Good question

Face masks, then, but

Why are Britons reluctant to wear masks to contain covid-19?The Economist
Future historians looking back on 2020 will be struck by its dystopian imagery: footballers taking to the pitch wearing masks in Brazil; models strutting down the catwalk in couture coverings in France; a head of government being sworn into office, his face shrouded in a surgical guise, in Slovakia. Wearing masks—hitherto an almost exclusively East Asian practice—has gone viral.

And yet one country, it seems, did not get the memo.

On a related matter, it’s good to see the Led By Donkeys folk back at work.

Tracking mortality, 350 years ago

I know a number of people are keeping diaries at the moment, to set down our thoughts and experiences of these strange days. We’re not the first to do that, of course.

Diary of Samuel Pepys shows how life under the bubonic plague mirrored today’s pandemicThe Conversation
For Pepys and the inhabitants of London, there was no way of knowing whether an outbreak of the plague that occurred in the parish of St. Giles, a poor area outside the city walls, in late 1664 and early 1665 would become an epidemic.

The plague first entered Pepys’ consciousness enough to warrant a diary entry on April 30, 1665: “Great fears of the Sickenesse here in the City,” he wrote, “it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”

Just a few months later …

In London, the Company of Parish Clerks printed “bills of mortality,” the weekly tallies of burials. Because these lists noted London’s burials – not deaths – they undoubtedly undercounted the dead. Just as we follow these numbers closely today, Pepys documented the growing number of plague victims in his diary.

At the end of August, he cited the bill of mortality as having recorded 6,102 victims of the plague, but feared “that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000,” mostly because the victims among the urban poor weren’t counted. A week later, he noted the official number of 6,978 in one week, “a most dreadfull Number.”

Samuel Pepys wasn’t the only one keeping a record of events.

Coronavirus: Defoe’s account of the Great Plague of 1665 has startling parallels with todayThe Conversation
HF [the narrator] becomes obsessed with the weekly mortality figures. They charted deaths by parish, giving a picture of how the plague was moving around the city. Still, it was impossible to be sure who had died directly of the disease, just as in the BBC news today we hear people have died “with” rather than “of” COVID-19. Reporting was difficult, partly because people were reluctant to admit there was an infection in the family. After all, they might be locked in their homes to catch the disease and die.

HF is appalled by those who opened up taverns and spent their days and nights drinking, mocking anyone who objected. At one point he confronts a group of rowdies and gets a torrent of abuse in return. Later, exhibiting one of his less appealing traits, he is gratified to hear that they all caught the plague and died.

Here’s a look at those Bills of Mortality in greater detail.

London’s dreadful visitation: A year of weekly death statistics during the Great Plague (1665)The Public Domain Review
As early as 1592, London parish officials had instituted a system for keeping track of deaths in the city, trying to curb the spread of the plague by tracking it and quarantining victims and those who lived with them. Since it was not then legally required to report deaths to a central authority, the officials hired “searchers of the dead”, whose job it was to locate corpses, examine them, and determine cause of death. These “searchers” were not trained in any kind of medicine. Typically they were poor, illiterate, older women whose contact with the infected isolated them socially and often brought their lives to an early end. They were also, in one of the more gruesome examples of gig work offered by history, paid per body. […]

In addition to the alarming number of plague deaths, Londoners, of course, continued to die by other means, both familiar and strange.

Many familiar maladies hide behind the enigmatic naming. “Rising of the Lights”, dreamy though it sounds, was a seventeenth-century term for any death associated with respiratory trouble (“lights” being a word for lungs). “Griping in the guts” and “Stopping of the stomach” were similarly used for deaths accompanied by gastrointestinal complaints. “Spotted feaver” was most likely typhus or meningitis.

Many labels — such as “suddenly”, “frighted”, and “grief” — speak of the often approximate nature of assigning a cause (not carried out by medical professionals but rather the “searchers”). “Planet” referred to any illness thought to have been caused by the negative influence/position of one of the planets at the time (a similar astrological source lies behind the name Influenza, literally influence).

Meanwhile.

