The getstats vision is of a society in which everyone will understand and use statistics in their own lives.
In this section we will set out information and resources to help the public generally find out more about statistics and explore what they mean for them. Issues like money, life expectancy and understanding the society we live in and the world around us are a good place to start.
DATA VISUALISATION (not just bar charts)
The old adage “a picture paints a thousand words” rings true for numbers as well…in that a ‘picture’ of numbers (data visualisation) is often the best way to quickly communicate the information in data too.
A BBC News School Report article for budding journalists provides a good starter overview of data visualisation. It starts with the basics and takes the reader through the process of collecting data and the experience of communicating the data in a meaningful, accessible and often highly eye-catching way. This data visualisation (Source: European Union budget for 2011) is pretty amazing and unwraps the mysteries of EU budgets at one fell swoop (or at least looks more interesting than a table or a bar chart!).
OPEN DATA: looking for the ‘value-added’
A BBC Radio Four ‘Today’ programme interview with Hans Rosling (Professor at the Karolinska Institute and presenter of BBC Four’s the Joy of Stats) considered open data and its impact on our lives. Could there be such a thing as too much data? Rosling’s response was: ‘Can you have too many books? No. you just have to know what you have.’
Whilst making data openly available breaks the monopoly of the state, privacy needs to be addressed and each case judged on its merits, differentiating between what is personal and what is in the public interest. The availability of data makes a lot of uses possible. Above all that data needs to be interpreted to meet the public’s needs and interests. ‘It is the value added to the data which makes it useful to the public, not the data itself’.
An Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN) resource. OpenSpending is about ‘mapping the money’. OKFN aim “to track every (public) government and corporate financial transaction across the world and present it in useful and engaging forms for everyone from a school-child to a data geek”. OKFN’s online tools let you see and visualise (few spreadsheets, lots of great visualisation) the information in data that are relevant to our lives e.g. how government departments and local councils spend our taxes. OKFN aim to create a truly interactive platform, with visitors uploading their data for analysis too.
An Open Knowledge Foundation Network (OKFN) interactive data visualization tool that allows users to explore UK’s public spending patterns using a mix of maps, timelines and graphs. It is also aimed at promoting transparency and engaging us all as citizens in looking very closely at visualised information about UK public spending, by bringing it down to the individual level. Start by moving the opening page slider to your annual income and discover how your tax money is spent in daily figures……..
Wolfram Alpha’s ‘computation engine’ uses data available on the internet to generate answers to your questions. It can access mortality statistics - data on the ages at which people died - to calculate your life expectancy. If you type “life expectancy of a [your age] year old [your sex]” it will tell you at what age you can expect to die, along with a more detailed breakdown of the likelihood of you making it to various milestone birthdays. It can also calculate dates on which something will happen so, having got your life expectancy, you can find out on what date you can expect to die by typing “[life expectancy] years after [date of birth]“. On what day can you expect to die?
Visit WolframAlpha’s Life Expectancy example page to see what your life expectancy would have been had you been born in another century or on another continent.
For an interesting take on dates of birth and death (looks like more than coincidence?) see the getstats post ‘Happy Deathday’
For a humourous (but still informative) take on Life Expectancy today, see the video ‘Your Days are Numbered: the Maths of Death’.
Professor David Spiegelhalter unwraps and explains risk. He also looks at easy to understand and meaningful ways of measuring those risks …here are just two examples of ways of measuring, comparing risks in ways which are more meaningful than those we may have encountered so far.
Chronic risk – the sort of behaviour, diet and life choices which don’t kill us straight away – lends itself well to Microlives (that’s 30 minutes off your life expectancy !) The microlife aims to make all these chronic risks comparable by showing how much life we lose on average when we’re exposed to them….smoking 2 cigarettes or drinking 3 pints of beer equate to 1 microlife each, a chest X-ray costs you 3 microlives, and undergoing a CT scan costs 180 microlives.
Acute risk – the real risk takers amongst us might be interested in looking at the site too to read more about Micromorts, a ‘friendly unit of deadly risk’ . A micromort is a 1 in 1m chance of dying: drivijng a car for 250miles and your risk is 1 micromort, the same as walking 17 miles or cycling 20 or motorcycling 6 miles….
For more on this (including micromort animations) see Understanding Uncertainty .
See how statistics make sense in this now bi-monthly magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association (including more articles on life expectancy and money alongside most other subjects you can think of). The online site is updated daily.
For anybody interested in numbers,data and statistics, this programme on Radio 4 is unmissable. Numbers are not just facts, like words they need explaining….Tim Harford and colleagues explain and sometimes debunk – the numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life. When it’s not on air, you can still download podcasts.
THE NHS AND STATS
Delivering healthcare well and safely depends on health professionals – and patients and carers – understanding many different numbers. Neil Pettinger is a former NHS manager who now trains and consults, his blog offering useful illumination.