Monday, 18 December 2017


Last week, Kristian Lum has written a blog post to report her experience of inappropriate behaviour by some senior male colleagues at statistical conferences (ISBA and JSM, in particular).

I don't personally know Kristian, although I think I did have lunch with her, a common friend and bunch of other people, at JSM in Montreal in 2013. Anyway, even if I were completely agnostic about the whole thing (and I don't think I am...), seems to me like her account has been corroborated by some hard facts as well as discussion with other friends/colleagues who actually know her rather well. So while it's important to avoid "courts martial", I think the discussion here isn't really about whether these things happened or not (which at this point I'm pretty sure they did $-$ just to clarify). 

I've been left with mixed feelings and a sense of kind-of-having lost my bearings, since I found this out last week. Firstly, I am not surprised to hear that such things can happen at a conference or in academia, in general. What has kind of surprised me is the fact that while I do move more or less in those circles, I wasn't aware of the reputation of the two people who have been named. Some people (for example here) have made a point that these stories were well known and Kristian said so herself in her blog post. As somebody who's involved in ISBA, this is troubling and I kind of feel like we've hid our collective head under the sand, possibly for a very long time. To be fair, ISBA is now coming up with a task-force to create protocols and prevent issues such as these arising again in the future. Still, doesn't feel particularly good...

Secondly, this may be some sort of self-preservation (or may be denial?) instinct and may be there is indeed a much more rooted problem in statistics and in fact in Bayesian statistics, which I make myself struggle to see because it hurts to think that the environment in which I work is actually flawed in bad ways. But what I mean is that perhaps it's not like there's a couple of areas in which bad guys operate and if only we could get rid of those bad guys in those areas, then society would be idyllic. I think that, unfortunately, there's plenty of examples where people with/in power (statistically more likely to be white men) do behave badly and abuse their power in many ways, including sexually. May be our field does represent men disproportionately $-$ and it may well be that this is even truer for Bayesian statistics than for other branches of statistical science. And so, as painful as it is to realise quite clearly that the grass ain't so green after all, it is what it is. But the problem is (much) bigger than that...

Finally, I've particularly liked my friend Julien's Facebook post (I actually see now that he was in fact linking to somebody else's tweet):
Retweeted Carlos Scheidegger (@scheidegger):
We should all read and acknowledge @KLdivergence's and other women's harrowing stories. But I want to try something different here. Do you all know of her amazing work at @hrdag? This, on predictive policing, is so good

Dan's post has some lengthy discussion about the use of the term "mediocre" to characterise the two offenders. I think that neither mediocrity (= how poor one is at their work) nor excellence (= how good one is at their work) should be excuses $-$ but I see how this may matter because, arguably, the better and more respected you are in your field, the more power you wield over junior colleagues... But I think it feels right to point out Kristian's work qualities. Somehow, it seems to put things in a better perspective, I think.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017


Recently, I've been doing a lot of work on the beta version of BCEA (I was after all born in Agrigento $-$ in the picture to the left $-$, which is a Greek city, so a beta version sounds about right...). 

The new version is only available as a beta-release from our GitHub repository - usual ways to install it are through the devtools package.

There aren't very many changes from the current CRAN version, although the one thing I did change is kind of big. In fact, I've embedded the web-app functionalities within the package. So, it is now possible to launch the web-app from the current R session using the new function BCEAweb. This takes as arguments three inputs: a matrix e containing $S$ simulations for the measures of effectiveness computed for the $T$ interventions; a matrix c containing the simulations for the measures of costs; and a data frame or matrix containing simulations for the model parameters. 

In fact, none of the inputs is required and the user can actually launch an empty web-app, in which the inputs can be uploaded, say, from a spreadsheet (there are in fact other formats available).

I think the web-app facility is not necessary when you've gone through the trouble of actually installing the R package and you're obviously using it from R. But it's helpful, nonetheless, for example in terms of producing some standard output (perhaps even more than the actual package $-$ which I think is more flexible) and of reporting, with the cool facility based on pandoc.

