Archive for Boris Johnson

UK vs. Horizon Europe [episode 23]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2022 by xi'an

Just read in The Guardian that the UK Government or more exactly the PM hopeful Liz Truss  (since Boris Johnson has gone AWOL!) is starting a formal procedure against the EU for British scientists being excluded from Horizon Europe funding due to said Government renegading on its former signature of the Northern Ireland Protocol. (After the EU announced last June re-commencing its infringement proceedings against the UK.) Just stick to Science!

BoJo’s return to no-future

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2022 by xi'an

The [harebrained] proposal of Boris Johnson to return to so-called imperial measurements or units illustrates [beyond his usual flair for spinning out of yet-another-scandal] an all-too-common innumeracy of politicians (and possibly a lingering anti-French sentiment as metric units were introduced by the French Revolution), preferring to cater to their Brexit voters rather than realising the drawbacks and costs of a parallel system of measurements, as illustrated by the 1999 Orbiter crash. Does he plan to exit the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures as well?! Or does he expect an improvement in numeracy with the public using different bases (other than 10) at ounce once?!

the limits of R

Posted in Books, pictures, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by xi'an

It has been repeated many times on many platforms, the R (or R⁰) number is not a great summary about the COVID-19 pandemic, see eg Rossman’s warning in The Conversation, but Nature chose to stress it one more time (in its 16 Jul edition). Or twice when considering a similar piece in Nature Physics. As Boris Johnson made it a central tool of his governmental communication policy. And some mayors started asking for their own local R numbers! It is obviously tempting to turn the messy and complex reality of this planetary crisis into a single number and even a single indicator R<1, but it is unhelpful and worse, from the epidemiology models being wrong (or at least oversimplifying) to the data being wrong (i.e., incomplete, biased and late), to the predictions being wrong (except for predicting the past). Nothing outrageous from the said Nature article, pointing out diverse degrees of uncertainty and variability and stressing the need to immediately address clusters rather than using the dummy R. As an aside, the repeated use of nowcasting instead of forecasting sounds like a perfect journalist fad, given that it does not seem to be based on a different model of infection or on a different statistical technique. (There is a nowcasting package in R, though!) And a wee bit later I have been pointed out at an extended discussion of an R estimation paper on Radford Neal’s blog.

politics coming [too close to] statistics [or the reverse]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2020 by xi'an

On 30 April, David Spiegelhalter wrote an opinion column in The Guardian, Coronavirus deaths: how does Britain compare with other countries?, where he pointed out the difficulty, even “for a bean-counting statistician to count deaths”, as the reported figures are undercounts, and stated that “many feel that excess deaths give a truer picture of the impact of an epidemic“. Which, on the side, I indeed believe is a more objective material, as also reported by INSEE and INED in France.

“…my cold, statistical approach is to wait until the end of the year, and the years after that, when we can count the excess deaths. Until then, this grim contest won’t produce any league tables we can rely on.” D. Spiegelhalter

My understanding of the tribune is that the quick accumulation of raw numbers, even for deaths, and their use in the comparison of procedures and countries is not helping in understanding the impacts of policies and actions-reactions from a week ago. Starting with the delays in reporting death certificates, as again illustrated by the ten day lag in the INSEE reports. And accounting for covariates such as population density, economic and health indicators. (The graph below for instance relies on deaths so far attributed to COVID-19 rather than on excess deaths, while these attributions depend on the country policy and its official statistics capacities.)

“Polite request to PM and others: please stop using my Guardian article to claim we cannot make any international comparisons yet. I refer only to detailed league tables—of course we should now use other countries to try and learn why our numbers are high.” D. Spiegelhalter

However, when on 6 May Boris Johnson used this Guardian article during prime minister’s questions in the UK Parliement, to defuse a question from the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, David Spiegelhalter reacted with the above tweet, which is indeed that even with poor and undercounted data the total number of cases is much worse than predicted by the earlier models and deadlier than in neighbouring countries. Anyway, three other fellow statisticians, Phil Brown, Jim Smith (Warwick), and Henry Wynn, also reacted to David’s tribune by complaining at the lack of statistical modelling behind it and the fatalistic message it carries, advocating for model based decision-making, which would be fine if the data was not so unreliable… or if the proposed models were equipped with uncertainty bumpers accounting for misspecification and erroneous data.

punch [him] back, Britain!

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on December 12, 2019 by xi'an

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