There was wonderful example of a “statistics meets news” car crash on the radio this morning. Take an interviewer who seems to be uncomfortable with numbers, poorly prepared by the editors/researchers, some statistics that were not published, presented by a lobby group that has not heard of open data or modern publishing standards, and you end up with an amusing but fundamentally totally groundless piece. People deserve better. The story about the demise of the bearded collie was classic #fakenews and was of little consequence but when the same standards of data spinning and innumeracy are applied to something important we all suffer. Continue reading Not the dog’s b*ll*cks!
The recent political coming and goings (the EU referendum, the arrival of a new Prime Minster and Labour’s travails) has seen a period of unusual attitudes to facts. More people seemingly want information and yet the (accurate) use of facts by politicians, some elements of the media and quite a few people has fallen to new lows. Experts are being rubbished, institutions’ reputations are being damaged, and the media is accused of being biased, prompting discussion of a post-truth society. There is much talk of a fractured Britain as technology and globalisation have hastened economic disruption affecting many livelihoods.
This note sets out a few steps – go local, kill the average, be open, do good research, un-spin and tell good stories – that the statistics world might take to help people reconnect with reality and help policy makers understand what might be needed if we are to establish a more sensible approach to debate and policy. It has much in common with the Data Manifesto published by the Royal Statistical Society two years ago. Continue reading Post-truth, post-Brexit statistics
This is a story about how I tried – and failed – to get some data about top performing GCSE students and girls doing STEM-related A levels. The story highlights weaknesses in the Department for Education but also in government statistics and their regulation systems more widely. The public deserves better. A report from the UK Statistics Authority on this quest was published today.
Exam success is key for a school pupil that wants to go to a leading university, on their way to a top job. As the AS levels will soon be a thing of the past, GCSEs are vital in that journey. Yet information about what sort of pupils from which type of schools in different parts of the country get the all-important top grade GCSEs (or study combinations of STEM-related A levels) is largely a mystery as the government denies access to the full set of school-level exam results. Continue reading School exam statistics – state secrets?
Yesterday I wrote about the launch of the new ONS house prices series. One huge risk was the announcement a week ago of the impending sale of the Land Registry, on whose data the new index would be based. The ONS refused to comment on this at their presentation (and the Land Registry representative was silent) fuelling concerns of those present. It seems, however, that all is not lost. The consultation document about the sale sets out to guard the data. Even so, those who lived through the loss of the PAF address register as part of the sale of Royal Mail will not be convinced that a deal can be struck until it is agreed. It seems that a purchaser is required to sign an open ended deal that would allow government to be in control of the data and set the rules about what is to be collected and how it is to be disseminated. Really? The Chancellor needs his money and a deal needs to be done ………. who has the best hand?
Today’s pre-launch of the new house price index from ONS was a disaster. The proposals lacked ambition and the new statistics (based on Land Registry prices) could well disappear next year when the Land Registry is sold. “We’re not going to speculate” about that, said the ONS, who didn’t know who would own the statistics.
For anyone unable to get through 250 pages of the Bean Review report on government statistics this blog highlights the main issues raised (as I see them) from chapters 4 and 5, regarding the ONS effectiveness and governance. It’s not nice reading. There were positives but they were overshadowed by the negatives. It’s a sad story about a lost decade.
The interim Bean review was mainly about setting a course for the future. It did that well and will prove to be a landmark report. In setting out his concerns about the recent past and present Prof Bean exposed some revealing facts. Of course the report is about the data but half of it was about ONS “effectiveness”. As he said: “users noted that this Review would not have been commissioned if all had been well”. (Para 3.25) It’s a line I had used and it is now clear that all was indeed not well. This blog picks out some soundbites from the report that are worthy of note. The second report (in March) will be about governance. Reading what follows makes it hard to imagine that things are going to stay the same. Continue reading Bean: “I’m queasy”
The eagerly awaited review of government statistics by Professor Sir Charles Bean, published this morning, is an landmark report that should help the ONS refocus on core activities and do them more professionally. It advocates access to new data sources and the use of state of the art technologies.
The report sets out the problems that the ONS has had in recent years – some elements of which are shocking – and says that a cultural shift is required for change. It is an opportunity for all stakeholders and users to debate ONS work priorities priorities in advance of Bean’s final report in March. That report will tackle governance arrangements. Given the state the stats are in and the task list now facing the ONS, UKSA is going to have to change if it is to survive in its current format. Continue reading Bean: initial findings
What happened to government statistics in the spending review? Err, it’s hard to know. It looks like good news but some uncertainties remain.
Response rates to surveys are declining. Fast. New sources, such as big data or administrative data, or making survey response compulsory, are no longer an optional extra. They need to be discussed now as a way to boost the quality of and restore credibility to the nation’s key figures. The rise in employment and the fall in earnings defined the economy of the last Parliament. As survey response rates fall below 50%, there is a chance that those trends which never gelled to give a coherent picture are some way from reality.