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Politics

When was the ‘truth’ era?

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THAT was one of the questions posed at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Royal Statistical Society to consider whether we really are in a post-truth world of ‘alternative facts’, and if so what we can do about it.

These terms have become commonplace as people try to make sense of a global political landscape that looks and feels different to what many would have predicted a year ago. So it was refreshing to hear a more critical take on the concepts such as post-truth, fake news and echo-chambers.

That isn’t to say that the panellists thought all is well. It was accepted that misinformation, ‘fake news’, and a lack of regard for evidence in some quarters are issues worthy of addressing, and that it’s vital for the health of our democracy that we do so. What’s more, Helen Margetts (Oxford Internet Institute) presented a compelling case that the Internet and social media may be exacerbating the problem.

“Is anything particularly new about the challenges we face in defending the importance of facts and evidence?”

What was questioned was the notion that there is anything particularly new about the challenges we face in defending the importance of facts and evidence.

Or, to restate the earlier question – against what previous golden age of ‘truth’ are we implicitly comparing our modern era to when we use the phrase ‘post-truth’?

This sense of perspective is welcome. William Davies’ recent piece in the Guardian, which has generated much discussion in the statistical world, painted a gloomy picture of the supposedly waning power of statistics. But as the National Statistician pointed out in response, our supposedly ‘post-truth’ era is also characterised by both a yearning for more trustworthy analysis to make sense of the world and an abundance of data out there to help inform it, if only we can tap into and make sense of it.

And that is central to our mission here at the Office for National Statistics. We are constantly striving to produce better statistics to support better decisions. We have ambitious plans to harness big data and exploit its potential to help us understand the modern world. And we are always looking to better understand current and future user needs and respond to them where we can.

“We will continue to champion the value of evidence and statistics, even in our supposedly post-truth world.”

It’s not just about producing better statistics, however. There are challenges in explaining to a wide audience what the evidence says about any given issue when the matter at hand is complex, the evidence is not always clear cut, and the methodological limitations of statistics need to be made clear in the name of transparency.

The difficulty with that, as panellist James Bell from Buzzfeed explained, is that when it comes to dealing with a mass audience and a controversial issue, a simple and clear message usually beats a complex one.

Those of us working in the field of official statistics always need to challenge ourselves to communicate better and in a way that is clear and accessible. But we cannot get away from the fact that by necessity we deal in complexity and nuance, which can make it tricky to get our message across where others may be peddling a simpler line and in a louder voice.

The answer, as argued by Full Fact’s Will Moy, lies in recognising that the ONS and UK Statistics Authority, along with other bodies such as new Office for Statistics Regulation, are part of a bigger picture including civil society groups, media outlets, businesses and ordinary citizens. Working together is crucial to help people make sense of the world around them, to continue to build the case for evidence, and to challenge those who wilfully misuse or disregard it.

That’s why, for example, the UK Statistics Authority is partnering with Full Fact, the House of Commons Library and the Economic and Social Research Council on the ‘Need to Know’ project. And it’s also why the work done by organisations such as the Royal Statistical Society to improve statistical literacy is so valuable, so we can all understand the importance of evidence and challenge its misuse.

Responding to Mr Davies’ Guardian piece, the National Statistician argued that “this is the moment when we can make our greatest contribution to society” by seizing the opportunities open to us to produce the statistics that Britain needs to answer the big questions of the day. That’s something we certainly intend to do. And working with others, we will continue to champion the value of evidence and statistics, even in our supposedly post-truth world.

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Politics

Covid-19 restriction relaxations in Wales brought forward

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT will be accelerating elements of its programme to relax Covid-19 restrictions as cases of new infections continue to fall across Wales, the First Minister today announced.

People will be able to form an extended household, visit the gym or take part in organised outdoor activities a week earlier than planned, as the public health situation – and vaccination rates – continue to improve.

The First Minister last week set out a detailed timetable for moving Wales firmly into alert level three. But some of these measures will now be introduced sooner than planned as cases have fallen markedly from 37 cases per 100,000 people to fewer than 21 per 100,000 this week.

The pressure on hospitals also continues to ease. Confirmed cases in hospital beds continue to reduce, and now stands at 89. This is 26% lower than last Thursday and is the lowest position since 22 September 2020.

The planned opening date for organised outdoor activities and outdoor wedding receptions will be moved forward to Monday 26 April from 3 May.

And, from Monday 3 May, a week earlier than previously signalled, gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities will be able to reopen for individual or one-to-one training. Extended households will also be allowed again, enabling two households to meet and have contact indoors.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford said:

“The public health situation in Wales continues to improve thanks to everything you are doing to help us control this awful virus. Cases of the virus are falling and our incredible vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength.

