PACAC: 25 Covid-19 questions for UKSA

Sir Ian Diamond and Ed Humpherson appear in front of the Public Administration Committee on Wednesday. Here are 25 questions I’d ask them. The statisticians seem upbeat: Sir Ian must be enjoying his new-found stardom (having been on our TV screens more than any of his predecessors) and Ed produced a “celebration” blog. There’s nothing wrong with the blog but it should be expected from the bosses not the regulator! That’s because there are questions to ask. Many think that the data response to the crisis from government as a whole has been incoherent, the daily slides need transforming, and so much data we want and deserve has not been published. This can be turned around. Importantly, the statisticians must now help the population navigate the loosening of the lockdown restrictions with clear information about risks. UKSA needs to serve the public good as required in legislation. Continue reading PACAC: 25 Covid-19 questions for UKSA

UK: well prepared for the pandemic

OK, the country wasn’t. But this is the implication of a report published last year – the UK was top-ranked in Europe for preparedness. I don’t draw attention to this report because I have any particular faith in its conclusions, or to poke fun at a conclusion that now looks questionable, but simply to show that some respected voices were taking a different view from the much-discussed Exercise Cygnus, which has been used relentlessly to bash the government. This, along with any other decisions about forward planning for disasters, is a very complicated topic not least because experts can differ in good faith in their views. Continue reading UK: well prepared for the pandemic

The many definitions of a Covid-19 death toll

This blog looks at the different measures of the death toll due directly or indirectly to the Covid-19 epidemic. The measures vary considerably and at the end of April the death toll could plausibly be anywhere between 4,000 and 50,000 depending on the definition chosen. None of the three familiar data sets published at least weekly are likely to be the one that will be used for the final ‘best estimate’ when the history is written. (This blog originally appeared on the Royal Statistical Society website as an output of their Covid-19 Task Force.) Continue reading The many definitions of a Covid-19 death toll

PMQs: Starmer uses statistics to edge the win

Along with many a statistician, I was delighted to see numbers being right at the heart of the Prime Minister Question Time today. It was a good exchange between the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, and the Prime Minister. It would be fair to say that the former one this, their first joust at PMQs, by a very skilful use of data. He won on style and substance. At the same time, it’s only fair to say that the Prime Minister was let down by civil servants who once again have not done their political masters any favours, and failed to present the government’s case in a fair light. Continue reading PMQs: Starmer uses statistics to edge the win

Northern Ireland Covid deaths

The optimistic interpretation of the facts underlying the discussion on the BBC’s Today programme about Covid in Northern Ireland did not ring true. Northern Ireland looks as if it’s several weeks behind England and Wales and the trend is not yet obviously on a downward path. The number of deaths to date is also higher than the 263 quoted. Continue reading Northern Ireland Covid deaths

German Covid-19 death toll – for real?

Germany is the out-and-out star performer in Europe’s Covid-19 battle to keep deaths low. Or is it? Without reassurance we should doubt that the numbers published by Germany are either broadly correct or comparable with other countries. Germany does not seem to publish weekly deaths data (or even monthly, on a timely basis) so we cannot get a handle on excess deaths. Please help me Germany – I have failed to get a straight answer from anyone! Just how can a public health system be so good and the stats so poor? Or to put it another way, how can you know that the response to coronavirus was great if you don’t have the evidence to support the claim? Continue reading German Covid-19 death toll – for real?

Another PHE data disaster

The new data visualisation from Public Health England is worse than the last. It’s uglier, has less information on it, has a rubbish map and even has data errors. Does anyone look at these things before they go live? If this was about something of no importance, so be it, but this is PHE and it’s coronavirus. We should expect better. Continue reading Another PHE data disaster

Underlying Covid19 deaths

I have today submitted a Freedom of Information request to the ONS so that they release the number of (underlying) deaths due to Covid19. Until we know how many of the ‘mentions’ of Covid19 on death certificates were classified as the ‘underlying’ cause of death we cannot begin to edge towards a true figure of deaths due to the virus. Continue reading Underlying Covid19 deaths

UKSA, the public good and covid19 deaths

Today was the day when the media reported the “10,000 deaths from coronavirus”. Although 10,000 was the figure it wasn’t really “deaths from coronavirus”. There are two real measures. On one measure the number would be rather higher, and on (what I consider to be) the truer measure, yet to be published by ONS, it’ll be fewer. Importantly, it’s time to have some honesty on the numbers. You only have to read a few comments at the end of online media articles to realise that trust in government figures is evaporating. I have written to the UK Statistics Authority asking for immediate action for it to fulfil its statutory obligation to ensure such numbers serve the public good. Continue reading UKSA, the public good and covid19 deaths

MOMO mumbo jumbo (#COVID2019)

Tension is brewing between those who want to measure a nation’s Covid-19 deaths by aggregating individual records and those who want to model an ‘excess deaths’ figure. This blog looks at the MOMO numbers which are being used by some. The data are worth looking at but are inaccessible (due to being poorly presented) and seem to be giving a misleading impression. As they appear from a largely unexplained black box it’s hard to understand them. I can only hope they will not be given any real role in the debate until we know what the numbers mean. Continue reading MOMO mumbo jumbo (#COVID2019)