Starting Again On Public Sector Statistics?

Talk on police or any performance management ‘statistics’ often turns to their gaming element. I live in a supposedly ‘beacon’ council area with departments like social services ‘achieving’ three-star status and ‘sector-leading’ housing association that ‘replaced’ the Council’s role in housing. In reality, I live on the edge of a dying town and doubt much round here is being done well.  I have seen improvements in the NHS care I need, but most of the rest doesn’t seem adequate and often misses the boat altogether.

The term ‘statistics’ is associated with science, but what we are getting is performance management and there is little science in them.  Even in academe, statistics are routinely fiddled because on one of its performance management criteria – the peer reviewed publication.  Simple stats are used when more complex forms are needed to establish genuine statistical differences.  Ben Goldacre suggests this is the case in half of papers in psychology.  I believe the situation is worse – as most papers with statistical method in them don’t need it at all – there is no point establishing statistical significance in the bleedin’ obvious.  Whist academics write this spurious drivel they ain’t doing what we need from them.

It’s difficult to justify the keeping of annual lists of the numbers of certain crimes if there isn’t much we can do to reduce, prevent and detect the crime people don’t want to experience.  Steve Bennett has done more than any academic I know to point out the gaming problems and we lack a forum to get the real problems expressed in a manner that could really count.  Indeed, we conflate critical evaluation methods with criticism of the police and other bodies.  This runs across the board in our society.  Modern research, based in experiment, has found that whilst we lay claim to welcome innovative ideas, we actually despise creativity, and those trying get the ad hominem in the neck.

The banking industry is a glaring example of the kind of false-accounting that is going on.  The ‘maths’ involved becomes a way of hiding problems instead of expressing them.  We clearly have a system that loses money hand over fist, yet lays claim to have expertise that must be rewarded for its performance.  I’m sorry, but you can play out of your skin and have to take losing pay.

I think we should stop performance management techniques as far as possible and ban the labeling of such as statistics.  Across industry they don’t keep people honest in the way a tackle count (now a complex of modalities) does in rugby league – the tackles become virtual and derivitised to the point we can’t be sure any were ever made.  It’s a bit like telling your coach you didn’t make any in the game, but the hundred on your pillow or in dreams should count – or including toe-nail clipping as an operation.

It is important to know that burglaries are falling, but it’s much more important to establish why this is the case – what any drop or rise is correlated with.  Beyond this, burglary is poorly defined in terms of what matters to me and you, as many other things affect our wealth.  I’m reasonably insured against it and it isn’t a major threat to my wealth and well-being.  The banksters have been a much greater threat to our wealth and democracy. Having to live near druggie, noisy, recidivist scum affects the quality of life of those it’s forced on much more seriously than burglary threat.

Good statistics would be expressed in spreadsheets that anyone could use in promoting public debate.  This is rare.  One thought that crosses my mind is whether the reductions in certain major categories of crime across the West mean anything much beyond us being able to do ‘something’ through focus on these problems.  One problem is that we have no control to measure against, but the lack of a convenient world that otherwise stands still outside our interventions is unavoidable.

One can imagine experiments we could do on typical petty crime.  We could give Bill the burglar £50K a year and send him to university, or even do this with ten evil poor families on one estate and compare them with similar areas with no intervention – I take it a sour taste is arising in you too.  This sounds ludicrous until one realises we ‘credibly’ spend much more in family rehabilitation schemes – then one wonders on the incredulity of what we are actually doing.  What I mean by this type of experiment is that we should be thinking through what links we should be looking for and using research methods we can take to approximate to control ideas.  This is an area of public functional illiteracy.

What we need is not complex mathematical schemes – these are usually the problem.  I can set fairly easy financial problems undergraduates mostly can’t do in class, yet they all appear to be able to do if I issue an out of class assignment – they copy and cheat in the main.  In academic quality assessments I’ve seen departments go from rubbish to excellent just by getting in a performance manager prepared to do the paperwork needed.  Something beyond this kind of bureaucratic lunacy is needed – and indeed the lunacy needs to go.  The QAA collapsed academic standards, though the industry could not see it needed to change.