This guy used an old Samsung monitor to make a legendary plague doctor maskDesign You Trust
Employees of the IT industry sometimes have to communicate with users. And they also need protection – like the legendary mask of the plague doctor, but with nuances. User of Pikabu social network used an old Samsung SyncMaster monitor to make this mask by himself. The result is amazing!

Staying safe, then and now

Are things getting better? It doesn’t feel like it.

Paris salons, Shanghai Disney reopen despite global alarm over second coronavirus waveReuters
News that the “reproduction rate” – the number of people each person with the disease goes on to infect – had surged back to 1.1 in Germany cast a shadow over the reopening of businesses ranging from Paris hair salons to Shanghai Disneyland. A rate that stays above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

Look at the numbers, they say. But I’ve seen so many I’m becoming curve-blind.

COVID-19 CoronaVirus infographic datapackInformation is Beautiful
COVID-19 #Coronavirus latest data visualized. Updated 11th May. Created by David McCandless, Omid Kashan, Fabio Bergamaschi, Dr Stephanie Starling, Univers Labs

staying-safe

Some are saying we’ve been here before, but this time’s different. Thankfully.

Coronavirus is very different from the Spanish Flu of 1918. Here’s how.The New York Times
In 1918, the world was a very different place, even without the disruptive influence of World War I. Doctors knew viruses existed but had never seen one — there were no electron microscopes, and the genetic material of viruses had not yet been discovered. Today, however, researchers not only know how to isolate a virus but can find its genetic sequence, test antiviral drugs and develop a vaccine.

Virus-afflicted 2020 looks like 1918 despite science’s marchAP News
As in 1918, people are again hearing hollow assurances at odds with the reality of hospitals and morgues filling up and bank accounts draining. The ancient common sense of quarantining is back. So is quackery: Rub raw onions on your chest, they said in 1918. How about disinfectant in your veins now? mused President Donald Trump, drawing gasps instead of laughs over what he weakly tried to pass off as a joke.

There are so many coronavirus myths that even Snopes can’t keep upThe Washington Post
“The fact-checking industry is so undervalued and underinvested,” he said, “that even with this traffic boom and the rise in prominence and responsibility at this moment when people are relying so heavily on fact-checkers for credible information, we have no hopes for scaling up our businesses.”

1918 feels too distant now, it’s hard to relate to it. But perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that we find it hard to relate to.

The 1918 flu pandemic killed millions. So why does its cultural memory feel so faint?Slate
Reading letters from survivors of the flu pandemic, one of the things that strikes me over and over again, that’s so moving, is that almost every one of them says, “I never forgot; I never forgot; I never forgot.” [Researching the book], I interviewed one 105-year-old woman who had the flu in Richmond, when she was 8. And in my cheery way, I said something like “Why do you think people forgot the flu?” And she looked at me like I was crazy. “We didn’t forget! We didn’t ignore it! We didn’t forget.” She’s 105, right? And she was like, “It never faded—not for us.”

Meet the 107-year-old woman who survived the coronavirus and Spanish fluThe Jerusalem Post
“It’s remarkable,” Shapiro said. “That’s all I can say. It’s just unbelievable. I think perhaps it’s because of her art that she’s still involved in.”

The numbers are crazy, “6 percent of the Earth’s population in just over a year,” according to this collection of images from the time.

Historical photos of the 1918 Spanish Flu that show what a global pandemic looked like in the 1910sDesign You Trust
The speed of the pandemic was shocking; the numbers of dead bodies overwhelmed hospitals and cemeteries. Quarantine centers, emergency hospitals, public use of gauze masks, and awareness campaigns were all undertaken swiftly to halt the spread. But as World War I was coming to a close, millions of soldiers were still traveling across the globe, aiding the spread of the disease.

staying-safe-2b

The flu was first observed in Europe, the US and parts of Asia before it quickly spread throughout the world. It was wrongly named the Spanish flu because it was first reported in the Madrid daily newspaper ABC. However, modern scientists now believe the virus could have started in Kansas, US.

Kansas, you say? Hmm.

staying-safe-5a

staying-safe-3a

Face masks, then. So what are our options (apart from using socks)?

