Behind the scenes - February 2017 issue preview

Search the Internet Movie Database and you can find a list of 87 titles tagged with the keyword “statistics”. Included in this list are The Imitation Game, the story of Alan Turing and the Enigma code; Moneyball, the Brad Pitt-fronted baseball data drama; and Al Gore’s climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which famously brought together a line graph and a scissor lift to make a powerful point about the rise in CO2 levels.

I have yet to see all 87 titles, and I am not entirely convinced they have all been correctly tagged (see for yourself). But even if we assume that the number is correct, it is a tiny fraction of the more than 4 million titles held within the database. You might then think that Hollywood, and the movie business in general, has little time for statistics – but that is not the case.

As Robert Bain found out while writing our February 2017 cover feature, data and statistics play an increasingly important role behind the scenes. Data analysts and statisticians may not yet be in a position to call “action” on a film’s production, but in analysing audiences, and attempting to predict or maximise box office grosses, they are part of the journey from script to screen. Just don’t expect to see them win any awards at this year’s Oscars.

Young statisticians, however, could be in with a chance of winning a prize if they enter our 2017 writing competition. Details of the renamed Statistical Excellence Award for Early-Career Writing can be found here. As in past years, we encourage all our readers – whatever their age or experience – to share news of the competition with those who may be interested.

If you would like to try your hand at writing for Significance, but don’t meet the competition entry requirements, do keep in mind our new Notebook feature. This new regular series looks to introduce and explain the many varied statistical distributions, so if there is one you would like to write (or read) about, please do get in touch. The first in the series – on the log-normal distribution – is here.

Elsewhere this issue, we have articles on evidence-based elections; the past, present and future of Earth’s climate; and celebrity dance contests (but there’s a twist: it’s really about exam assessments).