Venue and date announced for RSS 2012 Conference

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The Royal Statistical Society’s annual international conference will return in September 2012 with its familiar mix of high-profile international plenary speakers, invited and contributed presentations, poster sessions, short courses and workshops, plus a busy social and networking programme.

Added to this mix will be an expanded programme of professional development tutorials and workshops which should appeal to a broad spectrum of professional statisticians, researchers and the wider user community.

The dates for the conference will be 3 to 6 September and the venue will be the Telford International Centre in Shropshire.

Suggestions and proposals are currently welcomed for topics for invited sessions, short courses, workshops and tutorial sessions – please contact Paul Gentry (RSS Meetings & Conferences Manager).

Abstract submission will open later this year and the conference website will updated as more information becomes available over the next few months.

UK Statistics Authority concerned about “politically motivated” ONS comments

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The UK Statistics Authority has expressed concern to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) about media reports suggesting that its commentary on ‘special events’ affecting the recent quarterly GDP figures was “politically motivated … in support of the coalition Government”.
 
In a letter sent 16 August to ONS director general Stephen Penneck (pdf format, opens in new window), the UK Statistics Authority chair Sir Michael Scholar wrote, “There can be no justification for raising questions in this way about the impartiality and independence of the commentary provided by ONS … your motivation is purely to provide impartial, objective and honest statistics”. Sir Michael said he recognised that the ONS’s independence of government and any form of political control “is well understood by all your staff who have no reason or motivation to seek to please the Coalition or any other Government.”
 
The ‘special events’ referred to in the ONS commentaries included extreme winter weather, the exceptionally mild April and the royal wedding. Sir Michael stressed “the importance of frank and helpful commentary alongside official statistics, both to help users better understand the statistics and to demonstrate that, where they arise, inaccurate stories have no basis”.
 
But he suggested that “there may be benefit in further developing the commentary so that it is fully understood by all commentators that a discussion of special factors will routinely be published regardless of whether the effects of those factors is to increase or decrease GDP. It may also be that any quantified estimate of the net effect of the special factors should only be published as part of a full analysis, if at all.
 
“I would be grateful if you would consider whether a free-standing assessment of quarterly contextual factors could be usefully issued at the same time as each GDP release; and also review the prominence given to a discussion of these factors in the release and accompanying news conference.”
 
Construction figures
 
In the same letter, Sir Michael expressed “great concern about the publication and subsequent correction of miscalculated estimates of Output in Construction by ONS on 12 August 2011, estimates which have implications for UK GDP statistics”. The initial figures published by the ONS overstated output and caused a temporary surge in Sterling’s exchange value.
 
The UK Statistics Authority has asked the ONS to explain how this error came about, and announced that it will be undertaking its own independent inquiry.
 

Council for the Mathematical Sciences calls upon EPSRC to widen Fellowship support to all maths areas

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The Council for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS), of which the RSS is a founding member, has asked the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to urgently reconsider its decision to exclude all areas of mathematical sciences apart from statistics and applied probability from Fellowship support.
 
Last month EPSRC announced increased support for fellowships in statistics and applied probability, in line with a recommendation (R9) of the 2010 International Review of the Mathematical Sciences (IRMS). However, EPSRC is not set to increase in support for other areas of mathematical sciences. In contrast, ESPRC has kept the remit of postdoctoral fellowships general in physics.
 
In a letter sent to ESPRC on 2 August (pdf format, opens in new window) CMS says that “UK graduates are at a significant disadvantage in the mathematical science academic job market … because of the very low numbers of postdoctoral positions funded (3.8% of EPSRC-funded postdoctoral positions were in mathematical sciences as of March 2009) and the relative paucity of alternative sources of funding.
 
“Postdoctoral Fellowships are a crucial source of funding for the most talented young researchers in all areas of the mathematical sciences, many of whom may not have the luxury of waiting until the next round of fellowships.
 
“Fellowships at the postdoctoral level provide a rare opportunity for the future leaders of the discipline to develop independently, and the loss of these fellowships to the general area of mathematical sciences will hit the best young mathematicians disproportionately.”
 
The CMS urged ESPRC to reverse its decision for the mathematical sciences at the earliest opportunity. Its letter concluded: “it is still not too late to open up the current call at the PDF level.”
 
CMS was established in 2001 by the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS) and the Royal Statistical Society (RSS). It provides an authoritative and objective body that exists to develop, influence and respond to UK policy issues that affect the mathematical sciences in higher education and research, and therefore the UK economy and society in general.
 

Britain will benefit from moves to boost young people’s ability with numbers, says Royal Statistical Society

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The recommendation within the report of the Independent Mathematics Taskforce, chaired by Carol Vorderman, that all young people should continue to study mathematics after the age of 16 has been warmly welcomed by the Royal Statistical Society.
 
In its statement responding to the report, the Society said successive studies had deplored the fact that so many young people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland did no further mathematics once GCSE was completed. As a result they often took jobs or entered higher education without an adequate basis for dealing with the modern world.
 
The RSS endorsed the Taskforce proposal to give numbers work a bigger role in primary schools outside formal mathematics teaching, and supported the recommendation that those aged 16 plus do some form of compulsory mathematics.
 
Findings by the panel, chaired by Carol Vorderman, were in line with recent reports from the Advisory Committee on Mathematical Education (ACME) and the Nuffield Foundation. There is a growing consensus on the need for additional mathematics and statistics education.
 
The RSS said it hoped it could work with the education secretary Michael Gove to help turn the report’s recommendations into practicable plans for schools, sixth form and further education colleges in England and with education authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland.
 
Martin Dougherty, Executive Director of the RSS, said “Statistical know-how is critical in all areas of modern life, so we have to improve opportunities to learn to use stats in a wide range of subjects in the national curriculum, above and beyond the formal mathematics curriculum. We welcome the suggestions in the Taskforce report for teaching statistics at more technically challenging levels, as well as improving understanding of the concepts of risk and probability among all school children.”
 
Ms Vorderman said “Mathematics is a critically important subject. It is a language without which the entire global infrastructure is struck dumb. This report does not make comfortable reading. It is aspirational but this does not mean making maths ‘harder’ for everyone; it means making the teaching better and what is taught much more suitable for those who are learning it.”
 
The Nuffield study showed the UK is lagging far behind other countries in post-16 mathematics education; most of the countries in the study also include some statistics content as part of the mathematics education.
 
The ACME report estimates that of those students entering Higher Education in any year there are around 330,000 students would benefit from studying some mathematics (including statistics) at a level beyond GCSE, but fewer than 125,000 will have done so.
 

Hetan Shah appointed as RSS executive director

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Council is pleased to announce the appointment of Hetan Shah to the post of executive director. He will be joining the Society on 3 October 2011 to take up the position.
 
Hetan is currently chief executive of Think Global, a membership-based charity that works to educate and engage the UK public on global issues, and has previously held senior roles in a number of think tanks.
 
RSS was lucky to have over 100 applications for the role and we had a choice of strong candidates. The panel felt that Hetan’s background in external relations, policy and education, as well as his expertise as a chief executive of a membership body will bring a lot to the RSS as it seeks to help the wider world understand the importance of statistics.
 
Hetan is passionate about the importance of building a more statistically literate society and in supporting the RSS fellowship. He is looking forward to beginning the role in October and meeting the fellows.