Data Points

Our curated feed of data stories in the FT and elsewhere

Chris Cook

Charles, William, George. If all goes to plan, and God does, indeed, save our Kings, Britons now know the names of the men who will be head of state for the 21st century. But Ben Goldacre, the science writer, asked a good (if morbid) question: what chance does any one of us have of being alive when George finally takes to the throne? Thanks to Matthew Fletcher, a senior consultant at Towers Watson, a global actuarial firm, we now know.

You can get your precise numbers here, and read on to see how your odds were calculated

First, here is the likely probability distribution about when he will get under the crown. This makes a few assumptions that the royals age much like the rest of us, will not abdicate and that culottes-free Britons won’t storm Sandringham any time soon.

Again, assuming no chopping and changing, he also worked out the probability

  • that George follows on straight from Elizabeth – 0.1 per cent
  • that George takes over from Charles – 4.7 per cent
  • that George follows William – 88.6 per cent
  • that George is never king – 6.6 per cent

 

George Osborne’s attempt to flatter the official headline measures of the public finances came unstuck on Wednesday after the UK Statistics Authority reprimanded the Office for National Statistics for treating the Treasury’s raid on the Bank of England as equivalent to tax revenues.

Upholding a complaint from the Financial Times about the ONS decision, the statistics watchdog called for a review of the headline measures of public borrowing and debt.

The decision will stop the chancellor from claiming borrowing is lower merely because funds have been moved from one part of the public sector to another, and demonstrates that the UKSA is willing to criticise the statistical work of its own government department as well as ministers.In November, Mr Osborne announced he would repatriate to the Treasury the funds building up under the quantitative easing scheme in the Bank of England arising from interest payments on the debt owned by the bank.

The Treasury hoped this raid would improve headline figures of government borrowing, helping Mr Osborne to meet his fiscal rules and say borrowing was falling, despite the weak economy.

Initially the ONS agreed with the Treasury’s arguments, but this has now been overturned by the UKSA, which said the counter arguments made by the FT were “more persuasive”.

 

Chris Cook

The NSA data-collection story has prompted a lot of reporting about “metadata” – information about communications between individuals. As the FT has reported:

The practice was revealed by The Guardian, which published an order – signed by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – instructing Verizon to give the NSA the metadata, or information logs, for the calls “on an ongoing daily basis”.

Call logs really matter. Even if you cannot hear the calls, metadata – knowing who called whom – is massively important. It allows you to build a picture of who knows whom and how well. This sounds trivially true, but computing power means it’s extremely easy to pull out this data in real time and in great detail. And if you spot a suspicious group, you can then get another warrant to listen in on their conversations.

Here is an example: I’ve put my Facebook account details into a piece of analytical software – and, 10 seconds later, this is my life:

This is a map of who my friends are based solely on knowing which of them is friends of the others. Nothing else. Just Facebook friend lists. It has worked out that the big clusters are groups of people who know one another – so probably have something in common. The ones at the centre of the packs know everyone else around them, and those at the edge are more peripheral.

 

Kate Allen

2012 was the UK’s second-wettest year on record, according to full-year data from the Met Office. Four of the five wettest years on record have happened since 2000, and “extreme rainfall events” in particular are becoming more common, the agency’s meteorologists say.

This isn’t just a British trend. Natural disasters are on the rise worldwide – and the increase is being driven by water-related events. 

Chris Cook

Last week, I went to Wolverhampton where I spoke at a local debate, organised by the university and Pat McFadden, the local MP, about the local authority’s school. I was the warm-up act for Lord Adonis, former schools minister, setting the scene about the city’s education system before his talk on lessons on school improvement.

It was interesting event – and the city is clearly considering its future and the role of education within it. There is – judging by my inbox – serious and deep interest in improving schools in the city. One of the things I sought to do was set out Wolvo’s position in relation to the rest of the country – and what statistics about the city tell us.

Here is my presentation: 

Chris Cook

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, has written up a paper on Swedish school reforms, which you can download here. I thought it was worth using to quickly flag up two important statistical public policy points.

The context to this is that Sweden has, since the early 1990s, allowed private (including for-profit) institutions to enter the school system – and parallels are often drawn between it and the ongoing reforms of England’s school system. This paper, as Fraser rightly says, comes to the view that increasing the volume of private schools in an area is associated with improved results. Mikael Lindahl and Anders Böhlmark say:

If we transform our estimates to standard deviation (S.D.) units (using the variation across all individuals) we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of independent-school students has resulted in 0.07 S.D. higher average educational achievement at the end of compulsory school.