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?
UK Statistics Authority issued a statement today saying that it was “disappointed” in the way the £350m figure (of the cost of the UK’s EU membership) is being used and that it “undermines trust in official statistics”. I am sure that that much is true but it is also true that had UKSA presented the numbers “better” in the first place, the Leave campaign might never have used it in the way it has. UKSA could also have moved more quickly to clear up the ambiguity. Instead it left this statement to the 11th hour and risks making itself look political. A lesson should be learnt by all who feel that such numbers are important to democracy, accountability and good policy making. The reputation of numbers has taken a hit in this debate and every effort should be made to make sure they are presented properly in the future.
Continue reading £350m a week – how we got in this mess
This blog proposes a change in the way the UK Statistics Authority operates. Pretty much anyone (outside UKSA) who has a view on the matter feels that it is not operating how it was envisaged at the time of the legislation. With very modest cost (and without revisiting the Act) the UKSA board could implement a structure with clearer responsibilities and greater effectiveness. The reinvigorated stakeholder relationships with enhanced transparency and trust would set up the government statistics machine to play a central role in producing data both for policy making and the public good. Statistics should be about so much more than producing the same figures as last year and the Bean review can point the service in that direction. Continue reading UKSA structure – change and deliver
The statistics community must shout loud in the debate about Freedom of Information reform or access to data could be set back a generation. There are accepted rules and practices relating to transparency and openness of data and the Government and civil service are on a path to fulfilling them.
The Government can achieve what it wants from its review of the Freedom of Information Act – to make a “safe space” and keep secret some advice it receives – while making the foundations on which policy is made more transparent.
The news of the review was, understandably, received negatively but there is hope for some positive outcomes. It is time for the UK Statistics Authority to lead. Continue reading FoI Commission – Good for Stats?
The Prime Minister gave his flagship speech on migration a few days ago and, perhaps inadvertently, issued a stark warning about the quality of official statistics. He said that the official estimates of HMOs (homes of multiple occupation) in one part of London were out by a factor of sixty! Continue reading Migration – the reality and the official statistics
Should news media publish articles based on data-heavy reports if the report is not in the public domain? No. Should university-led publicly-funded research be released in a restricted way in breathless press releases and kept behind pay walls? No. Continue reading Public media, public data and the public
I have only just caught up with this article, “Stories or numbers OR stories and numbers” on the alliance4usefulevidence.org blog.
The first paragraph is: “The notion of numbers OR stories is a false dichotomy. Stories use numbers, numbers tell stories, numbers can paint pictures – and so on. The skilful story teller crafts the narrative according to what is more likely to persuade their audience.” Continue reading Numbers as used in stories