Archive for CREST

democracy suffers when government statistics fail [review of a book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2020 by xi'an

This week, rather extraordinarily!, Nature book review was about official statistics, with a review of Julia Lane’s Democratizing our Data. (The democratizing in the title is painful to watch, though!) The reviewer is Beth Simone Noveck, who was deputy chief technology officer under Barack Obama and a major researcher in digital democracy, excusez du peu! (By comparison, Trump’s deputy chief technology officer had a B.A. in politics and no other qualification for the job, but got nonetheless promoted to chief…)

“Lane asserts that the United States is failing to adequately track its population, economy and society. Agencies are stagnating. The census dramatically undercounts people from minority racial groups. There is no complete national list of households. The data are made available two years after the count, making them out of date as the basis for effective policy making.” B.S. Noveck

The debate raised by the book on the ability of official statistics to keep track of people in a timely manner is most interesting. And not limited to the USA, even though it seems to fit in a Hell of its own:

“In the United States, there is no single national statistical agency. The process of gathering and publishing public data is fragmented across multiple departments and agencies, making it difficult to introduce new ideas across the whole enterprise. Each agency is funded by, and accountable to, a different congressional committee. Congress once sued the commerce department for attempting to introduce modern techniques of statistical sampling to shore up a flawed census process that involves counting every person by hand.” B.S. Noveck

This remark brings back to (my) mind the titanesque debates of the 1990s when Republicans attacked sampling techniques and statisticians like Steve Fienberg rose to their defence. (Although others like David Freedman opposed the move, paradoxically mistrusting statistics!) The French official statistic institute, INSEE, has been running sampled census(es) for decades now, without the national representation going up in arms. I am certainly being partial, having been associated with INSEE, its statistics school ENSAE and its research branch CREST since 1982, but it seems to me that the hiring of highly skilled and thoroughly trained civil servants by this institute helps in making the statistics it produces more trustworthy and efficient, including measuring the impact of public policies. (Even though accusations of delay and bias show up regularly.) And in making the institute more prone to adopt new methods, thanks to the rotation of its agents. (B.S. Noveck notices and deplores the absence of reference to foreign agencies in the book.)

“By contrast, the best private-sector companies produce data that are in real time, comprehensive, relevant, accessible and meaningful.”  B.S. Noveck

However, the notion in the review (and the book?) that private companies are necessarily doing better is harder to buy, if an easy jab at a public institution. Indeed, public official statistic institutes are the only one to have access to data covering the entire population, either directly or through other public institutes, like the IRS or social security claims. And trusting the few companies with a similar reach is beyond naïve (even though a company like Amazon has almost an instantaneous and highly local sensor of economic and social conditions!). And at odds for the call of democratizing, as shown by the impact of some of these companies on the US elections.

homeless hosted in my former office

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2020 by xi'an

pooling or not pooling

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2020 by xi'an

A pro-pooling opinion tribune, followed a few days later, by a collection of opinions on pooling PCR samples to absorb the overload in testing laboratories and produce results in a delay that is short enough for public health impacts.  Le Monde is taking sample pooling most seriously! This includes a link to an April article by Christian Grollier and Olivier Gossner (CREST) published in COVID economics (!), recalling the basics of sample pooling and citing a Technion experiment to show the approach is feasible in practice. With a recommended pool of 80 patients if the prevalence is 2%. And of 30 for a prevalence of 5%. Despite the approach being implemented in other countries, and considerable delays in analysing the PCR samples, the conclusion of the French public health authorities is that it is urgent to wait..!

Dorfman’s group testing

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2020 by xi'an

A recent note by CREST researchers insists on using group testing to compensate for the shortage of test packages and testing personal, as done in several countries, towards deconfining individuals who are not infected. Or who are exhibiting the right antibodies.  Reminding me of my first entry to the notion, in Feller’s book, of the method implemented by Robert Dorfman to test for syphilis prior to enlisting potential WW II soldiers. I would deem the idea useful for surveys, in identifying the proportion of infected or immunised persons, maybe less for giving the green light to leave one’s house as the logistics of merging the tests while keeping track of every individual could prove impossible.

SMC 2020 [en Madrid]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2020 by xi'an

Palacio Real from Casa del Campo, on Nov. 10, 2011, during a pleasant bike ride through the outskirts of Madrid and along the renovated banks of Rio ManzanaresAn announcement for the incoming SMC 2020 workshop, taking place in Madrid next 27-29 of May! The previous workshops were in Paris in 2015 (at ENSAE-CREST) and Uppsala in 2017.  This workshop is organised by my friends Víctor Elvira and Joaquín Míguez. With very affordable registration fees and an open call for posters. Here are the invited speakers (so far):

Deniz Akyildiz (University of Warwick)
Christophe Andrieu (University of Bristol)
Nicolas Chopin (ENSAE-CREST)
Dan Crisan (Imperial College London)
Jana de Wiljes (University of Potsdam)
Pierre Del Moral (INRIA)
Petar M. Djuric (Stony Brook University)
Randal Douc (TELECOM SudParis)
Arnaud Doucet (University of Oxford)
Ajay Jasra (National University of Singapore)
Nikolas Kantas (Imperial College London)
Simon Maskell (University of Liverpool)
Lawrence Murray (Uber AI)
François Septier (Université Bretagne Sud)
Sumeetpal Singh (University of Cambridge)
Arno Solin (Aalto University)
Matti Vihola (University of Jyväskylä)
Anna Wigren (Uppsala University)