RSS West Midlands Group Meeting Reports
Current and Previous Sessions
12th November 2012
Communicating Statistics: From Flu to Finance
The RSS West Midlands Local Group celebrated the 175th Anniversary of the RSS with two related talks and a celebratory cake on 12th November, 2009 at the University of Warwick. The talks were linked by the need to both question assumptions and clearly present them. The first talk by David Spiegelhalter 'Chance, Risk and Uncertainty' demonstrated how easy it is to alter the message on risks and probabilities and was illustrated in a wide range of situations.
A model based on correlated Poisson distributions for home and away goals in football enabled David Speigelhalter to predict the results of the final day of the English premier league more accurately than a BBC expert. The impact of the method of presentation of quantifiable risks was illustrated with examples such as a press statement that “9/10 people carry a hish risk gene” to make a story out of the fact that “1 in 10 people carry a low-risk gene” . The difficulty of the statistically literate audience separating the presentation from the probability statement was illustrated with medical conditions calculated with the Qrisk system. The frequent lack of understanding of 'uncertain risks' was illustrated with examples where model uncertainty is large: past Bank of England projections of future GDP
included uncertainty limits which took no account of 'unexpected' future events such as the financial crisis. The methods currently used for quantification of uncertainty in climate change models was
described and several important additional unknowns pointed out.
After the impressive RSS cake, the second talk by writer and journalist Michael Blastland on 'Recession Stories' gave some of the reasons why journalists frequently give innacurate statistics, illustrated with several entertaining examples. He then moved on to how the recession has been reported and analysed, showing how selected figures on retail sales give a distorted picture and overall tax rates over the last 30 years don't match perceptions. The excess of national expenditure over income over many decades was explored and the mechanisms used for funding it in the past surmised.
Report by Ashley Ford