Face Shield: How do we encourage mass adoption of an unwanted necessity?Joe Doucet
To try and create a face shield that people would actually want to wear rather than simply put up with, Joe Doucet has designed a shield with integrated sunglass lenses and arms that make them more practical and feel less alien and intrusive on the wearer than a typical face shield would. It is hoped that improving the basic face shield design will encourage far greater uptake of its usage and help everyone adjust to the “new normal” that awaits us.

staying-safe-4

The Micrashell Futuresuit lets you party like it’s 2099Design Milk
Taking design cues from sportswear brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Nike Lab, the Production Club Micrashell wraps an array of speculative environmental technologies within a futuristic athleisure design straight out of the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer. The Micrashell is intended to allow for human-to-human interaction in group settings with a virus-shielded and disinfectable air-tight suit, specifically for attendees of “nightlife and entertainment industries”.

staying-safe-6

Plastique Fantastique’s iSphere mask is informed by 1950s sci-fi comicsDezeen
Berlin-based art collective Plastique Fantastique has created an open-source, retro-futuristic face shield shaped like a fish bowl to protect wearers against coronavirus. The helmet-like design, called the iSphere, comprises two transparent, hollow hemispheres that have been secured together and cut to create a hole for the user to fit their head through.

staying-safe-7

Canevacci and Young wanted to bring an element of humour to a serious object for non-medical users.

Perfect!

No easy answers

How bad will this get? It’s a simple enough question…

Why it’s so freaking hard to make a good COVID-19 modelFiveThirtyEight
The number of people who will die is a function of how many people could become infected, how the virus spreads and how many people the virus is capable of killing.

no-easy-answers

Straightforward enough, but the trouble begins when you try to fill in the numbers. Look at the factors and assumptions within just the fatality rate, for instance.

no-easy-answers-2

Think of it like making a pie. If you have a normal recipe, you can do it pretty easily and expect a predictable result that makes sense. But if the recipe contains instructions like “add three to 15 chopped apples, or steaks, or brussels sprouts, depending on what you have on hand” … well, that’s going to affect how tasty this pie is, isn’t it? You can make assumptions about the correct ingredients and their quantity. But those are assumptions — not absolute facts. And if you make too many assumptions in your pie-baking process, you might very well end up with something entirely different than what you were meant to be making. And you wouldn’t necessarily know you got it wrong.

There are so many factors as play here. This is the model they end up with. It’s one version, at least.

no-easy-answers-1

Over the next few months, you are going to see many different predictions about COVID-19 outcomes. They won’t all agree. But just because they’re based on assumptions doesn’t mean they’re worthless.

“All models are wrong, it’s striving to make them less wrong and useful in the moment,” Weir said.

See also.

Six unknown factors in coronavirus models and how they could affect predictionsThe Conversation
Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, researchers have scrambled to develop and share models which can predict how the virus will spread. This is inherently tricky, as we know so little about the disease, and a model is only ever as good as the information you put into it.

Time is money

Here’s a simple but effective way of getting across the differences in salaries and incomes from Neal Agarwal.

Printing money
Visualizing rates from minimum wage to the national deficit.

Another one of his constructions that caught my eye was Who Was Alive? Enter the year you’re interested in, and the page will list dozens of famous figures throughout history, with their ages and portraits. In 1944, for instance, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro and Miles Davis all turned 18. Imagine that party.

Mapping the outbreak

Here’s a new tool, updated daily, to help us visualise the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

2019-nCoV-tracker
[H]eadlines can be hard to interpret. How fast is the virus spreading? Are efforts to control the disease working? How does the situation compare with previous epidemics? This site is updated daily based on the number of confirmed cases reported by the WHO. By looking beyond the daily headlines, we hope it is possible to get a deeper understanding of this unfolding epidemic.

mapping-the-outbreak

You can overlay the data from previous epidemics, too, as this summary from The Conversation explains.

Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timelineThe Conversation
Comparisons with other recent outbreaks are also revealing. At one end of the spectrum, the 2014 Ebola epidemic can be distinguished by its devastating virulence (killing nearly 40% of the 28,600 people infected) but narrow geographic range (the virus was largely confined to three countries in West Africa). On the other hand, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was far less virulent (with an estimated mortality rate of less than 0.1%), but reached every corner of the globe.

mapping-the-outbreak-2

A very useful resource. This is exactly the kind of context our news needs to be providing.

