Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The desertification of the NHS

The peerless Daily Mail reports today with its usual sobriety that "thousands are dying of thirst on NHS". 

The actual story is that NICE are about to release a new guideline on acute kidney injury (in Prince's spirit: the condition formerly known as acute renal failure), suggesting an excess of cases, mostly among people who are already ill with conditions such as heart failure or diabetes, and those admitted to hospital with infections, as the Guardian reports in a little less, albeit certainly less spectacular, biased way.

This excess of cases is quite costly to the NHS and could be avoided (or at least mitigated) by appropriate treatment, including "ensuring patients are hydrated and their medicines are reviewed".

Hardly dying of thirst.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Champions league

Before I even start any real writing here, I should remark that I am most definitely not an Inter Milan fan (but they are my brother's and dad's team, so I thought I used this picture anyway); nor is this post really about football (well: it is in a way, but not re the Champions league, though).

Anyway: every week I receive an email from Research Gate which updates me on the stats about my personal profile (eg in terms of viewings) and that of the department (of course, this only includes the members who have a RG account).

Apparently, last week I have been the Bayern Munich on the department, with nearly twice as many downloads as any other member of our department (I really hope that RG doesn't send personalised updates in which you always fare well, while in fact you don't!). This was driven almost exclusively by the football paper (54 downloads just last week), which I had also discussed here and hereI'm guessing that, probably, the beginning of the new football season across Europe has made the topic even more popular than usual.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Rock'n'roll stars

We're spending a few days in the Tuscan seaside. But both Marta and I seem to have lost the Italian genes in us and can barely tolerate the hot weather $-$ XY is not too keen on swimming or even being in the sea, but he does enjoy rolling around in the sand, at the beach. In fact, the thing he does enjoy the most (and for the life of me I can't quite understand why) is eating the sand, which he does every 10 seconds...

Anyway: in order to cool off, we decided to spend the afternoon out up the hills and narrow streets of Castagneto Carducci, our favourite town around here. And who should we run into if not Sir Michael PhilipFor some reason, both Marta and I concentrated on his friend, as we were walking towards them, and only realised at the very last moment it was him. XY was busy waving hi to the other passers-by and didn't seem to take notice.

Just around the corner, we caught the owner of the trattoria where he ate telling off her husband, saying: "well, you should have taken his picture while he was here!", to which he replied: "don't worry, we'll do it when he comes back next time... that is If he doesn't die first!" In all this, XY was more interested in my ice cream than anything else.

Speaking of rock'n'roll stars, the RSS has made Tony O'Hagan interview with Dennis Lindley publicly available. The interview was recorded earlier this year to mark Lindley's 90th birthday as well as the 250th anniversary of the publication of Bayes's paper. The video is available here. When I watched it at the RSS meeting last June, I found it quite interesting and amusing $-$ in my opinion, definitely one to watch; just like vintage MTV for (Bayesian) nerds...

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

No octagon!

One silly thing I really like about Canada is their street sign for "no stopping" $-$ it always makes me think that Canadians really dislike octagons and are not ashamed to let their national sentiment known to all visitors...

But, enough stupid geometry; while I'm in the airport departures area waiting for BA to graciously open their desks, I'll write down some random thoughts about the JSM. In fact, I'll divide my impressions in two broad categories: "cool" and "not-cool" things. 

