Major failure on vaccination data

The NHS published the long-awaited regional data table of vaccinations today and it fell short on all fronts. I have written to the statistics regulator (OSR) to seek an explanation as to why this effort was so poor. It looks as if one of three factors is coming into play: the government does not want to be open and transparent, does not want anyone to know what is happening (perhaps it is embarrassed about the slow and uneven roll out), or the data systems are so shambolic that nothing better can be produced. Whatever the excuse, the public deserves better from such a critical £3bn programme.

Continue reading Major failure on vaccination data

Vaccines – what data do we need?

Why has so little data on vaccine roll out been published? It’s over five weeks since that first jab and still we have only the most basic running total. Three reasons spring to mind: the government does not want to be open and publish the data, a full dataset would show terrible weaknesses, or the systems are so chaotic that they can’t collate the numbers. Which is it? This blog sets out 15 data tables that could be published, in advance of more/better data being due tomorrow.

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ONS, Ministers and one-sided data ….. Covid-19 latest

Two big data stories were in the 5th January lockdown presentation: the existence of new ONS data on infection rates (none was expected) and the unbalanced use of that data. My reading is that the CMO and Prime Minister needed some shocking data to bring in new Covid-19 measures and they got ONS (a supposedly independent body) to produce it. ONS did not release the data in a press release (as it usually does) leaving it to Chris Whitty and the PM to present it in an unbalanced way. Is that really the way ONS and its data should be used? Some of the data (not mentioned by the CMO or PM) show a tentative decline in the last week in Covid-19 prevalence in London, west midlands, the south east and east of England. So, while the data shows that the situation is bad, it is not so bad when presented in a balanced way: the figures suggest that half the country might be past the worst of infections already. ONS is losing its veneer of independence and risks losing credibility. The case for further measures might be justified but we should expect the government’s senior advisers to make the case using all the data in an open and balanced way.

Continue reading ONS, Ministers and one-sided data ….. Covid-19 latest

National Statistics exaggerate the UK’s crisis

This is a complex story about how new methodology can deliver improved but very misleading statistics. The data might be “better” – perhaps even the best in a technical sense – but if the result is a distorted view of the country, users are not well served. I doubt they are, but if the UK’s GDP data is comparable with that from other countries, the nation’s public services are in a huge mess.   Continue reading National Statistics exaggerate the UK’s crisis

The RPI – Government-sponsored statistical vandalism

I was delighted to have my article about the future of the RPI published in the Daily Telegraph today.

In summary: the demise of the RPI will hit pensioners and investors; renaming the CPIH as RPI is statistical fraud; the lack of transparency and failure of the regulation system means we do not know if the ONS is out of control or political pressure is being applied – or both; the UK will forever tether itself to the EU’s definitions of inflation: and, the sneaky and unjustified change raises questions about the UK’s financial probity.

Continue reading The RPI – Government-sponsored statistical vandalism

The latest PHE map of Covid-19

The new/latest Public Health England map of Covid-19 cases is not very different from its immediate predecessor. Yet this map has issues: not only does it give misleading messages (exaggerating the extent of the virus) but it fails to publish the data that is plotted (and explain how it’s derived). It also seems to have a category of rate (the yellow, 0-10 category) which is impossible for an area to have (there are none on the map). There are also lots of communities that are blank (labelled as “missing data”, though now changed to “suppressed”) and there is poor labelling of some geographies. One day, I hope, someone will ask why after six months is PHE still unable to produce an online map that that is not riddled with basic errors?

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Coronavirus data briefing – a statistical critique

Who can you trust? The presentation of data at the coronavirus briefing on 13 October (by Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and Prof Stephen Powis, NHSE Medical Director) failed to meet a number of basic standards of statistical neutrality. We are left wondering whether the public servants were deliberately being non-neutral (ie overtly political or self-serving with a one-sided message) or simply using the information in a poor way. Critically, do they believe what they say? If the presentation was political, it should have been made by a politician. If the aim was to use the data in a professional, analytical, balanced and useful way, and the health officials felt unable to do it, the presentation should have been given by an independent statistician. When public servants present data in a one-sided way it does not serve the public well.

I have written to the chair of the UK Statistics Authority to ask the questions below. I will update the blog when a response is received.

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Covid-19: Students are the second wave

The DCMO says “What I would give to have had the level of data, testing and medical insight we have now back in February and March this year“. Well, the data has got better – going from barely anything to a still-inadequate something – so why does he appear not be using it to diagnose the situation and plot a way out of the crisis?

In the run-up to today’s announcements on lockdowns, he’s probably leaning heavily on the latest incarnation of the (turgid) weekly note from PHE. It is full of charts starting from the lows in July and rising “exponentially” since. They are perfect fodder for the scare-mongering medics and press but as they are mostly national figures and free of context, they are of little analytical value.

He might like to give his thoughts on the detailed local area data on infection testing which seems to give a very clear message about where Covid-19 is thriving – among students at university. If that is the conclusion to be drawn from the charts below, we should ask the advisors why there have been no student-specific policies in the last few weeks and – although it seems to be too late for the communities in the wider Liverpool – whether such targeted policies would help other cities avoid the worse of more widespread lockdown. In short, the people of Doncaster, Barnsley, Wakefield, Mansfield and many other places whose behaviours have not led to a material rise in infections will rightly feel aggrieved if they are shut down due to student infections causing Covid-19 hotspots in entirely separate social circles.

Continue reading Covid-19: Students are the second wave

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