We need some thinking from the ground up.  No manufacturer is interested in performance statistics that don’t relate to costs, sales and quality.  Trying to transfer techniques from even one related industry sector to another can be difficult and check-list approaches from a generic source usually fail.  We can be smarter than this and we don’t need maths, covariants or Gaussian copulas.  We need something we can’t cheat and we think is useful and fair.  Instead, we are beholden to loads of unnecessary dross that promotes glib argument and political manipulation.  To a scientist, it’s like being stuck having to skew results to suit a dud political theory like a geneticist working for Stalin.

Much as we want thieving druggies to ‘shape up’, we need to understand the effects of an economic system we can’t use to provide enough coppers and other resources like jobs they can do to change the environment around them and the one they grow in.  What difference a couple of trillion wasted on banksters we don’t know, precisely because we keep ourselves ‘free’ of realistic statistics.  Where are the comparisons between what it’s like to live and crime in Sweden, Norway and Britain?  Where is any straightforward statement on crime and immigration?  My burglary was paid for by insurance, but not the much worse financial and quality of life loss of having scum dumped next door.  I lost more in loan insurance ‘legally’ extracted by the bank than in the burglary.  In we had real statistics we’d know more about what crime is and what to do about it.

Every scheme of data recording I’ve seen has been a pain in the arse to use.  In police recording cases could be entered into databases that would print off charge sheets, self-duplicate for secure storage and be interrogation friendly.  The work in data entry should not be an additional burden.  Yet in our incompetence it always is.  Last time I was involved (5 years ago), detectives still had to lug cardboard boxes full of original statements to court, when these were digitised.  We should not try any substantial changes before addressing ‘quill and ink’ attitudes.

Big Answers To Social Problems

Big answers are not things like Marxism that allow one to carp knowledgeably as crap continues.  If we’d had a better grasp of how humans tick we’d never have had anything like the feudal structures of today’s economics in the first place.  We need to re-address this level of the crap through what we know now through science.

In the meantime, we need big answers of another kind, and first to recognise we need them.  We shouldn’t have to work out high-level theory.

Look at cases that keep cropping up.

Do they get fixed or keep cropping up?  Victoria Climbie – Baby P sort of thing.  Do teenage toe-rags ever go away, or evil poor families.  I suggest not.  I’ve seen no sign in academic literature or official statistics that things are getting better, though we are living longer and stuff like that.  ‘Progress’ still needs scare quotations.

Once we establish problems that aren’t going away, we should try to think big on them.  This is a political act, because you come up against all kinds of vested interests and small thinking that protects them.  We should really have our politicians thinking big and public dialogue; but vested interests are so powerful we do not.

Big answers of the kind I mean may be ridiculous.  One of my favourites involves curing crime by chaining persistent offenders to senior police officers, magistrates, judges, politicians and other stuffed-shirts.  This, sadly, is not meant as a real answer, but questions the size and nature of the problem.  If we can’t afford to jail the crap forced on us Mr. Clarke, how about putting it in a trailer outside your house?

Most people can’t  really get into problem-definition of this kind, anymore than they could connect Relativity and jumping off a cliff.  Some are so stupid they take it as a serious practical suggestion.  We should perhaps let me teach them Relativity through the view from having jumped off a cliff, and let me set a practical experiment!

Teenage scumbags don’t go away because we always get one year older and they don’t.  If it was any better when we were kids, I suspect this was because some of them:

ran away to sea

joined our large armed services

did National Service

could work in factories at decent rates of pay

shaped up and got training in factories very different from skewl

got clobbered by a local “warden” or house-holder with no police action

worked on construction sites

somehow understood not thieving, fouling others’ space and so on and that angry guy’s fist-size

You may be able to add more.  What is thrown up today, by politicians who must know they are lying (if not they would be so brainless to make it statistically impossible for them to have survived crossing streets), is more skewelling and university for everyone, despite it clearly being useless to a quarter of kids in Manchester and at least a fifth in all areas of the UK.

One can see that they didn’t think this crap through because we’ve now got tuition fees, meaning “graduates” have debts of about £50K after subsistence is included, or may be £120K down from where they might be if they’d worked and lived with mum and dad.  These latter kids would also be more employable as employers value experience not skewl.  And anyway, “graduates” often cant write, spell, add up or act sensibly (universities don’t teach these, primary school should have).  So we couldn’t afford all these kids going to uni after all!

