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Why is professional independence such a contentious issue?

The theme of professional independence in the production of official statistics is a subject that will never go away from the preoccupations of the international statistical community. It would seem that at any time somewhere in the world someone (usually a government) is trying to interfere against it. Last year, the attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 US Population Census made the news in the US and worldwide, a decision more related to political considerations than to technical ones. In recent times, Argentina and Greece have also grabbed headlines around the world for altering figures in order to present a more favorable image of their economies, and a recent post on this blog raised awareness of a similar situation in Montenegro.

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Why is professional independence such a contentious issue?
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Statistics in the Time of Politics

The well-known book Love in the Time of War tells a story of two people whose marriage is irrevocably shaped by the harsh realities of a war. Well, this is a story of two people whose lives are shaped by the harsh realities of politics now… and a bit more… just because of the commitment of the two people to protecting the integrity of official statistics.

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Statistics in the Time of Politics
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How typical is a “median person”?

Last week, references to a “median person” showed up enough times in my life to spur me to write this post.  I think the use of an “average person” is still more popular, but this “median person” seems to be gaining popularity too.  Regardless, as attached to a person, the concept is essentially the same – it’s an appealing way to take a collection of averages (or medians) calculated for each of many measured characteristics and conceptually construct a new individual, as least hypothetically. The question that doesn’t get asked enough — Who, if anyone, does an individual constructed in this way actually “look” like?  

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How typical is a “median person”?
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COVID-induced nightmare for a big school in a developing country

It is important for us to appreciate the challenges facing education around the world, particularly in developing countries.  Following a recent post by Monday Osagie Adenomon, “Data speak louder than words” (22 June 2021), I decided to add to the conversation, by reflecting on my experiences as an educator in another African country.

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COVID-induced nightmare for a big school in a developing country
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The devil is in the detail

On August 2, 2021, the US government announced it had met its goal of 70% vaccinated. But what does that mean? 70% of what? And what does vaccinated mean? Well, they meant that 70% of US adults has received at least one dose of vaccine. That actually means 59% of the population in the United States has received at least one shot (and thereby are fairly well protected against the COVID-19 disease with the possible exception of the delta variant). It corresponds to 69% of those 12 and over (who are eligible for the vaccine in the US). But in terms of the entire population, those fully vaccinated (with one or two doses, depending on the vaccine used) make up 50%. The risk of catching the disease for vaccinated people is relatively low, but much higher for unvaccinated individuals.

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The devil is in the detail
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There’s no evidence that …

More exposure means more opportunities to mutate. More selection pressure means more variants. This is certainly true for COVID-19 and it might also be true for political rhetoric. The many additional news conferences, press briefings and talk radio slots brought on by the pandemic are perfect conditions for breeding new sound bites and rhetorical tricks. Angry journalists and members of the public provide the selection pressure, weeding out the phrases that fall flat.

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There’s no evidence that …
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Data speak louder than words

Nigeria is blessed with both natural and human resources. For this reason, it is often referred to as the giant of Africa. Harnessing these resources to increase the potential of Nigerians through increased employment, quality education and entrepreneurship cannot be down played.

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Data speak louder than words
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Nuclear power and whale-hunting: The power of irrational thinking

Greenland holds parliamentary elections these days. Ample opportunities for a statistical mind to wonder if the world has gone mad. Being on the cusp of retiring from about 10 years in the political circus I do know well that the object of desire is not truth, but votes. I know that if a large enough segment of potential voters has a firm belief, it is risky to estrange them with facts.

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Nuclear power and whale-hunting: The power of irrational thinking
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The role of science in the news (and elsewhere)

I’ve got a few questions: 1) Has there ever been a time when scientific publications were as widely discussed in the news as they were last year? 2) How did COVID change the way people think about science? and 3) How did science change the way people think about politics?

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The role of science in the news (and elsewhere)
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Stochastic statistics education: Randomly making the world a better place

This is a post about a bad idea leading to a good one.

The bad idea: stochastic terrorism. I stumbled on a new term recently in an article shared by a friend, “stochastic terrorism.”  Like any good statistician, I was fascinated (and a bit terrified).  What could it mean?  

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Stochastic statistics education: Randomly making the world a better place