley
Member Hassan Al-Madfai
Member John Clarke
Member Mark Fransham
Member Philip Turnbull
Member Paul Smith
Member Richard Laux
Unless alternative nominations are received by the theme manager for sections Paul Gentry before 11 June, these persons will be declared elected at the annual general meeting.
The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has warned that government statistics press releases ‘do not always give a true and fair picture of the story behind official statistics’, in its report Communicating statistics: Not just true but also fair (opens as pdf).
‘Politicians tend to promote the statistics that best present their case. The numbers may be perfectly true but the act of selecting certain numbers distorts the true picture,’ said committee chairman, Bernard Jenkin MP. ‘In some cases, spinning reduces the story behind the statistics to such an extent that the picture is no longer true.’
The committee highlighted the importance of public trust in the statistics used in evidence for public policy to the broader issues of trust in the integrity of public policy and of government accountability.
PASC has recommended closer working between departmental press officers and government statistics staff to ensure that ‘press releases give an accurate and meaningful picture of the truth behind the figures’.
The committee also called for improvements to the Office for National Statistics’ web site, saying that ‘as well as being hard to find, statistics are often presented in a confusing way’. It also urged the UK Statistics Authority to find more creative ways of communicating statistics, such as interactive guides.
PASC backed the Authority’s role in monitoring the use and abuse of official statistics. ‘Where the Chair of the Statistics Authority judges that there has been misuse of official statistics, we support his independence and his right to intervene,’ Bernard Jenkin said.
The Royal Statistical Society has welcomed and endorsed the report, noting it reflects many of the Society’s long-held concerns (most recently set out in its submission to the PASC inquiry on communicating statistics).
Roeland Beerten, RSS director of professional and public affairs, commented that the Society endorses the report’s findings. ‘They reflect many of the Society’s long-held concerns in relation to the ease of access to official statistics, and the need for independent, clear and comprehensive comment,’ he said. ‘Although we recognise there have been some recent improvements in access and communication we welcome the report’s recommendations as they will help both expert users and the general public in finding the statistics they need.’
The UK Statistics Authority has announced the launch of two reviews (opens as pdf) relating to price indices.
The first review, led by Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, will consider what changes are needed to the range of consumer price statistics produced for the UK. Acknowledging that the measurement of price change is challenging, the Authority’s chair, Andrew Dilnot explained that the aim is ‘to recommend a framework for consumer prices statistics that understands and best meets the needs of users, and is accountable, flexible, and transparent’. A final report is due for publication by summer 2014 and the terms of reference are published here.
The second review, led by Sir Adrian Smith, the Statistics Authority’s deputy chair, will consider the governance arrangements and structures in place at the Office for National Statistics regarding the production of consumer price statistics. ‘Sir Adrian’s review will tackle the vitally important question for the governance arrangements supporting the production of price statistics to underpin the quality, integrity and independence of price statistics for the public good, explained Andrew Dilnot. A final report is due for publication by October 2013.
Jill Leyland, former RSS vice president, and a spokesperson for the Society on this subject, welcomed both reviews. ‘The Johnson review in particular has long been needed,’ she said. ‘The UK at the moment has an incoherent set of consumer price indices, with a number of user needs not properly catered for. The review needs to be fully comprehensive, consider all options and include wide-ranging consultation with actual and potential users.’
The Public Administration Select Committee has published both the government and the UK Statistics Authority responses to its report Public Trust in Government Statistics (opens as pdf).
One of the central recommendations of the report was to hand responsibility for pre-release access to statistics over to the UK Statistics Authority, arguing that current arrangements present a risk to public confidence in the independence of the statistical system. However, in its response, the government rejected this proposal, saying that pre-release access for ministers was necessary to allow ‘prompt commentary on statistics that is helpful in avoiding any misunderstanding in their interpretation’.
Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Committee, called the response ‘offhanded’ in its brevity and urged the government to reconsider. ‘I rather suspect that such interpretation of and commentary on statistics is precisely what causes concern about them,’ he wrote. ‘It may be precisely the different explanations, “interpretations” of statistics that lead to the perception that statistics are worse than “lies and damned lies”’.
‘The Government should accept the advice of the Statistics Authority on pre-release access as a matter of policy and should legislate at the earliest opportunity to transfer responsibility for determining policy on pre-release access to them,’ he continued.
Mike Hughes, chair of the Society’s National Statistics Advisory Group, said that the RSS welcomes and endorses the response from Bernard Jenkin.‘The Royal Statistical Society has long since argued for the abolition, or near abolition, of pre-release access, as outlined its recent response to the PASC inquiry into statistics and their use in government,’ he said. ‘The Society believes that transferring responsibility for pre-release access from ministers to the UK Statistics Authority would improve trust in official statistics.’
In the latest edition of RSS NEWS we communicated the names nominated by Council for election to fill the six vacancies for terms beginning in 2014. Their biographies are now listed below.
Fellows may still make other nominations if they wish and can contact the executive director for more information.