As the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) reports on the latest pressure brought to bear on the Government’s Open Data initiative, signs of a thriving and well-resourced statistics and data-based movement abound.
The UK Statistics Authority, with Andrew Dilmot now in the chair, have instructed the Office of National Statistics to ensure that all responses to data requests are promptly made publicly available. This represents part of an effort to open up official statistics to the wider community, in as helpful and timely a manner as possible. One estimate of the considerable value to the UK economy of open data suggested that it could be worth £6 billion.
Indeed, as statisticians everywhere may or may not be looking forward to the International Year of Statistics in 2013, the statistics world is all a-bustle. The RSS has launched getstats as part of an effort to improve our collective ability to handle numbers. Meanwhile, fullfact, an independent not-for-profit organisation, investigate claims made by politicians and the media and provide useful insight into overall accuracy, reliability of sources and applicability of figures across contexts. Elsewhere Straight Statistics, a campaign run by journalists and statisticians make similar efforts, including the publication – in collaboration with Sense about Science – of the excellent short guide ‘Making sense of statistics‘. Also notable in this thriving field is Ben Goldacre, whose Bad Science blog relentlessly pursues poor science and statistics.
A number of media outlets now run data-focused sections, for example the Guardian’s Data Store, and this week sees the announcement of the publication of the Data Journalism Handbook, an open source international collaboration which hopes to see clearer and more accurate use of data in the media.
An extraordinary variety of blogs, campaigns and information repositories can easily be discovered online, representing a seemingly concerted effort to help us all to navigate an often difficult world of numbers and facts, bewilderingly varied in quality, provenance and integrity of motivation.
Already the widespread availability of data has changed the ways in which we are able to work, shifting the emphasis from skill-at-finding towards skill-at-understanding. Accompanying efforts to increase numeracy, statistical fluency and assessments of data or fact quality must be welcomed, both to facilitate better understanding, and to protect us all from misleading notions, whether accidental or cynically motivated.