This means there are a few more packages "suggested" on installation and potentially a longer compilation time for the package $-$ but nothing major. The new version is under testing but I may be able to release it on CRAN soon-ish... And there are other cool things we're playing around (the links here give all the details!).

Monday, 20 November 2017

La lotteria dei rigori

Seems like my own country has kind of run out of luck... First we fail to qualify for the World Cup, then lose the right to host the relocated headquarters of the European Medicine Agency, post Brexit. If I were a cynic ex-pat, I'd probably think that the former will be felt like the worst defeat across Italy. May be it will.

As I've mentioned here, I'd been talking to Politico, about how the whole process looked like the Eurovision. I think the actual thing did have some elements $-$ earlier today, on the eve of the vote, it appeared like Bratislava was the hot favourite. This kind of reminded me of the days before the final of the Eurovision, when one of the acts is often touted as the sure-thing, often over and above its musical quality. And I do believe that there's an element of "letting people know that we're up for hosting the next one" going on to pimp up the experts' opinions. Although sometimes, as it turns out, the favourites are not so keen in reality $-$ cue their poor performance come the actual thing...

In the event, Bratislava was eliminated at the first round. The contest went all the way to extra times, with Copenhagen dropping out at the semifinals and Amsterdam-Milan contesting the final head-to-head. As the two finalists got the same number of votes (with I think one abstaining), the decision was made on luck $-$ basically on penalties, or as we say in Italian, la lotteria dei rigori.

I guess there must have been some thinking behind the set-up of the voting system that, in case it came down to a tie at the final round, both remaining candidates would be "acceptable" (if not to everybody, at least to the main players) and so they'd be happy for this to go 50:50. And so Amsterdam it is!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Relocation, relocation, relocation

Earlier today, I was contacted by Politico $-$ they are covering the story about the European Union's process to reassign the two EU agencies currently located in London, the European Medicines Agency, (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) post-Brexit.

I know of this, but wasn't aware of the actual process, which is kind of complex: 
"The vote for each agency will consist of successive voting rounds, with the votes cast by secret ballot. In the first round, each member state will have one vote consisting of six voting points, which should be allocated in order of preference to three offers: three points to the first preference, two to the second and one to the third. If one offer receives three voting points from at least 14 member states, this will be considered the selected offer. Otherwise, the three offers (or more in case of a tie) with the highest number of points will go to a second round of voting. In the second round, each member state will have one voting point, which should be allocated to its preferred option in that round. If one offer receives 14 or more votes, it will be considered the selected offer. Otherwise, a third round will follow among the two offers (or more in case of a tie) with the highest number of votes, again with one voting point per member state. In the event of a tie, the presidency will draw lots between the tied offers."
Cat Contiguglia has contacted me to have a chat about this $-$ they had done a couple of pieces likening the resemblance with the Eurovision contest. As I told Cat, however, I think this is more like the way cities get assigned the right to host the Olympic Games, or even how the Palio di Siena works... I guess lots of discussion is already going on among the member states. 

Apparently, Milan and Frankfurt are the favourites to host EMA and EBA, respectively. I think I once heard a story that, originally, EMA was supposed to be located in Rome. Unfortunately, the decision was to be made just as one of the many Italian political scandal was about to uncover, pointing to massive corruption in the Italian healthcare system and so Rome was stripped of the title. Perhaps a win for Milan will help Italy get over the World Cup...

Friday, 10 November 2017

At the Oscars!

Well, these days being part of the glittering world of show-biz is not necessarily a good thing, but when your life is soooo glamorous that someone feels the unstoppable need to make a biopic of it... well, you really need to embrace your new status as a movie star and enjoy all the perks that life will now throw at you...

I know, I know... This is still about the Eurovision. But, this time they made a short video to tell the story $-$ you may think the still above hows Marta and me, but these are actually two actors, playing us! 