Cases Deaths Countries affected Case fatality rate
2003 SARS 8,096 774 26 9.56%
2009 H1N1 (swine flu) 60,800,000 18,499 214 0.1%
2014 Ebola 28,646 11,323 10 39.53%
2019 nCoV:
12 Feb
45,171 1,115 26 2.5%
2019 nCoV:
2 Mar
88,913 3,043 62 3.4%
2019 nCoV:
13 Mar
125,048 4,613 118 3.7%

Update 13/02/2020

Thanks to China’s fast response, are we about to turn the corner?

mapping-the-outbreak-3

A ray of hope in the coronavirus curveThe Economist
Trying to forecast the trajectory of a new virus is complex, with scant initial information about how infectious it is. Several scientists made valiant attempts based on early data from China. Some warned that it might not peak until May, but that was before China implemented strict containment measures. The more pessimistic ones now look too gloomy. Cheng-Chih Hsu, a chemist at National Taiwan University, plugged different scenarios into a simple model for estimating the spread of epidemics (the incidence of daily infections typically resemble bell curves, with slightly fatter tails as transmissions peter out). The tally of confirmed cases so far closely fits a seemingly optimistic forecast by Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese respiratory expert, who said on January 28th that transmissions would peak within two weeks.

The end can’t come soon enough.

The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”MIT Technology Review
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.

Update 02/03/2020

I’ve updated the figures in the table above, using data from the tracker. Whilst the numbers of new cases in China is slowing down, they’re increasing everywhere else. And so too is the fatality rate, worryingly.

Update 13/03/2020

And still climbing.

It’s rarely black and white

Taking statistics out of context to push a particular agenda is nothing new. But it’s nice to see a pushback.

Fixing the ‘impeach this’ map with a transition to a cartogram
As discussed previously, the “impeach this” map has some issues. Mainly, it equates land area to votes, which makes for a lot of visual attention to counties that are big even though not many people live in them. So, Karim Douïeb used a clever transition to change the bivariate map to a cartogram. Now you can have a dual view.

its-rarely-black-and-white-1

We just need more of this kind of thing over here. For instance:

Show this chart to anyone who says Brexit is the ‘will of the British people’
This chart is not an entirely convincing argument against Leave or Remain, but it does illustrate that ‘the 52 per cent’ and ‘the 48 per cent’ actually constitute much smaller proportions of the UK population than the figure might imply.

its-rarely-black-and-white-2

Poor performance

For such a small number, a school’s Progress 8 score can be quite a big deal. So the last thing we need is an exam board messing up the performance tables process by not sending complete data to the DfE.

Progress 8 error in performance table checking after BTEC gaffe
Peter Atherton, data manager at a school in Wakefield, told Schools Week some schools had received a “nasty surprise” when they went to check the website.

“It could be the case that, if all of these qualifications were missing for your school, that could affect your progress 8 score by quite a lot. Some schools are saying they’re -0.20 below what they were expecting.”

Gaffe is such an odd word, if you think about it. French, I guess. Would that make Pearson a gaffeur?

It is the second gaffe relating to BTECs to hit the exam board this year.

In August, Pearson was forced to apologise after it hiked grade boundaries for its BTEC Tech Awards just days before pupils were due to collect their results, meaning youngsters were handed lower grades than they were expecting.

Requires improvement, I’d say.

Do we know what’s really going on?

It seems there are three kinds of people in the world: fools that believe in ludicrous conspiracy theories; bullies that want to persuade us that established facts are conspiracy theories when they’re plainly not; and us, stuck in this post-truth world, trying to get to the bottom of it all.

What you think you know about the climate is probably wrong – new UK poll
But our lack of understanding of the scale of the issues doesn’t mean we’re not worried. In fact, recent polling of Britons by Ipsos MORI measured record-breaking levels of concern. Our new polling also shows that two-thirds of Britons reject Donald Trump’s assertion that global warming is an “expensive hoax” – and instead two-thirds agree with the recent UK Parliament declaration that we are facing a “climate change emergency, with the threat of irreversible destruction of our environment in our lifetime”.

