FEATURE28 January 2022

Sylvia Richardson in seven

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Sylvia Richardson is president of the Royal Statistical Society until the end of 2022 and is the former director of the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge. Before this, she was chair of biostatistics at Imperial College London and was formerly directeur de recherches at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research.


1: Has Covid-19 been good or bad for perceptions of statistics?

Statisticians are increasingly taking centre stage, as data has dominated the headlines over the pandemic. I sense a positive shift in the perception of statistics and data science as interesting and important. More people are becoming data literate. Royal Statistical Society (RSS) fellows have played a vital role in everything from real-time forecasting of infections to raising awareness about diagnostic tests. We have conveyed how important it is that data underpinning government decisions are made public, so people can make informed choices.

2: What is the most often misunderstood aspect of statistics?

It would be good if statistics conjured in people’s minds the art of learning from data and caring about uncertainty.

One common mistake is not defining the reference group. This has implications for judging whether samples are representative of the relevant population and understanding how an association between two variables in a population can disappear, or even ...