Report of the Council for 2009

  • Council Report
    For the year ended December 31st, 2009, presented at the One Hundred and Seventy-sixth Annual General Meeting of the Royal Statistical Society held at the Central Hall, Westminster, London, on June 30th, 2010


President's foreword.  The year 2009 was the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Society. Various events were held to celebrate the achievements and longevity of the Society, and to engage other people and organizations where we wished to raise awareness of our activities. These events included a Founders’ Day meeting of presentations followed by a reception at the Barbican Centre, a reception at the Palace of Westminster engaging with Members of Parliament and Peers, a President's dinner, the award of four Honorary Fellowships and celebratory events at the annual conference, of which more below.

Despite the difficult economic climate which pervaded the year, and which had its due impact on the Society, it is apparent that the Society has been successful in raising both its profile and its influence.

Our National Statistics Working Party continued to engage with the Office for National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority, as well as to monitor and comment appropriately when statistics were misused or misreported in the public domain. This is an important role for the Society, since it is both expert and independent of government. In a related vein, plans were laid to launch an ‘Excellence in official statistics’ award, paralleling the award for statistical excellence in journalism, which has continued to attract increased interest.

It is perhaps in the nature of statistics that the Society might be expected to comment on a wide variety of subjects affecting society, and it indeed responded to a number of government and other consultation documents. We also used our role in the Council for the Mathematical Sciences to make comments on issues such as the research excellence framework and the international review of mathematics.

After the lengthy tendering process conducted during 2008, the Society's Centre for Statistical Education moved to its new host institution, the University of Plymouth, on August 1st, 2009. The move was marked with a week of events in November, including an afternoon of presentations attended by the Mayor of Plymouth and the Director General for Science and Research of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. In addition to its work through the Centre, the Society contributed to education planning and organization at various levels, from meeting with the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, through contributing to consultations on ‘more maths grads’, the higher education science, technology, engineering and mathematics higher education initiative, and the Bologna Agreement, to promoting the Guy Lecture in schools. The Society introduced a modular version of its Graduate Diploma in 2009, and continued to accredit university statistics degrees, where it is strengthening its international engagement. The overall number of candidates sitting the Society's examinations increased in 2009.

The Society's 2009 conference was held in Edinburgh. Although occurring in an odd-numbered year, and therefore technically a special theme conference, it was decided to make that theme ‘175 years of progress’, so that the anniversary could be properly marked. And, thanks to the superb local organization and wonderful scientific programme, the conference was a runaway success, with a record breaking number of attendees. The reception at Edinburgh Castle was launched by the Scottish Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, and speakers included the Presidents of several parallel statistical organizations from other countries. Plenary speakers included the National Statistician and the UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser. In addition there were 79 invited talks, 116 contributed presentations and 62 poster presentations.

There is a general drift in the direction of strengthening international collaborations, and the Society took part in discussions at both the International Statistical Institute's conference in Durban and the Joint Statistical Meeting in Washington concerning co-ordinating the activities of the various national statistical organizations. Because of its size and history, the Society is a key and respected player in such discussions.

The Society continued to push, on several fronts, to improve both the public image of statistics and the public understanding of it. For example, the statistical workshops for journalists have continued to be very positively received. When the Science Minister is led to remark that ‘leading the field is the Royal Statistical Society, who have been doing exemplary work in this area [of science training] for years’ we know we are getting it right.

The Society's stable of publications continued to flourish. In particular, we began discussions with the American Statistical Association about collaborating on the magazine Significance, and distributing it to the Association's membership. These plans will come to fruition in 2010. This is in parallel with the ‘Bringing Significance to the classroom’ project, which made substantial progress in 2009.

The Long Term Strategy Group, which was established in 2008 to undertake horizon scanning to explore how the Society should position itself to ensure that it met its objectives, reported during 2009. One of its recommendations was that the Society should set up a statistical literacy campaign, and Council duly did so. The campaign will be formally launched in 2010, as a long-term exercise aimed at enhancing statistical understanding across society.

Progress has been made on the information technology front, with the members’ database and improved Web facilities, although, as appears to be common with such projects, it has not always been a smooth process. RSS eNews has been a marked success, as has progress on audio and video recording of meetings and other events.

The activities noted above represent a mere sample from the range of activities which the Society undertook during 2009. Full details of these and the many other activities of the Society are given in the body of this report. My overall impression of the year is that the image and public perception of statistics and its importance in modern life is improving. This progress is entirely attributable to the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the many volunteers, who run Sections, manage Local Groups, run committees and carry out a myriad of other activities behind the scenes of the Society, and to the matching energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the Errol Street staff: the engine room of the Society.

David J. Hand