Things are confusing enough without all these concerted efforts to massage the truth.

Five climate change science misconceptions – debunked
This organised and orchestrated climate change science denial has contributed to the lack of progress in reducing global green house gas (GHG) emissions – to the point that we are facing a global climate emergency. And when climate change deniers use certain myths – at best fake news and at worse straight lies – to undermine the science of climate change, ordinary people can find it hard to see through the fog.

It’s not just the climate crisis, of course. Remember that damned bus?

Citizens need to know numbers
The message on the bus had a strong emotional resonance with millions of people, even though it was essentially misinformation. The episode demonstrates both the power and weakness of statistics: they can be used to amplify an entire worldview, and yet they often do not stand up to scrutiny. This is why statistical literacy is so important – in an age in which data plays an ever-more prominent role in society, the ability to spot ways in which numbers can be misused, and to be able to deconstruct claims based on statistics, should be a standard civic skill.

No idea

I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels a little clueless sometimes. But, as Amit Katwala from Wired UK concludes, “you have to question the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and the ‘will of the people’ when five per cent of Brits don’t even know if they’ve planned their own funeral.”

Why I’m obsessed with people who respond ‘don’t know’ to really obvious YouGov questions
Scrolling through the results of similar polls over subsequent days, weeks and months, I found a country that is deeply confused on a lot of seemingly straightforward issues. Two per cent of Brits don’t know whether they’ve lived in London before. Five per cent don’t know whether they’ve been attacked by a seagull or not. A staggering one in 20 residents of this fine isle don’t know whether or not they pick their nose …

Digging into the demographics is fascinating. The further north you go in the country, the less likely people are to know whether or not they can swim. Older people are less likely to have been surfing, but more likely to know whether or not they have.

Seventeen per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t know if they’ve ever attended, watched or listened to Glastonbury, compared to zero per cent of the over-65s. Generally (based on my admittedly unscientific whizz through the funniest-looking poll questions), the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket seems the most likely to respond ‘don’t know’ – which could be down to their relative lack of life experience, or perhaps general indifference to surveys as a whole. By the same token, maybe it’s unsurprising that the over-50s seem pretty sure of themselves.

League table fatigue

Another weekend saw another trip to a university’s Open Day, and another PowerPoint presentation full of league table statistics…

Unknown pleasures: exciting new uni rankings
As this commentary from my colleague Professor Mike Merrifield observes using university league tables is not a great way to choose where to apply for a university place both because of the way they are compiled and their inherent flaws.

But there are plenty of them out of there and they never stop coming. And we are now in peak league table season. So, put your sceptical face on and have a look at a couple of the most recent major offerings.

Meanwhile.

Vast differences exposed in graduate outcomes
New data published today shows the wide variation in graduate outcomes depending course and institution.

Government reveals student loan contribution
Data published today shows forecasts for student numbers, the cost of student loans and loan repayments in England.

Self-improvement

The Economist’s charts are usually very clear and helpful, but that’s not to say they can’t be improved – as they themselves show.

Mistakes, we’ve drawn a few
At The Economist, we take data visualisation seriously. Every week we publish around 40 charts across print, the website and our apps. With every single one, we try our best to visualise the numbers accurately and in a way that best supports the story. But sometimes we get it wrong. We can do better in future if we learn from our mistakes — and other people may be able to learn from them, too. …

Misleading charts
Let’s start with the worst of crimes in data visualisation: presenting data in a misleading way. We never do this on purpose! But it does happen every now and then. Let’s look at the three examples from our archive.

Mistake: Truncating the scale

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Statistically insignificant?

One of the dangers at just looking at the numbers.

Progress 8 scores for most schools aren’t that different
There were over 300 schools with P8 scores between -0.05 and +0.05 – a difference of over 300 rank places (10% of schools) between the highest and lowest scoring of them. But what do these numbers mean?

Let’s say the score for School A was +0.05 and School B was -0.05. Taking the numbers at face value, one interpretation is that if you picked two pupils with the same KS2 attainment, the two pupils would have the same grades in seven of the subjects included in Attainment 8 but the pupil from School A would have one grade higher in one and only one subject than the pupil in School B.

