Oct 202015


Today is World Statistics Day, celebrated for the first time on 20 October 2010 worldwide in accordance with a declaration by the United Nations Statistical Commission. The Royal Statistical Society in the UK launched its getstats “statistical literacy” campaign to open the celebrations at 20:10 on 20.10.2010. I don’t want to get too technical here; I have plenty of experience watching people’s eyes glaze over when I start talking mathematically. The fact is that statistical analysis can be extremely complex, but the foundational ideas are really easy to grasp. For a set of funny and informative videos I suggest you go here https://worldstatisticsday.org/ Here I’d like to do a couple of things, namely talk about the handling and presentation of statistics, and have a little fun.

Like it or not, statistics rule a big chunk of our lives. I’m a social scientist so statistics are a big part of my professional life, even though a lot of my writing is math-free. “Proof” of assertions concerning social life hinges on good statistical data. You may think something about social life is obviously true, but you need statistical data at your back. Three things are important – (1) data do not speak for themselves, (2) proper presentation of data is vital and (3) data are only as good as their method of collection.


The first point ought to be self evident, but often is not. You cannot show me some data and assume I will see in them what you see. Suppose you show me a graph of rising fuel costs over the past decade. What should I do with it? Does it matter to me? If it does matter to me, how does it matter? Is it a good thing or a bad thing, for me, or in general? It does not speak for itself. Maybe I own a factory and rising fuel costs are eating into my profits. Maybe I am a worker whose salary increases have not kept pace with inflation, so I am having to cut back on non-essentials. Maybe I am a hermit living in a remote cave with no need to buy fuel. Context matters in interpreting statistics.

The second point can also be overlooked. In the 19th century Florence Nightingale discovered that in military hospitals in the Crimea and elsewhere, a great many more soldiers died from preventable diseases than from war wounds. She believed that better sanitation in the hospitals was the answer but she needed to convince bone headed politicians to vote for increased funding. To do so she felt that if the data were graphically presented they would be more understandable than tables and spreadsheets. So she created a type of pie chart now sometimes called the Nightingale Rose – shown here (click to enlarge):

From: David Pogson Sent: 11 March 2005 09:43 To: Emma Goodey Subject: FW: Youngsters meet Princess -----Original Message----- From: pictures@pixmedia.co.uk [mailto:pictures@pixmedia.co.uk] Sent: 10 March 2005 17:42 To: David Pogson Subject: Youngsters meet Princess Hi David - Please see the attached pics from Boarshaw on Monday. If you would be kind enough to credit Pixmedia for the images, I would be grateful. Would you like to be included on the distribution list for pics from future events? Kind regards Simon C Apps Managing DIrector Pixmedia Ltd Caption: Boarshaw youngsters Anthony Leach and Daniel Cooper chatting to The Princess Royal when she officially opened the new YIP. Credit: Pixmedia This image is provided free of charge for editorial use and is approved by Crime Concern PLEASE NOTE: THE ABOVE MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED FROM THE INTERNET AND HAS BEEN CERTIFIED VIRUS-FREE.

It was effective, although it’s debatable whether this chart was more effective than a simple bar graph as shown here (click to enlarge):


You decide. At very least you understand the importance of method of presentation.

The third point can also be overlooked very easily. Probably everyone understands that when you are conducting a survey, the size of your sample and the nature of people in the sample are critical issues. You can’t get a meaningful picture of racism in the U.S. by polling a small group of white people all living in one state. You have to have a large, widely distributed sample of people from all walks of life and all ethnicities. But the quality of the data also depends on the questions asked and the responses allowed. Obviously you can’t just bluntly ask, “are you a racist?” You have to decide what questions will get at the heart of the matter, and that is far from easy. You also have to contend with the fact that many people who answer surveys answer according to their ideal self image, and not necessarily according to the truth.

Here now is a little gallery of amusing statistical charts:

stat9 stat8 stat7 stat5 stat4 stat6 stat3 stat2

As long-time readers know, I like to cook by the seat of my pants most of the time, and it’s something of a strain to come up with precise measurements and instructions. So here is my heuristic/statistical recipe for a pear and passionfruit crumble I made yesterday using percentages. It’s pretty close to how I actually think when I cook.


