Archive for official statistics

abortion data, France vs. USA

Posted in Kids, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2020 by xi'an

As Le Monde pointed out at a recent report on 2019 abortions in France from Direction de la recherche, des études, de l’évaluation et des statistiques (Drees), showing an consistent rise in the number of abortions in France since 1995, with a rate of 15.6 abortions for 1000 women and the number around a third of the live births that year, I started wondering at the corresponding figures in the USA, given the much more restrictive conditions there. Judging from this on-line report by the Guttmacher Institute, the overall 2017 figures are not so different in both countries: while the abortion rate fell to 13.5‰, and the abortion/life birth ratio to 22%, the recent spike in abortion restrictions for most US States did not seem to impact considerably the rates, even though this is a nationwide average, hiding state disparities (like a 35% drop in Iowa or Alabama [and a 62% drop in Delaware, despite no change in the number of clinics or in the legislation]). In addition, France did not apparently made conditions more difficult recently (most abortions occur locally and the abortion rate is inversely correlated with income) and French (official) figures include off-clinic drug-induced abortions, while the Guttmacher institute census does not. The incoming (hasty) replacement of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the US Supreme Court may alas induce a dramatic turn in these figures if a clear anti-abortion majority emerges…

counting COVID-19 deaths (or not)

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2020 by xi'an

Two COVID-19 articles in the recent issue of Nature relating to data gathering issues. One on the difficulty to distinguish direct COVID deaths from indirect ones from the excess deaths, which “to many scientists, it’s the most robust way to gauge the impact of the pandemic” (which I supported). As indeed the COVID pandemic reduced people access to health care, both because health structures were overwhelmed and because people were scared of catching the virus when visiting these structures. The article [by Giuliana Viglione] supports the direct exploitation of death certificates, to improve the separation, quoting Natalie Dean from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Although this creates a strong lag in the reporting and hence in health policy decisions. (Assuming the overall death reporting is to be trusted, which is not the case for all countries.)

“This long-standing neglect has been exacerbated by the lack of national leadership during the pandemic.”

The other article is about the reasons why the COVID-19 crisis in the US is doubled by a COVID-19 data crisis. Mentioning “political meddling, privacy concerns and years of neglect of public-health surveillance systems” as some of the sources for unreliable data on the pandemic range and evolution. Hardly any contact tracking (as opposed to South Korea or Vietnam), a wealth of local, state and federal structures, data diverted and hence delayed (or worse) to a new system launched by the US Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) for an ill-used $10 million. And data often shared (or lost) by fax! “Lack of leadership,” to state the obvious….

updated (over)mortality curves

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on May 26, 2020 by xi'an

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.

the other end of statistics

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2017 by xi'an

A coincidence [or not] saw very similar papers appear in Le Monde and The Guardian within days. I already reported on the Doomsday tone of The Guardian tribune. The point of the other paper is essentially the same, namely that the public has lost trust in quantitative arguments, from the explosion of statistical entries in political debates, to the general defiance against experts, media, government, and parties, including the Institute of Official Statistics (INSEE), to a feeling of disconnection between statistical entities and the daily problems of the average citizen, to the lack of guidance and warnings in the publication of such statistics, to the rejection of anything technocratic… With the missing addendum that politicians and governments too readily correlate good figures with their policies and poor ones with their opponents’. (Just no blame for big data analytics in this case.)