Is this an educationally important difference?

It depends?

And talking of Progress 8 confidence intervals…

statistically-insignificant

xkcd: Error bars

In HE, everyone’s at it *

* Being deceitful, that is. Or maybe just willfully ambiguous?

Let’s start with Alex Hayman from Which? University.

Students need clarity when choosing a university
It has been almost a year since the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a number of complaints about misleading information in HE. Despite the clear warnings, we’ve investigated and found at least six universities included examples of unsubstantiated or unverifiable claims about their standing on their websites, in likely breach of advertising standards. This just isn’t good enough.

Various examples are listed. This is an interesting line from The Guardian.

UK universities ‘still inflate their statuses despite crackdown’
The continued use of assertions about high international status is evidence of the strain universities are under to increase their domestic and international student recruitment, as well as the effects of global rankings.

Hmm. But, of course, it’s not just the universities that are happy to stretch the truth.

Essay mills: ‘One in seven’ paying for university essays
More students than ever are paying someone else to write assignments for them via “essay mills”, a Swansea University study has revealed. The survey of more than 50,000 students, found 15.7% admitted to cheating since 2014 – up from an average of 3.5% over the last 40 years. […]

It showed the amount of students admitting to contract cheating, when students pass off a custom-made essay as their own, has increased over time. But Prof Newton, director of learning and teaching at Swansea Medical School, suggested the number could be much higher, as students who have paid for essays to be written are far less likely to volunteer to take part in surveys on cheating.

Indeed. But what if you want to exaggerate how much work you’ve done, but are a little short on funds? Free fonts!

Times Newer Roman
Introducing Times Newer Roman, a font that kinda looks like Times New Roman, except each character is 5-10% wider. Fulfill lengthy page requirements with hacked margins, adjusted punctuation sizing, and now, Times Newer Roman!

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Times Newer Roman is a sneaky font designed to make your essays look longer
According to Times Newer Roman’s website, a 15-page, single-spaced document in 12 point type only requires 5,833 words, compared to 6,680 for the standard Times New Roman. (That’s 847 words you don’t need to write, which is more than twice the length of this post!) […]

Of course, it’s the digital age, so there are some downsides: Times Newer Roman will only work for assignments you have to submit by hand or in a PDF. If you’re sending in a Word document using a custom font that professors almost certainly don’t have installed won’t help. Similarly, Times Newer Roman is only useful for hitting larger page counts; if you have a strict word count limit, you’re out of luck.

Happy statistics day

It’s GCSE results day and, despite the new grading system, the news people are bringing out updated versions of their usual it’s-getting-better-it’s-getting-worse stories.

GCSE results day 2018: New ‘tougher’ exams favour boys as gender gap narrowest in seven years
Girls remain in the lead, with 23.4 per cent achieving one of the highest grades, which is the same as last year, compared to 17.1 per cent of boys, up from 16.2 per cent last year. But the gap in top grades between boy and girls is now at its narrowest since 2010, with boys just 6.3 per cent behind girls, down from 7.2 per cent last year.

GCSE results rise despite tougher exams
A total of 20 of the most popular GCSE subjects in England have been graded for the first time in the numerical format – plus English and maths, which were introduced in the new format last year. These include history, geography, sciences and modern languages, all of which have been designed to be more difficult.

Of those achieving all grade 9s – and taking at least seven of the new GCSEs – almost two-thirds were girls.

GCSEs: boys close gap on girls after exams overhaul
Boys appear to have been the major beneficiary of the overhaul of GCSE examinations taken in England for the first time this summer, as results showed across-the-board improvements in boys gaining top marks while girls saw their share of top grades dip.

Across the UK the proportion of students gaining an A or 7 and above, the new top grade used in England, rose above 20%, with boys in England closing the gap on girls with an almost one percentage point rise to 17.1% with girls unchanged at 23.4%.

In the reformed GCSEs in England, 4.3% of the results were the new highest 9 grade, set at a higher mark than the previous A* grade. The figures on Thursday showed 732 students attained seven or more grade 9s.