© Pear and Passionfruit Crumble

With a fruit crumble the correct ratio of fruit to crumble topping is very important. By eye I would say my crumble is 35% topping and 65% filling. Some people may like to have more fruit. The 35% topping is divided thus: 10% rolled oats, 10% plain flour, 10% granulated sugar, and 5% butter, or a ratio of 2:2:2:1. Put the oats, flour, and sugar in a mixing bowl and stir a little until they are mixed. Make sure the butter is very cold and cut it into the smallest pieces you can. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers so that the mixture is reasonably homogenous. Set aside.

For the 65% fruit mix Use about 60% pears and 5% passionfruit. These days when I make crumbles I don’t peel the fruit. They have an earthier taste unpeeled. Cut the tops and tails off the pears, then slice downwards to separate the meat from the core. Discard the core and slice the meat thickly. Put the pear slices into a baking dish and sprinkle with sugar. Cut the passionfruit in half and scrape the inside pulp on to the pears. Toss with a wooden spoon.

Pour the crumble topping over the fruit and spread it evenly. Tamp down the top a little to compress the crumble a little but not too firmly. Bake in a 400°F oven for about 45 minutes, or until the top is mottled golden-brown. Serve hot or cold, plain or with custard, whipped cream, or ice cream.

May 122014


Today is International Nurses’ Day (IND). The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has celebrated this day since 1965. In 1953 Dorothy Sutherland, an official with the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, proposed that President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaim a “Nurses’ Day” but he did not approve it. In January 1974, 12 May was chosen to celebrate the day as it is the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale (see here), who is widely considered the founder of modern nursing. Each year, ICN prepares and distributes the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The kit contains educational and public information materials, for use by nurses everywhere.  As of 1998, 8 May was designated as annual National Student Nurses’ Day. As of 2003, the Wednesday within National Nurses Week, between 6 and 12 May, is National School Nurse Day.

Each year a service is held in Westminster Abbey in London. During the Service, a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another, thence to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar. This signifies the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another. At St Margaret’s Church at East Wellow in Hampshire, where Florence Nightingale is buried, a service is also held on the Sunday after her birthday.

The International Council of Nurses commemorates this each year with the production and distribution of the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The IND Kit 2014 contains educational and public information materials, for use by nurses everywhere. It can be found here.


The IND theme for 2014 is: Nurses: A Force for Change – A vital resource for health. Though mainly planned on and around May 12 each year, IND activities continue for much of the year by nurses and others.

International Nurses’ Day is also a day on which we all can celebrate the contribution that nurses make in the world. Doctors get a great deal of credit for the work they do in treating patients, as they should. But if you have ever been in a hospital you will know that while your doctor does important work – surgery, examination, prescription, and so forth – it is the nursing staff who are the ones charged with carrying out the vast bulk of the doctors’ orders, as well as looking after and monitoring the patients 24/7. It was Florence Nightingale herself who impressed upon doctors, the government, and the general public the vital importance of nursing care for the wellbeing of patients.

I blame television shows focused on medicine, such as, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House M.D. etc, for perpetuating the general impression that doctors do all the “important” work and nurses just hang around on the sidelines to assist. This is miles away from the truth. It makes for good drama, but is not helpful in representing reality. The next time I see a doctor on a television show inserting an IV or intubating a patient or drawing blood I am going to throw something at the television. NURSES do all those things and more. I know from personal experience as an EMT working ambulances that when a patient is brought into the ER it is the nurses who perform virtually all the procedures (under a doctor’s supervision). Once the patient is stabilized it is the nurses who follow up.

When was the last time a doctor took your temperature, checked your blood pressure, or changed a dressing for you? When patients are admitted to the ER the initial assessment of the relative severity of their condition is made by a triage nurse, not a doctor. Increasingly nurses are expected to perform services, often quite sophisticated, that were once the province of doctors. So, on this day in particular, take a moment to thank a nurse. Without the skilled and dedicated services of nurses, the medical system as we know it would collapse.