  • The session on RDD was nice, I thought. I got some interesting comments by Guido (Imbens, who was discussing the session); I'll upload my talk here. He was a bit surprised to see that our instrument was weak (in other words: that the GPs by and large do not obey the prescription guidelines for statins). As I said in the talk, we base this on a limited subset of the data, so it is possible that this is just an artefact. On the other hand, we think that something like that really may be going on. We'll see in the next few months.
  • I saw a very, very interesting session on Hamiltonian Monte Carlo $-$ I particularly liked Matt Hoffman's talk (he's part of the Stan development team). During the session, Mark's work has been cited quite a lot (obviously). What was really funny is that each of the three speaker pronounced his surname in a different way (roughly: Jeròlamee, Jerolàmee and Geeròlamee). In Italian, the first version should be the right one $-$ I'll have to ask him what he does call himself...
  • Another very good session was the one dedicated to the 20-th anniversary since the "introduction" of MCMC to the statistical community. I really liked Alan Gelfand's talk.
  • Jon Wakefield and Håvard were also really good and I enjoyed their session too. I left before the third talk (whose title seemed quite interesting too), because it clashed with another session I wanted to see. In retrospect, I could have stayed put.
  • To see the book on display at the CRC booth was also really cool. I couldn't really bring myself to have a picture taken in front of it $-$ although I was really, really tempted. I was kind of hoping someone would offer to do it, but nobody did...
  • On the other hand, recording the promotional video interview was kind of cool. Joanna, the interviewer, said that I was a "natural", but I think she was just being nice, really... We'll see when the final version is edited. Hopefully it won't be too embarrassing.
  • Meeting quite a good bunch of nice people and having a couple of nice dinners. At the CRC reception, somebody was staring at my badge and then they said: "do you have a blog? I think I've read it!" 

  • A couple of horrible Bayesian talks $-$ given by people who clearly didn't know why on earth they were being forced to use a Bayesian model (my guess: their supervisor, who was not doing a very good job, though). In one case, I tried really hard not to be mean or impolite, but I had to ask a question (among other things, they had logistic regression coefficients in the magnitude of 10 and with very large standard deviations $-$ convergence problems hadn't even crossed their mind).
  • If I'm not missed anything (which I don't think I have), only a couple of talks on health economics or statistical models for cost-effectiveness, in general. This is not news (last year was pretty much the same). But more importantly, you get the feeling that the level of these talks is a good 15 years behind what we do in Europe. The models are not terrible (the one I saw today was a microsimulation comparing several screening strategies). But only ICERs were reported and there was no sensitivity analysis whatsoever. I asked a question, and the presenter told me that in fact they had done some SA (which, as I probed further, turned out to be deterministic and was not reported anyway). I asked about CEACs and EVPIs, but she basically tried to change the subject. She also suggested (in reply to my question) that they had used some "distributions" to account for uncertainty in the parameters $-$ but there was really no evidence of that in what she presented... I am seriously toying with the idea of submitting a proposal for a short course on statistical methods for health economics to next year JSM; it will be in Boston (which is a plus). But I'm not sure I'm biting way more than I can really chew off for next year...  
  • Nate Silver's talk. It wasn't bad per se. But the rumours are that they had to pay a ridiculously high fee (I mean, seriously: think of a ridiculous fee for a scientific conference. And then double it. And then probably add something else. And that's probably slightly less than the figure that was whispered in the dark corridors of Montreal's Palais des Congres). This really pisses me off, if you pardon my French (which is just appropriate, given we were in Quebec), because the registration fee is really steep and I don't think that we've got our money's worth, if that fee is really the truth (which I think it may well be!). Perhaps the organisers could think of different ways to entertain the audience (who, let's not forget, are nerdy statisticians, so probably enjoyed way more David Spiegelhalter's talk, anyway!) and keep the costs down.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Don't cry for me, Argentina

Well, I had a very good run; but I knew sooner or later it had to end, and end it did...

All the time I've come to Canada before, the people at the border control have thoroughly checked my Italian passport, very politely asked a few general questions (you know: where you coming from? where you staying? what is the reason of your visit to Canada?, etc) and then, invariably, fired off the question "so you're from Argentina, right?"

I've never quite got why they did that, but I was looking forward to my arrival in Montreal, yesterday for the next Evita-moment. Unfortunately, first the pen with which I was writing on my landing card exploded (I still have ink sings on my fingers and I can't seem to be able to rub them off); and then the young lady at the border control did not mention Argentina at all $-$ just wished me a pleasant stay in Canada and waived at the next person in the queue...

I decided to soldier on and got to my hotel with no real hassle $-$ this time I was prepared and I knew to take the 747 bus, which for a very reasonable Can$9 gets you into town. This morning the JSM conference will begin, but I think the programme is not very heavy on the first day, so that's a good chance to wander around the beautiful Vieux Montreal