Tuesday, 16 February 2016


One of the things that fills my Januaries and Februaries is the preparation of the in-course assessment (ICA) and final exam, for the course I teach at UCL.

This year is the first time I'm teaching on the new module on Bayesian methods in health economics (page 40 of the students' handbook) so I had to prepare both without relying to any previous scripts (although I did have lots of practicals/exercises, which I could use for the actual lectures, luckily!).

Anyway, earlier last year, Ioannis organised a short workshop in which Achim Zeileis showed us how to use his R package "exams" $-$ this is kind of cool; basically you can create a database of questions (including computations, which are directly performed in R), then use things like Sweave or Knitr to automatically produce the pdf file with your exam (or ICA) text and, possibly the solution. It's even possible to randomise the questions so as to produce new versions of the exam.

I have not used directly this package, but I've been doing lots of knitt(r)ing of late to create the files (incidentally, that's not a picture of me knitting). It does take some time to set up the whole procedure, but by doing some clever combination of R and LaTeX, it's possible to highly automatise the process. 

For example, one can simply put in the .Rnw file a command \newif\IfShowSol and then create two sub-chunks of text, one where \IfShowSol is TRUE and put suitable text to describe the solution to the exercise; and another one where \IfShowSol is FALSE and nothing else is shown. Something like:

What is the probability that $X>2.5$?
Simple to compute by just summing the simulated values for which $X>2.5$ and then dividing by the number of simulations

would show the solutions in the resulting .pdf file (while substituting \IfShowSoltrue with \IfShowSolfalse wouldn't!). 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Theta Rounds

Later this week, I'll escape the cold British winter and flee to the even colder Canadian winter (-13 Celsius, I think!), to be in Toronto for a few days $-$ I suppose I'm going to need a lot more than a scarf...

Anyway, I've been invited by Petros, so by taking advantage of the UCL reading week (no lectures for my Bayesian methods in health economics course), I'll first teach on the last day of the course on Decision Modelling Using R organised by the Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment (THETA, in short) Collaborative. 

Then on Friday, I'll give a talk on our work on the expected value of partial information. I think the talk will be also a webinar, so it will be possible to register and attend virtually.

By looking at the range of activities, THETA seems like a very active and interesting group, so I'm looking forward to this!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The aviator

To continue with the weirdest week in terms of emails, I have received one today that says: 

Dear Dr. Baio,

I represent XXX (an imprint of YYY).  We are looking to publish books in aviation that are scientific, academic or professional in nature.

As you work in this field, please let me know if you’d like to work on a new book related to aviation. It could be a book that you develop on your own, or an edited volume comprising invited chapters. I can provide more details after I hear from you. Would you also provide some details of your professional background?

I find particularly amusing the final request about details of my professional background $-$ may be would be a good idea to first check on that?...

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Who do you think I am?

Today I've received an email inviting me to submit a paper to a scientific journal (it doesn't really matter what journal it is, or whether or not my own work is actually relevant for them). I looove the way they've addressed to me, though. I think that from now on, I'll actually demand to be called "Gianluca Luca Baio G."!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The value of being informed about a short course

Later this year, Anna, Mark, Nicky and I will organise and then teach on a 3-day workshop on Statistical Methods for the Value of Information Analysis

Not-quite-by-chance, this will happen exactly the week before the European Conference of the Society for Medical Decision Making $-$ we've been in talks with the organising committee and so our course is also advertised on their website, here.

We are finalising the schedule and will start advertisement very shortly, but we already know that the course will have a first introductory day in which we'll go through the basic concepts of Value of Information analysis $-$ something like the one Nicky did in Bristol a couple of years ago.

The second and third day, on the other hand will be pretty much hands-on: we'll ask participants to bring their laptop so they can actually have a go at the methods based on non-parametric regression that both Mark and we have developed. In fact, unlike the very unwise child who's cheering for Excel, we'll do all this using R-based tools, which we have tried to make as friendly as possible, though...

I think we'll allow for flexible registration, so people could come for just the first day, or for the second and third day only, or for the full three days. The course is subsidised by UCL and the MRC Network of Hubs for Trials Methodology Research and so the registration fee will be very, very small (I think £10 for one-day; £20 for two-days and £30 for the full short course). I'll post more when all the links on the registration pages are up and running.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Young folks

We (as in Significance, in partnership with the Young Statisticians Section of the Royal Statistical Society) have just launched the 2016 Young Statisticians Writing Competition

The competition is open to any young statistician, regardless of whether they are an RSS or ASA member. In the past editions, we've had some very, very good pieces $-$ like this.