Significance magazine October 2018

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The October 2018 issue of Significance is out now in print and digital formats. In this issue, we explore the use of statistics in court. Judges and jurors are often asked to make sense of statistics. But data, probabilities and uncertainties are easily misunderstood or misused by those not trained to deal with them. Is education the answer? Or is greater oversight required? Nick Thieme considers the options for the US legal system.

Then, continuing the legal theme, Jonny Jacobsen takes us back to the 1990s, when British miners were fighting for compensation for diseases linked to coal dust exposure. Epidemiology and statistics were essential to the miners’ case, so defendants sought to cast doubt on the data – and it fell to Jonny’s father, the late Michael Jacobsen, to argue that the research was sound. With a high concentration of cases of 'black lung' disease recently reported among miners in southwest Virginia, this historical account is a timely tale.

RSS endorses regulator’s criticism of DfE stats claims

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The RSS has issued a strongly worded statement regarding the Department for Education's 'misuse' of statistics regarding government funding of education.

RSS President, Sir David Spiegelhalter, said: 'The Department for Education has had multiple warnings over the years about misusing statistics. For a Department that is in charge of the nation’s numerical skills, this is getting embarrassing. Ministers need to get a grip and ensure they use numbers in a trustworthy way.

'As the UK Statistics Authority has shown, the DfE has recently been using statistics selectively, in a way that can rightly be termed "spinning".'

New agreement to connect RSS volunteers to overseas projects

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The RSS has just signed an agreement with the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21) to enable RSS fellows to volunteer their time and statistical expertise to help low-income countries develop their statistical systems.

PARIS21 is an international body established by the UN, EC, OECD, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank back in 1999 to promote better use and production of statistics throughout the developing world. The new agreement will allow RSS fellows to provide technical assistance to specific PARIS21 assignments to strengthen statistical systems in developing and emerging economies.

Conference 2018: Rapid-fire talk and poster prize winners

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The RSS conference poster exhibition gives early career researchers the opportunity to present their research at conference, and talk about their work with conference attendees.

Last year, we introduced a new rapid-fire talks section for those new to presenting their research, where each speaker had five-minutes to present their research. This section proved so popular we integrated it as a key part of the conference. 

Conference 2018: The who, what, when and where of effective graphics

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Mark Baillie

RSS Conference 2018 began Tuesday with a call for statisticians to hone their graphical skills to ensure statistical outputs have the desired impact.

Mark Baillie of the pharmaceutical firm Novartis urged delegates to see statistical graphics as a key tool for communicating with scientists and decision makers – but it is a tool that is not fully taken advantage of, he said.

Conference 2018 session: What is 'data journalism'?

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Clara Guibourg

'Data journalism' might seem to be a new and exciting offshoot of regular journalism, but a panel of data journalists were at RSS Conference on Tuesday afternoon to dispel that notion. 'Data journalism' is just journalism, they said – and storytelling remains king.

Claire Miller, of press group Reach, made the point that journalists have always used data in their work, whether reporting on crime statistics or budget statements. What has changed is the opportunities afforded by digital platforms to create more interesting, engaging presentations of data.

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