Tuesday, 14 October 2014

1 in 5 million

Earlier today, I've got an email from UCL Library Services, telling me that our research publications repository (UCL Discovery) has "recently passed the exciting milestone of 5 million downloads".

As it happens, the 5 million-th download was our paper on football results predictions $-$ I've already mentioned it in a few posts, for example here, here and here).

The best part of the story is that there is a "small prize" that I will be given at a forthcoming Library Conference to "mark this achievement" $-$ the achievement being having won the lottery, really...

As my friend Virgilio said, who knows what my colleagues that do "more serious stuff" will think of that...

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Evil companies, stereotypes and coffee

A couple of weeks ago, our favourite coffee place in Walton (where we live) just closed out of the blue. We were really surprised as we thought they were doing really well, as the shop was almost always buzzing with people. So we did a bit of investigation and then found out the story $-$ the supermarket giant Tesco had invested in nearly 50% of the shares in the (originally) small coffee shop chain and opened several branches in some of their supermarkets. Only to successively close a few non-supermarket branches (which were opened before the take-over), including ours. 

So we had to change coffee shop and had to (provisionally, I think) resort to one of the "Italian" places $-$ well, they do have Italian names (this, or this) and may be they are owned or founded by Italians, but they certainly do not exist in Italy... Anyway, the other day, Marta and I were in the local branch and while drinking our coffee, we noticed the big pictures on the wall, which are meant to portray Italian life, to give a touch of authenticity to the place. 

There was a picture of a couple of old men sitting outside a bar, gesticulating and arguing. And another picture of a few young men checking out a girl who had just passed by. The immediate reaction was that it was a bit insulting, really, to get stereotyped like that. But then we also thought of something we had seen last week, when we were in Italy: a few men were preparing to carry a coffin, but as a girl wearing a rather short skirt walked by, all of them intently stared at her (no whistles or shouts, though).  

Bayes of thrones

My friend and colleague Andreas sent me a link to a working paper published by a statistician at the University of Christchurch (New Zealand) and discussed here. The main idea of the paper was to use a Bayesian model to predict the number of future chapters will each of the main characters of Game of Thrones feature in.

I'm not a great fan of Game of Thrones, but I know many people who are (including in my own household). So I can't really comment on the results. However, on a very cursory look at the paper, it seems as though the model is based on vague priors for all the parameters, which is kind of a bummer, as I would have thought this is the kind of model for which you do have some strong subjective (or "expert") prior to use... Still, nice idea, I think...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Book of the year

The next issue of Significance (it will be a December double issue) will feature a festive version of the usual book review section. 

Readers and contributors can nominate their favourite statistics books of the year and alongside the nomination, we're looking for a 100-word explanation of why they recommend it.

Full details are on the Significance website.

Friday, 19 September 2014


The last two days have been kind of a very interesting mini-tour for me $-$ yesterday the Symposium that we organised at UCL (the picture on the left is not a photo taken yesterday) and today the workshop on efficient methods for value of information, in Bristol.

I think we'll put the slides from yesterday's talks on the symposium website shortly. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

BCEA 2.1

We're about to release the new version of BCEA, which will contain some major changes.

  1. A couple of changes in the basic code that should improve the computational speed. In general, BCEA doesn't really run into troubles because most of the computations are fairly easy. However, there are a couple of parts in which the code wasn't really optimised; Chris Jackson has suggested some small but substantial modifications $-$ for instance using ColMeans instead of apply($\cdot$,2,mean)
  2. Andrea has coded a function to compute the cost-effectiveness efficiency frontier, which is kind of cool. Again, the underlying analysis is not necessarily very complicated, but the resulting graph is quite neat and it is informative and useful too.
  3. We've polished the EVPPI functions (again, thanks to Chris who's spotted a couple of blips in the previous version).
I'll mention this changes in my talk at the workshop on "Efficient Methods for Value of Information Calculations". If all goes to plan, we'll release BCEA 2.1 by the end of this week.

Monday, 8 September 2014


This is an old story (it dates back to July last year) but it just got under my radar and I think it's quite unbelievable $-$ or may be it isn't after all... 

In a survey of just over 1000 individuals developed by professional company Ipsos Mori, respondents were asked to give their opinion on a series of "urban myths" (as it turns out). 

For example, the perception of the surveyed sample on benefit fraud is way out of line ("the public think that £24 of every £100 of benefits is fraudulently claimed. Official estimates are that just 70 pence in every £100 is fraudulent - so the public conception is out by a factor of 34", as the Independent article puts it).

Other topics on which the public seems to have a very biased opinion are immigration (with 31% of the population believed to have recently migrated into the UK, while the official figure is actually around 13%) and teen pregnancy (perceived to be 25 times as prevalent than it actually is!). That'll make for a nice example in my course on Social Statistics...

B my J

As part of our work on the Regression Discontinuity Design for the British Journal of Medicine, we decided we should prepare a short, introductory research paper. We weren't holding our breath, as we thought that, while obviously interesting to clinicians, the topic may be a little too complex and technical for the BMJ audience. So we tried really hard to strip it out of the technicalities to highlight the substantial points $-$ which they liked! 

The paper was reviewed rather quickly and the comments were positive (although iI remember thinking that there was a sense of "you need more, but also much less" (which reminded me of Jeremy from Peep Show)... 


Anyway, they seem to have liked the revisions too and the paper is now out.