Instead of this baloney (which claims to make silk purses out of sows’ ears – yet really takes resources from the ‘worst’ kids), we should look to let those who can’t-won’t do skewl into disciplined work and a new form of National Service from 14 to 21.  Genuinely non-academic forms of learning and assessment would be encouraged in this format.  There would be no dole for drop outs, immigrant children would be opted in. {psst! amazingly enough, non-academic learning with teachers about is nearly always really academic learning without exams – they think you don’t know – keep it to yourself}

I would expect our major companies to go along with this and provide places, though just think of what your average 14 year old is like these days!  They are weedy, clumsy and indolent.  My guess is we’d have to create a lot of places in shipping and other transport and low skill areas.  Much less cruel to do this than force them to sit in classrooms where any learning that happens is so short-term it can’t be tested.  This way, they’d at least be learning to get by.

I would expect the demand for university places to drop like a stone if there were opportunities other than dole available.  My argument in full is that skewl is responsible for many social ills.

Those who just can’t get over ejukation being a “good” should examine their self-interests.  It is a cruel imposition on the many for the benefit of a few – and most of these evade what the rest get through Public School and Russell Group University.

My system would be much cheaper and without the massive social costs of the current system of ‘real education (which means to make like a Duke) only for the rich’.  If your kid is bright enough in academic areas (which is about 5% of what you can be intelligent in), hesheorit can make it from the back-streets like me, if we stop the current nonsense, which makes it less possible (check the figures on social mobility).

When Newton popped-off to Cambridge at 18, he was older than most of his peers, many packed-off away from home to debauch at 14 (parents have always known about teenagers).  Most of us would benefit from university if we went as adults because we wanted to.  The current herding is nonsensical and it leaves behind the very children who need most help.

I must say I believe we don’t address work properly in terms of decisions we can now take rationally about our societies, and that we have it all wrong on wealth.  You can get monkeys to work for peanuts, but not when they can see other monkeys working for grapes, or for grapes when they can see others working for bananas.  It’s not for nothing that who is getting what for doing what is so hidden from our view.  Our society is actually being de-skilled in all this ejukation, which also makes us less smart than monkeys.

The slogans of our political parties should be stuff like ‘send your kid to a third-rate university while the thicker ones learn to steal with local Romanians’ – even the politicians know enough not to say this and can rely on no one really making the links.  You see, ejukation has made you think small.  Me?  They’ve had me working on ideas of how to to get monkeys used to peanuts to eat boiled grass …

Currently, employers create jobs like serving coffee (not long ago 40% of UK ‘entrepreneurs’ wanted to open a coffee shop) for graduates – though since we went into recession and drink less coffee it seems this wasn’t so creative after all.  They might have to work harder to attract staff from my scheme.

Most of the ejukation done at undergraduate level has been (OU) or should be put on television with Internet links, not gobbed out through death-by-Powerpoint harpies.  You shouldn’t be learning about Hamlet at university, but how to act and produce plays through doing it.  The idea of ejukation as an aim in itself was a fucked dead donkey long ago.  That would only apply in a sorted society which we’ll have to challenge the real rich to get.  Most of our students don’t know who Groucho was now and I have to teach some of mine what is funny in The Simpsons, let alone what ‘cun’ tends to mean in the Bard.  The worst have clearly been exhausted carrying worthless skewl qualifications about – that sound like the ones I had to work hard for.

I’m not some elitist get, sneering.  I still cry and drink myself to sleep in the vault from time to time.  My grandson has ‘discalcula’ and autism-related problems.  If I could really help 24/7 I would – just give up to help him.  He’s due what I can do in the next few months.  I’m dumb enough to do it for anyone’s kid in principle and used to run such a class with some success.  I know what I can do is limited, not like some Government-connected jerk claiming she could raise every kid to university level (this is utter lying cruelty).  I value the bloke who serves my beer, fishes the seas and myself alike (all women are now necessarily superior of course!).  The dolt and dullard the same – and I don’t avoid them all the time either.

They have us crapping on our own.  The biggest rise I’ve noticed in the last 20 years is in sneering from all sectors.  Try working for a living, not being given one extends to far more than any idle unemployed.  We’ve been ejukated out of work and into false notions of what we are.  Soylent Green?  Too expensive, if you’re interested … I’m being told to use it raw!