RSS News Reports 2008/9
Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, by David MacKay
The Department of Statistics at the University of Warwick hosted the RSS West Midlands Local Group on 30th April 2009, with David MacKay’s talk ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’. This addressed the issues surrounding renewable resources and discussed the modern day addiction to fossil fuels. The intense interest in the topic was reflected by the largest ever audience of the group, in excess of 140. Is this a local group record ?
We often hear about our ‘huge’ consumption of unsustainable fossil fuels, despite our ‘huge’ renewable resources, and are told that changes to our lifestyles can make ‘huge’ differences to our CO2. How do we compare these ‘huge’ quantities? David stressed that public discussion needs numbers, not adjectives, in order to establish an energy plan that adds up.
Energy companies are constantly telling us to switch to greener policies, the motor industry tells us to switch to greener motors, but do these efforts really amount to anything significant? David attempted to quantify an individuals’ typical daily energy consumption, before outlining what that would equate to in terms of sustainable resources. We saw that, for example, daily energy consumption from car use could be covered by the energy produced from solar panels covering an area the size of Wales. Clearly based on our current consumption, a country like Britain cannot live on its own renewables, to make a difference, renewable facilities need to be country sized.
In the final part of the talk, David outlined what he felt to be a realistic energy plan. Switching to electric cars and electric trains, fixing ‘leaky’ houses to restrict heat loss and using heat pumps powered by electricity were examples given to illustrate more efficient energy consumption. Clean coal and nuclear power were described as stop-gap solutions and the need for an international long-term solution identified, with countries working together to produce sustainable energy. The takeaway message: getting off fossil fuels will not be easy, but it is possible.
The full talk is available as a slidecast here.
Report by Jennifer Rogers
Statistical Modelling of Sports, by Mark Dixon
The last RSS West Midlands meeting of 2008 took place on 4th December at the University of Warwick. Mark Dixon from ATASS Ltd gave a talk on "Statistical Modelling of Sports".
In the beginning the speaker presented a short tutorial on how to use betfair, which is an example of an online betting exchange. The basic idea behind the betting exchange is very similar to the one behind standard financial markets. Statistical modelling in this context provides an assessment of the probability of different outcomes that can be compared with the "market view" to determine whether or not to trade and, if so, at what price.
The part of the audience waiting for some statistical considerations could feel a bit disappointed. The speaker avoided the topic giving only a glimpse of it presenting a simple horse racing model. The model was a log-linear model taking into account different technical aspects of this particular sport in the form of explanatory variables. Even this simple example showed that in fact one needs a good insight into the sport in question to model it in a reliable way.
Report by Piotr Zwiernik
Harmless pastime or serious science? What does phenology tell us about the impacts of a changing climate? by Tim Sparks
On 9th October, 2008, a meeting of the RSS West Midlands Local Group took place at the Department of Statistics, University of Warwick. The speaker was Tim Sparks from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology/UK Phenology Network, who gave a talk entitled “Harmless pastime or serious science? What does phenology tell us about the impacts of a changing climate?”.
The speaker began by describing the kinds of data he works with. This consists mostly of data recorded by members of the public, who do it as a hobby. Some of the data are more than three hundred years old. Examples include the day of the year when a certain type of bird or a certain flower first appeared. The speaker then explained the importance of these phenology data. It is probably the most responsive aspect of nature to warming and it is very easy to understand. Furthermore, changes in phenology can be easily detected. In the following part of the talk, some phenology data and their relation with climate change were presented using figures and photographs. A very interesting point brought up by the speaker was that some of the data are not observed exactly. From a graph showing the number of spring arrivals of migrant birds by day of the week, it could be seen that this number was much greater on Saturdays and Sundays than on any other day of the week. The speaker concluded by emphasizing once more the importance of the collaboration of the volunteers who record the data. Historical data are valuable to examine temperature responses but many historic data lie scattered and in obscurity. Great changes are being observed in the timing of events in the lives of plants and animals. Continued monitoring is necessary to identify such changes and the potential effects on life cycles, competition and the food chain.
Report by Flavio Goncalves.