Let me begin by giving a warm welcome to Conchita Kleijweg, who takes over from Ada as Director of the ISI on 1 July. We wish Conchita every success and will do all we can to effect a smooth transition.
It has been good to get back out again to an international conference – this time the IAOS conference in Kraków, Poland. Having given several talks to various conferences virtually over the last six months, it was strange but pleasing to get on a plane again knowing that I would be meeting up with some old friends and familiar faces.
This IAOS conference had special meaning for me, as I was President of IAOS ten years ago during which time we hosted the 2012 IAOS conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. And I was pleased to meet again with Oleksandr Osaulenko, who was head of the Ukraine Statistical Service at the time.
Kraków is only a few hundred kilometres from the Ukraine border so there was a lot of discussion, both informally and in the programme about the situation there.
Sometimes when we hold international conferences we take the opportunity to hold a special workshop on a topic of common interest. This was the case this time when some of us met to discuss the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, and the misuse of statistics. The Fundamental Principles have been around since the early 1990s, but were adopted by all governments through General Assembly resolution in 2014. They set out good practice for official statistics offices and help guarantee their independence on statistical issues. Clearly there are issues of compliance with these Principles in some countries, and the ISI is active in working with the UN on this. The more interesting discussion though was on issues around the use of non-official statistics. Statistics from other providers, some reputable, others of unknown provenance, also populate the public space. How are discerning members of the public meant to know which statistics to trust?
The answer probably lies in three directions. Firstly, a need for official statisticians and others to promote good practice – which includes published and verifiable methods, and quality standards – among wider publishers of statistics which inhabit the public policy space. Secondly, a need to improve the statistical literacy of citizen and public decision makers, so that they are better able to decide which statistics best match their needs. And thirdly, a need for fact checking organisations to continue and expand the excellent work they do, to call out rogue statistics and their producers. Having poor quality statistics being used in public debate leads to poor decision making and reduces the credibility of all statisticians.
All these approaches, and others, we should be promoting through the ISI; and the upcoming conferences in Zambia (IAOS April 2023) and in Ottawa (WSC July 2023) give us the opportunity to develop our thinking and promote solutions. I look forward to seeing session proposals!