I think they've made a very good job at rendering us $-$ particularly me, I think. If you believe the movies: 
  • We (particularly I) are younger than we really are;
  • We drink a lot (although "Marta"'s drink 25 seconds in looks like a cross between Cranberry juice and the stuff they use to show vampires drinking human blood from hospital blood bags)...
  • We laugh a lot $-$ I think this is kind of true, though...
  • I like how 1 min 24 seconds in, "Marta" authoritatively demands a kiss on the cheek and "my" response to that is covered by floating webpages $-$ kind of rated R...
  • The storyline seems to suggest that we thought about doing this as wondered whether we should do a Bayesian model $-$ of course that was never in question!...
Anyway, I think I need to thank the guys at Taylor & Francis (Clare Dodd, in particular), who've done an amazing job! 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Alan Turing's project

The Alan Turing Institute (ATI) has just announced the next round of Doctoral Studentships.

Here's the original blurb with all the relevant information. The guys in the picture are not part of the supervisory teams (but I think I will be...).

We are seeking highly talented and motivated graduates to apply for our fully funded doctoral studentship scheme commencing October 2018 and welcome applications from home/EU and international students.

We are the national institute for data science, created in 2015 in response to a need for greater investment in data science research. Headquartered at the British Library in the heart of London’s vibrant Knowledge Quarter, the Institute was founded by the universities of CambridgeEdinburgh, OxfordUniversity College London and Warwick – and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The Turing 2018 Doctoral Studentships are an exceptional opportunity for talented individuals looking to embark on a career in the rapidly emerging field of data science.

Turing students will have access to a wide range of benefits unique to the Institute:

  • Access to a range of events, seminars, reading groups and workshops delivered by leaders in research, government and industry
  • Opportunities to collaborate on real world projects for societal impact with our current and emerging industry partners
  • Expert support and guidance through all stages of the studentship delivered by supervisors who are Fellows of the Turing or substantively engaged with us
  • Access to brilliant minds researching a range of subjects with opportunities to collaborate and join or start interest groups
  • Networking opportunities through the Institute, university and strategic partners
  • Bespoke HQ designed for optimal study and inter disciplinary collaborations

Studentships include a tax-free stipend of £20,500 per annum (up to 3.5-years), plus home/EU tuition fees and a travel allowance. A limited number of fully-funded overseas studentships are also available.

Additional studentships may be available through our Strategic Partners – HSBC, Intel, Lloyds’ Register Foundation and UK Government – Defence & Security with projects aligned to our strategic priorities.

In line with the Institute’s cross-disciplinary research community, we particularly welcome applications from graduates whose research spans multiple disciplines and applications.

Application deadline: 12:00 GMT Thursday 30 November 2017

Monday, 9 October 2017

Summer school in Leuven

Emmanuel has organised earlier this year the first edition of the Summer School on Advanced Bayesian Methods, in the beautiful Belgian town of Leuven (which is also where we had our Bayes conference a couple of years ago).

For next year, they have planned the second edition, which will run from 24th to 28th September and I'm thrilled that they have invited me to do the second part on... you guessed it: Bayesian Methods in Health Economic Evaluation.

The programme is really interesting and Mike Daniels will do the first three days on Bayesian Parametric and Nonparametric Methods for Missing Data and Causal Inference. 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

24. Nearly.

As the academic year is beginning (our courses will officially start next week), this week has seen the arrival of our new students, including those in our MSc Health Economics & Decision Science (I've talked about this here and here).

When we set out the planning, we were a bit nervous because, while everybody at UCL has been very encouraging and supportive, we were also given a rather hard target $-$ get at least 12 students, or else this is not viable. (I don't think we were actually told what would have happened if we had recruited fewer students. But I don't think we cared to ask $-$ the tone seemed scary enough)...

Well, as it happens, we've effectively doubled the target and we now have 22 students starting on the programme $-$ there may be a couple more additions, but even if they fail to turn up, I think Jolene, Marcos and I will count ourselves very happy! I've spoken to some of the students yesterday and earlier today and they all seem very enthusiastic, which is obviously very good!

Related to this, we'll soon start our new seminar series, to which all the MSc students are "strongly encouraged" to participate. But I'll post more generally in case they may be of interest to a wider audience...