Statistical Ambassador: Year Two

I reflect on my second year as a Statistical Ambassador.

In June 2018, the Royal Statistical Society selected me as a Statistical Ambassador. A misunderstood statistic can have dire consequences. We aim to improve public understanding of statistics. We work with policy-makers, researchers, journalists, and the public.

Second Year

This article looks at my second year as a Statistical Ambassador.

Statistic of the Year and Decade

I helped with the RSS 2019 Statistics of the Year and Statistics of the Decade (2010–2019).

It is an estimate: I estimated it. (Image: RSS)

I checked the submitted figures.

The work also involved a recalculation of the Amazon deforestation estimate. That estimate had international coverage, including on Leonardo DiCaprio’s Instagram page.

Survey Research Primer

Patrick English (Exeter) asked me to write about the principles of survey research.

A survey estimate can be thought of one reading, from many possible readings. (Image: Wild/Auckland)

The article for POL/SOC1041 students covered purposes, terms, methods, and errors. It was good to help others learn. I have much to learn about surveys myself.

All a Hubbub

The environmental charity Hubbub asserted “half of all flights by men aged 20–45 were for stags”. The charity miscalculated the figure. This error was inadvertent.

Yet, the survey estimates were still implausible. The Censuswide survey suggested the average man aged 20 to 45 went on 3.3 stag dos in 2019.

Hubbub retracted this claim.

Radio Gaga

Within the RSS, there were concerns about misunderstandings of radio listening statistics.

I wrote a guide to help journalists understand listener estimates.

Writing for ‘UK in a Changing Europe’

I wrote an article on Medium about the claim: ‘Labour had been just 2,227 votes away from the chance of government.’ This claim rested upon diamond-strong assumptions.

I tend to write in a formal style. I needed to rework my original article, to make it more conversational.

Electoral Shock

At the end of October 2019, MPs called for a general election.

I know! (Image: BBC)

Throughout the campaign, I wrote weekly fact-check articles. On top of that, I wrote about:

Mistaken claims continued after the election too. Two academics wrote an LSE blogpost about the BBC’s coverage, containing a solar system of errors. The authors corrected most of these errors. A big one (the median of polls “was highly likely to be accurate on national vote share”) remains.

I also recently wrote about claims of a “spike” in postal voting. Electoral Commission data shows postal voting fell between 2017 and 2019.

I got thanks from researchers for my voluntary work during the election. I am very grateful for those kind words.


The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic spread throughout the world. One consequence was changes in the kind of statistics that interest people.

Luke Jerram created the glass SARS-CoV-2 model. (Image: Luke Jerram)

I helped write a guide about coronavirus numbers with other Statistical Ambassadors. On this blog, I also wrote about:

I appeared on the Full Fact podcast, to talk about excess mortality. I was also quoted by Reuters Fact Check, about a ‘deaths per day’ graph.

What next?

Over the next year, I want to:

  • Practice public speaking: through recording videos and taking opportunities.
  • Continue my professional development: including survey methods, Bayesian statistics, quality assurance, and R.

It was great to work with the other Ambassadors, and I look forward to sharing their efforts.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store