LETTER: Ethical code for statisticians

Share
Related Topics
From Dr. R. P. Saundby Sir: Regarding your article `Lies and damn lies' (19 December), from 1987 to 1988, I was director of medical personnel and training in the Ministry of Defence. A project at the time was to restructure the pay of armed services medical officers to a form more in parallel with that of a career in the NHS.

Having produced a paper for Treasury consideration containing statistical information that had been cleared by the MoD, I was shocked to hear a senior civil servant pass it to his statistics department with the instruction, "See if you can challenge these figures." My view was that although the merits of any proposed change were properly subject to debate, the facts on which the case was to be argued should be established beyond doubt as a preliminary to the main discussion.

I therefore arranged a meeting between the statisticians of the Treasury, the MoD and the British Medical Association at which I proposed that there was a general ethical duty of statisticians to establish agreed figures, and that they should not agree to behave as destructive members of a partisan team. Decisions were more likely to be sound if based on the best data available. The provision of "best data" was a professional responsibility of statisticians and it was unethical to allow figures to be distorted by covert departmental aims.

This tactic was a great success. The statisticians were unanimous in their dislike of political pressure and their desire to treat statistical information in a neutral, dispassionate manner.

At the next Treasury meeting, the mandarin concerned repeated his tactic, only to be told by his own statistician: "These figures are accurate, and have been agreed by the statisticians of the parties concerned prior to this meeting."

I would suggest that you emphasise the ethical duty of professional statisticians to present data which is non-partisan. By this tactic you will be seen to be supporting a profession, rather than launching an attack on individuals who have usually been subject to unfair pressure.

Statisticians should be encouraged to develop an ethical responsibility so that none will support data that has been distorted. Failure to meet these standards should put professional careers at risk. I think that this would be welcomed by most responsible statisticians.

Yours faithfully, R. P. SAUNDBY Llangynidr, Crickhowell

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing