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Report of the Council for 2011

Council report


President's foreword.  The year 2011 was primarily one of consolidation for the Royal Statistical Society, which concentrated mainly on developing the new initiatives of 2010 and building on existing activities. In spite of the continuing difficult economic times in which the Society had to operate, its staff and Council were able to reduce expenses and to enable the Society to maintain and progress its activities across a wide range of fronts. At the end of the summer the Society was very pleased to welcome Hetan Shah as its new Executive Director.

An important event for 2010 was the launch in October of the 10-year ‘getstats’ campaign to improve public understanding and interpretation of statistics. Thus, 2011 marked the first full year of the campaign. A successful bid to the Nuffield Foundation for support enabled the Society to recruit a part-time Director for the campaign, David Walker, who arrived in June. Getstats focuses on four areas—the political classes, the media, education and business—where it can have maximum impact on the wider public and best complement the Society's existing activities, and it is working with an impressive number of individuals and organizations in these areas to achieve its goals. The campaign has developed a regularly updated Web site and has become an active presence in the social media. Its first birthday, in October 2011, was marked by a very successful panel debate entitled ‘Playing with numbers: do stats help or hinder in sport?’. The awards for statistical excellence in journalism, as well as the training workshops for journalists, help to raise the profile of the Society within the media. These awards are part of a series of professional excellence awards that include awards for official statistics (in collaboration with the Office for National Statistics) and—new for 2011—for pharmaceutical statistics (jointly with PSI—Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry).

Other new developments in 2010 were the agreement with the American Statistical Association for joint publication of Significance, and the launch of the Significance Web site. In 2011, the magazine became firmly established internationally with some 30000 readers, a number which is likely to increase yet further as several more national and international statistical organizations are keen to offer Significance to their members. Work towards an expansion of Significance to six issues a year in 2012 is in hand. The Web site has expanded and is successfully running a rapidly evolving menu of statistical articles and news items. Nevertheless a continuing team of highly committed and able writers is essential if high standards are to be maintained, so volunteers to join this team are always extremely welcome.

The journal published by the Society is held in high international esteem and its three series go from strength to strength. In particular, in mid-2011 and too late for the 2010 annual report, it was announced that the ISI Journal Citation Reports ranked Series B of the journal first out of 110 statistics and probability journals in 2010 in terms of its impact. Although statisticians above all people view league tables with a certain amount of professional caution, nevertheless it is nice to come out top! The publications are a major source of income for the Society, supporting many of its activities, so it is especially pleasing that a new contract was successfully negotiated with Wiley–Blackwell to take effect from 2013. The guaranteed financial payments will underpin the Society's security over the next 5 years.

As can be seen from the details in this report, the ‘read papers’ presented and discussed at Ordinary Meetings of the Society and published in the journal form only a very small part of the annual offering of Society meetings that allow for the very broad interests of members. Many of the meetings are organized by the Society's Sections and Study Groups, which cover a range of specialist interests, and by the Local Groups that span the UK. In 2011, Council approved the formation of a new Section on Applied Probability, and a further new Section on Sports Statistics is in hand.

Services for members are an important part of the Society's activities, and around a quarter of members opt for professional membership, as Chartered or Graduate Statisticians (CStat or GradStat). A key decision taken by the Professional Affairs Committee in 2011 was to introduce revalidation for the Chartered Statistician award every 5 years to reflect current best practice for professional awards, thereby increasing the value of the award to the Chartered Statisticians themselves and also to the beneficiaries of the statistical services they provide. The Professional Development Centre ran 11 training courses in 2011, and the Society provides an on-line continuing professional development system for members. The Society continued to work with employers including a number of government departments to expand its corporate membership scheme whereby membership is provided for employees who work with statistics. Also an important milestone was achieved in 2011 when the new ‘My RSS’ members’ enclosure on the Web site went live, integrating the member database with the main Web site and enabling members to update their own records on line and in realtime, as well as allowing more streamlined delivery of member services.

Education forms a vital part of the Society's mission. In 2011, the Society submitted a very substantial response to the Department for Education's review of the national curriculum for England, and further discussions are on going with the Department and with the Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education and the Joint Mathematical Council. Some important reports on education were published during the year. The Society, with support from the Actuarial Profession, commissioned Roger Porkess to carry out a major piece of research on the position of statistics within our schools and colleges; a meeting was held to mark the publication of the report in January 2012. The Centre for Statistical Education worked with the BBC to raise awareness in schools of the 2011 census, with about 25000 pupils completing their schools report survey, whereas another 33000 submitted data to the CensusAtSchool project. For the 2011–2012 year, the Centre's theme is SportAtSchool, picking up on the 2012 Olympic Games.

The Academic Affairs Advisory Group was formed in 2011, to support the Vice-President for Academic Affairs. One of its first activities was to set up a series of meetings with the various research councils to share information and to develop a basis for longer-term co-operation. These meetings led to an article about research council funding in RSS News and a forthcoming session at the 2012 Telford conference. The Group engaged in an on-going series of meetings with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to discuss priorities for ‘growing’ statistics and applied probability, following the Council's ‘Shaping capability’ review. It also combined with the other Learned and Professional Mathematical Societies through the Council for Mathematical Sciences to work both proactively and reactively on behalf of mathematics, statistics and operations research.

The National Statistics Working Party is another very active group within the Society. In 2011 it responded to consultations by the Welsh Assembly on pre-release access and by the Cabinet Office on open data. It submitted written evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee inquiry on priorities facing the UK Statistics Authority, and to the Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry on the census and social science. Among many other actions, it continued to press its concerns relating to inflation measures in engagement with the National Statistician and others. An outcome of this was an event, organized with the Statistics User Forum and the National Statistician's Office, that brought together those with a particular interest in inflation measures and led to the formation of a user group to take these concerns forward.

The Statistics and the Law Working Group brings together representatives from academia (both statistical and legal), forensic science and the criminal justice system. The Group is developing four guides on communicating and interpreting statistical evidence in the administration of criminal justice. The first of these was published in early 2011 and distributed widely to the forensic science, statistical and legal communities, resulting in positive feedback. Work is now under way on the second of the guides, on the probative value of DNA evidence.

In 2011, the Panel on Statistics of Ecosystem Change successfully put in a bid to the Natural Environment Research Council for funding for a project focusing on the scale and uncertainty challenges of ecosystem service and natural capital evaluation. Reports aimed at shaping a future Natural Environment Research Council research strategy on assessing the value of nature are planned for 2012.

The paragraphs above give only a small sample of the many activities in which the Society was engaged in 2011, concentrating mainly on new initiatives and neglecting much important work that is on going. A much fuller picture can be gained from the report. The Society works with very many individuals and organizations in furthering its goals. Its activities involve input from a great many members who freely give their time, energy and expertise in the service of the Society. This volunteer army is complemented and supported by the Society's staff, on whose enthusiasm and commitment we all rely. On behalf of the Society, I would like to record grateful thanks to all the dedicated volunteers and staff without whom the Society could not exist.

Valerie Isham