Society celebrates 250th anniversary of Bayes seminal paper

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The RSS is holding a conference celebrating the 250th anniversary of the publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, of ‘An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances’. Based on notes by Thomas Bayes, and edited by Richard Price, it was submitted in 1763, two years after Bayes’ death.

The conference takes place over two days, 19-20 June 2013, at the Royal Statistical Society in London.
The influence of Bayes’ work in the last 250 years is immense. Up until the early 20th century, Bayesian inference was the de facto method of doing statistics. While the work of RA Fisher and Neymen and Pearson dampened interest in Bayesian methods somewhat through the middle of last century, it saw a resurgence in the later part of the century with the proliferation of ever more complex data and the development of Markov chain Monte Carlo methods.
‘It’s a great sign of success that now we see Bayesian applications and methods in all aspects of scientific inference,’ says Chris Holmes, professor of statistics at Oxford University, who is co-organising the conference with Professor Christian Robert.
The conference features speakers from a range of academic backgrounds. ‘We wanted the workshop to reflect the diversity of Bayesian statistics, especially in the UK where there is great strength and breadth in this topic,’ explains Professor Holmes.
A video-recorded interview with one of the key researchers who continued to champion the Bayesian approach throughout the 20th century, Dennis Lindley, which will be shown on screen at the conference. One of his former doctoral students, and past president of the Society, Sir Adrian Smith, will provide closing remarks at the end of the conference.
Another feature of the conference will be a poster session, which is open to all statisticians, in particular, PhD students and postdoctoral researchers to showcase their ideas.
A full list of the 19 speakers and topics covered at the conference is published here, as are details for those wishing to register for the conference.

Statisticians celebrated in birthday honours list

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UK Statistics Authority chair Andrew Dilnot, Professor John Hills of the LSE and Dr Lucy Carpenter of Nuffield College are among those recognised in this year’s Birthday Honours list.

Andrew Dilnot was awarded a knighthood for services to economics and economic policy. The man behind 2011’s Dilnot Report on adult social care has been chair of the Statistics Authority since April 2012. A recognised broadcaster and communicator of statistics, he presented the Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ before the current presenter Tim Harford. He was also director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies for more than a decade. Mr Dilnot told the BBC he was ‘deeply honoured’ to receive the award.
John Hills, professor of Social Policy and director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, was also knighted; in his case, for services to social policy development. His independent review of fuel poverty was praised for its potential to help ‘target assistance at those who need it most, with a long-lasting impact through quality of life improvements for some of the most vulnerable in society.’ Hills delivered the Royal Statistical Society’s Beveridge Lecture in 2005.
Dr Lucy Carpenter (Emeritus fellow at Nuffield College) received an MBE for services to public health in the UK and abroad. Her research focuses on occupational epidemiology, HIV in Uganda, associations between cancer and infectious diseases and statistical methods in epidemiological research.
Other notable recipients included Nigel Shadbolt, co-founder of the Open Data Institute (with Sir Tim Berners-Lee) who was awarded a knighthood, and the chief statistician of Turks and Caicos Islands, Shirlen Albert Forbes, who received a British Empire Medal for services to the development of statistics in the British overseas territory.
John Pullinger, president of the RSS said: ‘It is wonderful that, in the International Year of Statistics, so many of our friends and colleagues with a passion for data and statistics have been recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list.’



G8 sign up to Open Data Charter

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The G8 countries have committed to supporting the underlying principles of open data at Lough Erne this week by signing up to an Open Data Charter.

