Royal Academy of Engineering PolicyNet talk by National Statistician Jan Matheson
We spend our lives under the influence of statistics. They shape policy from government level down and often shape our personal beliefs. It was, therefore, insightful to have the opportunity to find out from the Office for National Statistics how these statistics are derived and regulated. The ONS was set up in response to the statistic that only 13% of people trust politicians to tell the truth! As an independent body, they establish and publish statistics to be available to everyone and enforce good practice in their use. Measures they employ include giving only 24 hour advance sight of statistics to only the politician directly affected by their announcement, before they are made common knowledge; ensuring statistics aren’t manipulated and misconstrued as they have been in the past, such as in the reporting of ‘falling’ gun crime; devising methods of collecting statistics that stand up to interrogation by including both quantitative and qualitative questions (remember the ‘are you a jedi?’ question on the 2001 census? well that was apparently useful not only in portraying how people feel about religion but also in provoking more ‘jedis’ to complete the census!); and encouraging people using statistics to really understand them and incorporate them in a meaningful way.
Having spent the last few months working out the tonnage of embodied carbon per covered seat in the London 2012 Olympic Velodrome – which roughly equates to 106 million cups of tea for the structural elements, which happens to be less than the number of cups of tea drunk in Britain each day! – it rang very true to hear a statistician say that the value of statistics is in their use. It is so vital that the industry is able to learn from projects which are hailed to be exemplary, contributing to an across the board raising of the bar. The velodrome design team are making the effort to quantify how their process and decisions improved the velodrome’s sustainability credentials, with the aim to share the meaning this has for our industry’s future.
By the way, assuming we are using adult male Syrian hamsters, with an average mass of 100g, running at a velocity of 3km/s and the kinetic energy is converted to electrical energy with 50% efficiency, then to power New York City you would need approximately 300 billion hamsters. As there are approximately only 6.8 million hamsters currently in the world, it may be time to start breeding! (Disclaimer – these statistics haven’t been approved by the ONS)