Despite the improvements by boys in England they were still outperformed by girls at the highest level: 5% of entries by girls received 9s, compared with just 3.6% of boys.

GCSE pass rate goes UP – but fewer students get new top ‘9’ grade compared to old A* mark
The overall pass rate – the percentage of students getting a 4 or above or a C or above – was 66.9 per cent, compared with 66.4 per cent last year.

But just 4.3 per cent of exams were given the new 9 grade, which was brought in to reward the absolute highest achievers. Just 732 students in England got a clean sweep of seven or more grade 9s.

Previously around seven per cent of exams scored the top A* grade.

The more detail-oriented education sector websites are worth a read, if you really want to dig down into all this.

GCSE results 2018: How many grade 9s were awarded in the newly reformed subjects?
There has been a curious amount of interest in how many students might achieve straight 9s in all subjects. It seems to have started with a throwaway remark on twitter by the then-chief scientific adviser at the Department for Education that only two students would do so. Tom Benton from Cambridge Assessment then produced some excellent research showing that it would, in fact, be several hundred.

Today Ofqual has answered the question once and for all. A total of 732 students who took at least seven reformed GCSEs achieved grade 9 in all of them. Given that fewer grade 9s are awarded than grade A*, it should come as no surprise that fewer students will achieve straight grade 9s compared to straight grade A*s.

But it can get a little heavy-going at times.

GCSE results day 2018: The main trends in entries and grades
Across all subjects, 21.5% of entries were awarded a grade 7/A or above, compared to 21.1% last year. At grade 4/C or above, 69.3% of entries achieved the standard this year, compared to 68.9% last year. Both figures have been on something of a downward trend since 2015, so this year’s figures arrest this decline.

GCSE and A-Level results analysis
Explore trends in national entry and attainment data between 2014 and 2018 in:
All subjects
Additional mathematics
Additional science
Art and design subjects
Biology
Business and communication systems
Business studies
Chemistry
Citizenship studies

GCSE 2018 variability charts: Are your results normal?
Each year Ofqual produces boring-sounding variability charts. It sounds dull but they show how many centres, i.e. schools or colleges, dropped or increased their results compared with the previous year. This means that if you dropped, say, 25 per cent in one subject, you can see how many other schools also saw the same dip.

Let’s give the last word to the JCQ and Ofqual, and have done with it: I’m getting a headache.

JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications: Examination results
Each year, JCQCIC collates the collective results for its members from more than 26 million scripts and items of coursework. We only publish collated results from our members though and cannot supply regional, centre or candidate information.

Ofqual Analytics
Ofqual analytics presents a selection of data in an engaging and accessible way by using interactive visualisations. We hope this innovative approach to presenting data will make it easier to understand and explore the data we produce.

Map of GCSE (9 to 1) grade outcomes by county in England
The map shows reformed GCSE full course results (the percentage of students achieving specific grades) in England by subject and county for the summer 2018 examination series as well as the summer 2017 examination series. Data in the map represents the results that were issued on results day for both years (23 August 2018 and 24 August 2017) and do not reflect any changes following post-results services.

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(All I know is that my boy got his GCSE results today too, and they’re a credit to the amount of time and effort he’s put in over the years.)

100,000 happy moments

Nathan Yau has a fascinating look at what makes us happy.

What makes people the most happy
What made you happy in the past 24 hours? Researchers asked 10,000 people this question. More specifically, the collaboration between the University of Tokyo, MIT, and Recruit Institute of Technology asked participants on Mechanical Turk to list 10 happy moments. This generated a corpus of 100,000 happy moments called HappyDB.

With how things are these days, I was happy to read over and analyze such a happy dataset.

All strapped in?

Nearly 16% of US consumers now own wearables
“Fitness bands continue to outsell more advanced smartwatches,” reported Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “In the fourth quarter of 2016, just 35% of wearables purchased in the US were smartwatches, a decline from 40% in the third quarter of 2016.

Well, I’m very happy with my fitness band, though it feels like we’ve all voluntarily bought electronic tags like a load of criminals.

All the graphs you can eat

What’s better than data and loads of graphs? Data and loads of graphs about food and drink, of course!