The charter binds each participating country to manage its data under a number of principles: that data is open ‘by default’; that as much data is released in the highest quality possible; and that it is released in useable formats. These actions, the charter decrees, will have ‘enormous potential to create more accountable, efficient, responsive, and effective governments and businesses’.
Supporters of open data predict that the deal will impact on other key issues being discussed at Lough Erne this week, such as tax. ‘Open data will demonstrate how companies are paying tax, in what jurisdictions and who owns what. This will help untangle the corporate web to ensure fair returns to the countries that host and support companies,’ explained the Open Data Institute’s director Nigel Shadbolt in The Telegraph. He also described how one of The ODI’s startup companies identified £200 million of savings in the NHS for one class of prescription drugs, through access to government data.
The signing up to the Open Data Charter comes just a week after the government issued positive responses to recommendations from both the Shakespeare Review and the Administrative Data Taskforce.
In its response to the Shakespeare Review, the government recommended the formation of a National Data Strategy, for which the government will now set out implementation plans in October (via its forthcoming Open Government Partnership National Action Plan). The government has also proposed a review of governance arrangements to open up public sector information and has set a date of 2015 whereby ‘core departmental data’, as defined in the Shakespeare review, will be released.
The recommendations of the newly-formed Administrative Data Taskforce have also been met with a positive response. An Administrative Data Research Centre is proposed for each of the four countries in the UK, as well as the implementation of legislation and provision of funds to support research access to administrative data.
Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society said: ‘The UK is taking a positive and leading role in the open data movement, and the government must be congratulated on this. In an era of austerity, opening up data is one way to increase innovation and economic activity at a relatively low cost. It needs to be accompanied by a strengthening of the skills base of the population so that people are data literate.
‘The RSS is playing its part in this through the getstats campaign to promote statistical literacy.’

Benefits are changing, and the stats

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From April this year, the government is bringing in a sweeping set of changes to social benefits, with new names, new rules and – the Department of Work and Pensions has just launched a consultation - new statistics.

The government is calling the new scheme Universal Credit. The original idea had been to roll together the cash support offered poor households, but that has proved too difficult: separate benefits for pensioners, the disabled and children will remain. But households with adults of working age, in and out of work, will experience a major rationalization of state support, and tougher eligibility rules.

The most high profile of the changes is a cap, an upper limit, in the total amount of benefits a working-age household can receive – in theory it will be no more than the average weekly wage for working households. But the benefits system was and remains complicated. The administration of support for rents and housing costs is moving to local authorities and councils may choose to administer systems in different ways – though all are under pressure to cut costs.

In line, it says, with the government’s broader aims of opening up data and making government more transparent, the DWP says it will put out more data on benefits, showing in detail the characteristics and location of households making claims on social security.


RSS fellow featured on Radio 4 programme

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Professor David Spiegelhalter

Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University, David Spiegelhalter, was the subject of this week’s Radio 4 programme, The Life Scientific.

The 30-minute show, presented by physicist and broadcaster Jim al-Khalili, regularly features interviews with leading scientists in their respective fields about their life and work.

Open Data Institute launch open data certification scheme

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The ODI used the G8 Summit to launch its global Open Data Certificate scheme, a new initiative designed to help people find, understand and use open data.

The certificates have been created to help ensure a certain level of quality to any open data that is released, and were unveiled as the G8 countries signed up to a new Open Data Charter.
‘The certificates will help to create the right conditions for innovation, making open data easier to find, share and use,’ said Gavin Starks of the ODI. ‘We want to give confidence to people to invest their time, energy, and money.’
He anticipates a wide global take-up of the certificates, which will convey the quality level of the data, (ranging from ‘Raw’ to ‘Expert’), as well as a human and machine-readable description of the data being released. It is hoped the certificates will help data users to understand the quality, licensing and usability of the data in question. It is also hoped the certificates will be able to generate confidence in the data it represents.
Jeni Tennison, technical director at the ODI, said that certification will set high expectations. ‘Anyone who gets a certificate, at whatever level, has done really well,’ she added. Organisations already signed up to the scheme include OpenStreetMap, amee (an environmental scoring system for British companies), MastodonC (energy monitoring data analysis) and Placr (transport data).
Certificates are available online at


Visible stats in West Sussex

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Three cheers for the elected members of West Sussex County Council - they have signed up for International Year of Statistics (Statistics2013) on the grounds that statistics cannot any longer remain the ‘invisible science’.
Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, says ‘statistics are essential for planning future council services, such as creating school places and other important infrastructure decisions.
‘They allow us to assess and monitor our projects and services, adding value and enabling us improve outcomes for our residents.
‘By joining Statistics2013, we will be part of a year-long, global awareness campaign and demonstrating that it is much more than just numbers.’
The Tory-controlled council joins 1,400 organisations in 111 countries in highlighting the contributions statistics make to finding solutions to global challenges. The campaign aims to increase understanding of the power and impact of statistics on all aspects of society, as well as nurturing statistics as a professional activity.

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