“Last week, we set out our programme to further re-open the economy and relax the restrictions we have lived with for so long, as part of our careful, step-by-step approach to keeping everyone safe. This week, because of the improvements we continue to see, we can bring forward some of our plans.

“This is only possible because of the efforts everyone is making to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

From Monday 12 April, the following relaxations will go ahead:

  • The full return of children to schools for face-to-face education, all post-16 learners will return to further education and training centres, and university campus’ will be able to open for blended face-to-face/online learning for all students;
  • All remaining shops will reopen, completing the phased reopening of non-essential retail;
  • All remaining close contact services will open, including mobile services;
  • Travel restrictions on traveling into and out of Wales will be lifted. However, restrictions on travel to countries outside the Common Travel Area without a reasonable excuse, remain in place. The Common Travel Area means the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland;
  • Wedding ‘show-arounds’ by appointment are allowed;
  • Restrictions on political canvassing are removed, subject to canvassers doing so safely.
  • Further easements to restrictions in the coming weeks will be subject to the public health situation remaining favourable. These will be confirmed at the next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations on 22 April.

On Monday 26 April:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, would be allowed to reopen;
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants. Indoor hospitality will remain closed except for takeaways;
  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place (previously Monday 3 May);
  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors for up to 30 people (previously Monday 3 May).

On Monday 3 May (previously Monday 10 May):

  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes;
    Extended household will again allow two households to meet and have contact indoors.
  • As set out in the revised Coronavirus Control Plan, a small number of outdoor pilot events of between 200 and 1,000 people are also being planned.
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Ceredigion MS and MP call on Welsh Government to support agricultural shows

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ELIN JONES MS and Ben Lake MP have called on the Welsh Government to provide financial support to all agricultural shows to see them through to 2022 

A number of shows up and down the county were forced to cancel last year, starving farming communities of annual chances to meet acquaintances, denying traders a vital market and rural charities of fundraising activities and ultimately causing significant losses to the rural economy. 

About seven million people attend agricultural and county shows across the UK every year, and numbers were growing before the pandemic, according to the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations (ASAO), the voice of the agricultural show industry. 

Ben Lake MP calls on Welsh Government to support agricultural shows

In 2019, agricultural shows across the UK generated £128.6m of income, the ASAO figures show. But the mass cancellation of physical shows last year led to a £36.5m loss, while the impact on the wider economy was an estimated loss of £810m. 

Some agriculture show organisers in Ceredigion have already announced cancellations of their 2021 events. These include: Aberystwyth County Show, Lampeter Stallion Show, Barley Saturday, and Llanilar Show. 

With the possibility of further show cancellations this year, Elin Jones MS and Ben Lake MP have called on the Welsh Government to provide financial support to all agricultural shows to see them through to 2022.  

Elin Jones MS said: “For many farming families in Ceredigion, the agricultural show season is the highlight of the year. Every agricultural show plays an important part in promoting our nation’s rural sector, in addition to the rich array of traditions and history associated with rural Wales. 

“Whilst virtual agricultural shows went some way to filling the void left by the cancellations in 2020, nothing replaces the buzz of live outdoor shows.  They give opportunities for communities to come together and provide a vital hub for the farming and rural community to meet, socialise and conduct business.” 

Ben Lake MP added: “Agricultural shows and societies are a crucial feature of the annual calendar for most rural communities, showcasing the heritage of key elements of farming and rural life in Ceredigion. 

“With the possibility of further show cancellations in 2021, we believe it is timely for the Welsh Government to consider providing a one-off grant payment to all agricultural shows to ensure that they are able to see this pandemic through.” 

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16 and 17 year old’s urged to register to vote in this year’s Senedd Elections

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ELIN JONES, Ceredigion’s Member of the Senedd, has urged everyone who will be 16 years old by or on the 6th of May – Senedd Election Day – to register to vote. This is the first time 16 and 17 years olds will be able to vote in a national election in Wales.

Speaking directly to young people in Ceredigion, Elin said: “One of my proudest achievements from the last Senedd has been helping to pass the law that has extended the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

“This is the biggest change in voting rights in Wales for many, many years.

“So many aspects of young people’s lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic, so it’s completely right that you have the democratic right to express your opinions on how things have been run.

“We now have a fixed date for the election, providing the Covid situation doesn’t change. So if you will be 16 years old or older by the 6th of May, then make sure you register to vote. Your voice counts, and I hope that you will use it.”

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