Evidence, data and numbers must be built into the DNA of Whitehall, it was asserted at this week’s launch of a new government initiative to improve the use of experiments and trials in public policy. Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office minister said that “Government must become more rational”, hence the new ‘What Works’ centres which will draw on research to test whether policies on crime, local economic growth, ageing, health
Nobody can have missed recent ’England, a nation of secret binge drinkers?’ headlines spawned by new research ‘How is alcohol consumption affected if we account for under-reporting? A hypothetical scenario’. Everyone, it seems, was shocked that 40-60% of the alcohol we buy is not included in the amount we say we drink. Whilst here it’s the size of the gap between perception and reality which has proven so startling to the media, finding a difference between
We are all guilty of relying too heavily on personal experience – and not evidence – when it comes to views on how society should work. We tend to assume our own experience is the measure of how people should behave. My treatment in hospital may have been excellent…but this is not necessarily how things really are. We have only to read the most recent Care Quality Commission report to know differently.
In an interview with the BBC on his new book ‘The Signal and the Noise: why so many predictions fail, but some don’t” - Nate Silver suggests that there is a big gap between what we think we know in politics and what we actually do know. It is easier, he says, to predict the outcome of baseball than a presidential election as there is a lot more data available on baseball (162 games are played every year) than
Civil servants need better training in stats, the Liberal Democrats say in a paper discussing science, maths and stats education and the need to ensure public policy is more securely based on evidence. As the party convenes its annual conference in Brighton, the Liberal Democrat policy paper says ’civil servants would be better equipped to fulfil their roles if they were trained in the basics of statistical science, evidence-based policy, and the scientific
Politicians, including prime ministers, don’t always – if ever – study the available evidence before they make policy. This week’s kite flying by David Cameron about welfare was an example. There’s a lot of modelling and empirical data on the interaction of the benefits system, family size, work and so on, and it’s worth looking at, But lately more voices are insisting policy interventions are put on trial beforehand, and
Film making involves lots of numbers and that’s why, says researcher Nick Redfern understanding films requires statistical literacy. Film data isn’t just box office, production costs and Hollywood quantities, but subtle measures, such as shot length — there’s a great debate about the construction of the Marx Brothers’ classic A Night at the Opera. Redfern notes that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – at least when it is not
How well equipped are members of councils in the age of big and more open data? The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee is asking for evidence about the backgrounds and capacity of elected members of local authorities in England. The government has talked about ‘armchair auditors’ scrutinising council spending. But councillors themselves are confronted with reams of numbers, about service performance, spending, social and demographic data about the
A prominent Daily Telegraph food scare story Red meat is blamed for 1 in 10 deaths is so flawed statistically that it is difficult to take it seriously. The opening paragraph sets the tone. Small quantities of processed meat such as bacon, sausages or salami can increase the likelihood of dying by a fifth, researchers from Harvard School of Medicine found. Eating steak increases the risk of dying by 12%.
Doctors are many things: counsellors, scientists, pillars of the community, small businesspeople, bureaucrats, heroines of public health. Whatever else, they do need to know some stats. How else do they talk intelligibly to patients or anyone else about risk and probability – and most diagnoses and nearly all therapies have elements of uncertainty in and around them. But the evidence is that many doctors either didn’t do stats in their medical training