‘Life is now full of data,’ said eminent statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, in an online talk at the May 2020 Hay Festival. ‘Data is about interpreting the numbers.’
Numbers are a passion for Sir David, who was born in Barnstaple and educated at the local Grammar School, before attending Oxford University and going on to have a glittering academic career at Cambridge and Harvard, among other universities.
While he is ‘pleased that statistics are part of the daily government briefings,’ he describes these as a ‘numbers theatre,’ where the data is often not explained properly.
In May, he discussed COVID-19 with mathematics modeller Dr Tamsin Edwards in his podcast Risky Talk, and they agreed that communication has proved to be a major problem when tackling COVID-19.
Dr Edwards has revisited the original report from Imperial College on the likely need for a lockdown. This report projected there could be a lockdown for months, followed by a lifting, followed by another lockdown, followed by a lifting etc., for 2 years. And this likelihood has not been communicated.
Data, they point out, is usually reported by the experts – with accompanying conditions and uncertainties. But people crave certainty, and the media want to assign blame, so expert reports are often wrongly described as predictions.
Sir David insists we can rely on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which twice a month publishes detailed surveys on the medical and social impact of COVID-19.The ONS is overseen by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), which reports directly to Parliament (giving it a degree of independence from government). He has just become a board member of the UKSA.
Data and its models are under a state of constant review, so we need to challenge and question the data whenever we hear or see it.
Questions suggested by Sir David include:
So, if the data contains what he calls, ‘limitations’, we need to find other ways to stay informed – for both social and commercial reasons. Accountants are using the lockdown to keep an eagle-eye on government financial schemes and help for businesses, including the self-employed.
Apart from hospital staff and care workers, among the hardest hit by lockdown are working mothers, especially if they run their own business (just ask Eleanor Stafford, founder of QUAY Magazine!).
Social distancing and hand-washing have proved key components in tackling COVID-19. If you keep your distance, consistently wash your hands, and stay healthy with regular exercise and good food, you have an excellent chance of avoiding the virus.
The best stat for Sir David, is that only 1 child aged 7 or under (out of 1 million) has died from COVID-19.
People are understandably gloomy about the state of the economy. Yet, the economies of the western world can recover quickly, post-virus, according to French economist Esther Duflo, who won the Nobel Prize in 2019 with her partner Abhijit Bannerjee, for their book Poor Economics.
In The Economist, they pointed out that economies in Europe and Japan recovered after the Second World War, with the help of the Marshall Plan, and that the Vietnamese economy rebounded quickly after the end of the Vietnam War.
However, a post-COVID recovery will need international co-operation, especially to help the poorer parts of the world. Perhaps even a global Marshall Plan, although the US is now less stable, politically and economically, than it has been in the past.
In the UK, there are a few green shoots of recovery. Universal Credit claims are down, house sales are up by 137%, and Boris Johnson has hinted at introducing an apprenticeship guarantee for young people.
Through all the various pressures of lockdown, networking is one of the best ways of keeping your social skills honed, meeting people, discussing challenges, sharing success, and doing business.
The cooperative ethos among the networking community has emerged as a real plus point during this challenging time.
David Brock, of Your Partnerships, says:
‘We all know that social sites like LinkedIn have really changed the face of networking, and of how we communicate with other businesses. People network all the time in pubs, and at social gatherings – not just when they’re at work.’
‘Before the lockdown, we rarely made connections while networking online, but now we can reach out and make them all over the world.’
He also looks forward to the resumption of face-to-face networking:
‘A picture may tell a thousand words, but a real human can express more by communicating face-to-face. It’s all about that personal connection.’
There are plenty of local networking opportunities listed below. So jump on Zoom, or hangout in Google Meets, to build some new relationships and strengthen existing ones!