Significance Launches Data Economy Series
with April Issue

Brian Tarran, Significance Editor


We live in a “data-driven world,” an “age of analytics” in which “data is the new oil.” These are phrases we’ve all become familiar with—and perhaps grown tired of hearing—because of their repeated use. Less frequently heard, though, is the story of how we got to where we are now—how the “data economy” came to be. The April issue of Significance begins a new four-part series that tells this story, starting with the birth of customer insight.

This “history of the data economy” is an idea the Significance staff have been developing for a while—to tell the story of how the business of buying, selling, and profiting from data has developed over time and consider where it might go next. It’s a story that spans 200 years and features an eclectic cast of characters, from advertisers and social scientists to market researchers and statisticians.

Elsewhere in the April issue, Robert Matthews reflects on the American Statistical Association’s 2016 p-value statement, asking what—if anything—has it achieved? In the five years since the statement’s release, there have been debates and disagreements, editorials and symposia, and a plethora of ideas about how science could be changed for the better. But, argues Matthews, “The reality is that, in terms of changing research practice, the ASA statement has achieved little. Yet the need for such change has never been greater.”

In the Perspectives section, Paul Allin and David J. Hand make the case for change of a different sort, arguing that as societies look to “build back better” in the wake of coronavirus, official statistics should take center change. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a testing time for statistics,” they write. “It is showing that single sources struggle to provide statistics that are timely, relevant, and reliable … We conclude that official statistics systems should be broadened. They should generate quality public statistics that can be used to help get answers to the many urgent questions about society and how we can sustainably improve our lives and livelihoods.”

Several other articles tackle COVID-related issues. In the Notebook section, for example, Harrison Schramm, Isaac Rubin, and Norah Schramm investigate the impact distance learning may have had on the grades of students at a California high school. Meanwhile, in the StatsComm section, Kevin McConway and David Spiegelhalter offer tips to statisticians communicating through the media—a valuable and timely set of advice.

Of course, Significance is a publication in which statisticians and data scientists can hone their communication skills. The aim of the magazine is to demonstrate in an entertaining, thought-provoking, and nontechnical way the practical use of statistics in all walks of life and to show informatively and authoritatively how statistics benefit society. Almost all articles are written by statisticians eager to share their passion for statistics and explain their work—or the work of others—in a way that is accessible and relatable to readers of different backgrounds.

If you have an article idea you would like to discuss, review the notes for contributors and send an email to significance@rss.org.uk.

The April issue of Significance is available in print and online. ASA members can read the magazine for free online.