Perceptions are real, right? Not so…it seems, instead, that much of our sense of the society we live in is based on misperceptions which run counter to evidence. A new survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London shows just how wrong public opinion can be on key social issues such as crime, benefit fraud and immigration. See the resultant list of the Top Ten issues where public understanding
On 2 July, the Atlee Suite in Portcullis House was packed with over 160 parliamentarians, their staff and invited guests for the latest getstats in Parliament event, ‘MPs: what do you know about your constituency?’. The event was introduced by RSS President, John Pullinger, who noted that this was the eighth event under the getstats in parliament banner, in partnership with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics and the House
Think back…when listening to debates, how often have you heard people state that “x is linked to y”?. ‘y’, for example, could be cancer or the economic slump and ‘x’ anything from pollution levels to bacon consumption, low confidence to the weather. In saying that the two are linked, they are really only referring to an association, a statistical pattern, between them. But the implication, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, is that ‘x’ causes ‘y’.
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