Since the days of Miss Nightingale, nutrition has been a crucial component in nursing care of invalids. Regular readers of this blog will know that Victorian standards concerning convalescent nutrition occasionally bordered on the bizarre, but the general principles are, in the main, still sound. These include the need for preparing appetizing food that is attractively presented, using only fresh ingredients, serving small portions, and avoiding foods that are difficult to digest, such as red meat and those high in fat content. Also avoid those ingredients that are high in acids. I would add that patients should be consulted concerning what they find appetizing, although this must be balanced with the nature of the particular ailment. A person with a broken leg can be given foods that one with a gastric ulcer cannot.

boiling soup

My great standby when I am recovering from an illness that has affected my digestive system is chicken broth. Good broths are the foundation on which so much fine cooking is crafted. You will see in countless recipes in this blog the need for a rich stock. Good chicken stock takes time to prepare but you have to do very little; the stove does all the work. Start with a whole chicken. Bones and leftovers are for the stock pot, not for the development of a toothsome broth. Place the chicken in your biggest pot. Add diced onion, carrots, celery, leeks (if you have them), fresh parsley, and salt to taste. Cover with cold water and bring to a gentle simmer slowly. In the first stages of cooking a certain amount of scum will rise to the surface. Skim this off and then let the pot simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Remove the chicken and reserve it for other uses. Strain the broth into a clean container and refrigerate overnight. In the morning you will see that the fat has risen to the surface and solidified. Remove the fat, and the stock is ready to use in soups, stews, and sauces. Or, you can make consommé.


Consommé is a delight as a first course, particularly if the main dish is heavy. Essentially, consommé is stock that has been reduced and clarified. Bring a quart of chicken stock to a rolling boil. Add the white of one egg plus the crushed shell. Let it simmer uncovered until the stock has been reduced by half. Using a sieve lined with muslin or other fine cloth, strain the consommé into a clean bowl. It will be a gorgeous golden color with a heady aroma. You can serve it two ways. Conventionally it is served piping hot, perhaps with a sprinkle of fresh parsley or a few julienned vegetables. You should serve it in small bowls because it is very rich. Or, for a summer treat you can refrigerate the consommé which will turn into a gelatin. Serve in chilled bowls with a garnish of parsley or thinly sliced scallion tops

May 122013


Today is the birthday (1820) of Florence Nightingale.  Most people know her as “The Lady with the Lamp” because of her habit of making rounds late at night in the hospital in Crimea when all were asleep.  Few people know of her extraordinary accomplishments and diverse interests.  She is rightly considered the founder of modern nursing, beginning with her establishment of a nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860: the first secular nursing school in the world. Because of this fact, today is celebrated worldwide as International Nurses Day.  She was also a tireless social reformer campaigning for better healthcare in Britain, a greater role for women in society, the relief of hunger in India, and the abolition of harsh laws regulating prostitution.  She was a prodigious writer on a wide variety of subjects including feminism, mysticism, and religion.  Although she was a staunch Christian she firmly believed that ALL religions had something to offer spiritually.  She was adept at presenting statistical information to decision makers in simple graphical form, and invented a form of pie chart, the polar area diagram, sometimes called the Nightingale rose diagram, in order to illustrate, simply and graphically, seasonal sources of patient mortality in the military field hospital.  All in all, a powerhouse to be reckoned with, especially considering she lived in an era when women of her class were largely uneducated and expected only to marry and bear children.

For today’s recipe I have chosen beef tea taken directly from the Invalid Food chapter of Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861.  This was my mother’s cooking Bible, and when I was convalescing as a small boy she would often make me beef tea.  Amusingly at the end of the recipe Mrs Beeton quotes Nightingale as saying that beef tea was calming (just like any other tea), but had no real nutritive value for the sick!

1858. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of lean gravy-beef, 1 quart of water, 1 saltspoonful of salt.

Mode.—Have the meat cut without fat and bone, and choose a nice fleshy piece. Cut it into small pieces about the size of dice, and put it into a clean saucepan. Add the water cold to it; put it on the fire, and bring it to the boiling-point; then skim well. Put in the salt when the water boils, and simmer the beef tea gently from 1/2 to 3/4 hour, removing any more scum should it appear on the surface. Strain the tea through a hair sieve, and set it by in a cool place. When wanted for use, remove every particle of fat from the top; warm up as much as may be required, adding, if necessary, a little more salt. This preparation is simple beef tea, and is to be administered to those invalids to whom flavourings and seasonings are not allowed. When the patient is very low, use double the quantity of meat to the same proportion of water. Should the invalid be able to take the tea prepared in a more palatable manner, it is easy to make it so by following the directions in the next recipe, which is an admirable one for making savoury beef tea. Beef tea is always better when made the day before it is wanted, and then warmed up. It is a good plan to put the tea into a small cup or basin, and to place this basin in a saucepan of boiling water. When the tea is warm, it is ready to serve.

Time.—1/4 to 3/4 hour. Average cost, 6d. per pint.