Britain’s diet in data
The British diet has undergone a transformation in the last half-century. Traditional staples such as eggs, potatoes and butter have gradually given way to more exotic or convenient foods such as aubergines, olive oil and stir-fry packs. Explore the changes across four decades and hundreds of food and drink categories in this interactive visualisation, featuring data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Whilst I’m not surprised to see the fall of lard and the rise of olive oil over the last 40 years, why is nobody buying marmalade anymore? Goodness me.

Visualising data; the good, the bad and the quirky

The data’s everywhere, but can we make sense of it? Here are some data visualisation approaches and examples – how to do it, and how definitely not to.

This article suggests the young folks are demanding better presentations of statistical data because of Google or Wikipedia or something. Sounds fishy. Surely us old folks appreciate good design too?

Data visualization drives the era of information activism
Having grown up with the web, millennials are used to having access to all the information they want with just a simple finger tap on a screen. As millennials enter the workforce, they are bringing these expectations into the office, behaving less as data consumers and much more as information activists.

But how far should we go in leading the horses to the water?

Narration and exploration in visualization
What should we emphasize when designing a visualization? Should we explain the data, perhaps through a narration, or should we let readers explore the data at will?

Here’s an example of how an interactive presentation not only helps with a story but can spur you into looking for your own.

What happens when a newspaper editor and a data-viz whiz team up to tell stories
With two wins behind them, Rob and Daniel are already discussing future collaborations—perhaps something with sports or crime data. The idea is to tell compelling data stories that have a longer shelf life. (“If you put time into creating something like this, you want people to see it over a certain scale of time,” says Daniel.)

I do like these images, though. Not sure how replicable this approach is, but it works well here.

These playful, funny 3D printed infographics can liven up any data
Instead of flicking hastily to the next page, your gaze can’t help but linger on the adventures of the miniature figures scaling, swinging from or exploring the plastic pieces.

But here are the real gems. Bar pies? Caramel latte football fields?

BestWorstViz contest result
As with last month’s graphiti contest, picking a winner was ever so hard with lots of wonderfully bad work heading my way. The submissions generally fell into two different camps: (1) the most blatant, inelegant in-your-face explosions of design awfulness, and (2) the more subtly deceptive “wolf in sheep’s clothing” designs. My judgments were based on the degree of violation against each of my three key principles: Trustworthy, accessible and elegant.

Still quantifying ourselves?

daytumapp

Didn’t realise I’d been away from Daytum for so long.

For those that don’t know, and why should you, bloody hell, Daytum was part of a trend on the web some time back for personal data tracking, the ‘quantified self’. Here’s a post from Wired about it, from 2009:

Numbers are making their way into the smallest crevices of our lives. We have pedometers in the soles of our shoes and phones that can post our location as we move around town. We can tweet what we eat into a database and subscribe to Web services that track our finances. There are sites and programs for monitoring mood, pain, blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, cognitive alacrity, menstruation, and prayers. […] All this might once have seemed like a nightmare […] But two years ago, my fellow Wired writer Kevin Kelly and I noticed that many of our acquaintances were beginning to do this terrible thing to themselves, finding clever ways to extract streams of numbers from ordinary human activities.

– Gary Wolf, Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life, from Sleep to Mood to Pain, 24/7/365 (wired.com)

Daytum, developed by Nicholas Feltron (of the well known Feltron reports) and Ryan Case, Daytum allows you to easily capture and categorise small bits of information, and then present these in quite interesting, visual ways with the aim of providing a little insight into how we live our lives. For a while, all the way back in 2009, I was tracking how much coffee I got through, what I was reading, which were my favourite ties, that kind of thing.

I don’t know what made me think of Daytum again, but I thought I’d catch up with it again.

Its blog, however, ends with this post from April 11, Moving West:

We’re thrilled to announce today that we just started a new phase of our careers: we’ve moved to California to join the product design team at Facebook […]

and the last tweet from the @daytum Twitter account is:

Doesn’t bode well, but then, just the other week coincidentally, this one from founder Nicholas Feltron:

So perhaps there might be some life left in it yet?

And I’ve forgotten all about your.flowingdata.com too. But that, like Daytum and much of the quantifying self scene, seems to have gone a little quiet.