Our most read articles of 2021

2021 covers

The Covid-19 pandemic has been the dominant story of 2021, much as it was in 2020. As we look back over our most read articles published this year, it is no surprise to see that two of our top three stories are about coronavirus specifically, while six of the top 10 make at least some mention of the pandemic.

Most read articles published in 2021

Excess mortality reveals Covid's true toll in Russia
Data on excess deaths in Russia in 2020 paint a much bleaker picture of the Covid-19 death toll than the official daily updated number, argues Dmitry Kobak.

The p-value statement, five years on
The American Statistical Association's 2016 p-value statement generated debates and disagreements, editorials and symposia, and a plethora of ideas for how science could be changed for the better. Now, five years on, Robert Matthews asks what, if anything, has the statement achieved?

Covid-19: One year on…
Ron Fricker assesses the impact of the pandemic in the United States by calculating the number of “excess deaths”.

Statistical programming: Small mistakes, big impacts
Coding mistakes can lead to false results. Statisticians and data scientists should exploit best practices and tools in statistical programming to enhance reproducible analyses. By Simon Schwab and Leonhard Held.

Sound human, steer clear of jargon, and be prepared
Kevin McConway and David Spiegelhalter offer tips to statisticians communicating through the media, especially in the time of Covid-19.

Pietro the weather tortoise and the pursuit of soggy bun prevention
Can a pet tortoise really predict when it's about to rain? And are the predictions accurate enough to prevent your barbeque from being a wash-out? Conner Jackson investigates.

Building back better needs better use of statistics
Paul Allin and David J. Hand call for official statistics to take centre stage.

Who was the best Friend?
A quantitative analysis of the TV series Friends, by Mathias Basner.

Covid-19: a view from the sidelines
Katherine Hoffman is a biostatistician in the pulmonary and critical care team of a New York City hospital, who found herself part of the Covid-19 response when the outbreak first hit in March 2020. This is her story.

How to mislead with statistics
Lessons from recent attempts to subvert the US election with data analysis. By Kristian Lum, Naim Kabir and Joe Bak-Coleman.


If we exclude articles published in 2021 from our most-read list, here’s what the top 10 looks like:

2021’s most read articles (excluding those published in 2021)

To predict and serve?
Predictive policing systems are used increasingly by law enforcement to try to prevent crime before it occurs. But what happens when these systems are trained using biased data? Kristian Lum and William Isaac consider the evidence – and the social consequences

Big data: A big mistake?
Economist, journalist and broadcaster Tim Harford delivered the 2014 Significance lecture at the Royal Statistical Society International Conference. In this article, republished from the Financial Times, Harford warns us not to forget the statistical lessons of the past as we rush to embrace the big data future.

The Weibull distribution
Ayşe Kızılersü, Markus Kreer and Anthony W. Thomas introduce a statistical distribution that helps scientists cope with the hazards of life.

The future of statistical thinking
Nigel Marriott looks to data science, infographics and cognitive psychology to expand our definition of what it means to think like a statistician

Reliability and validity of forensic science evidence
Hal S. Stern, Maria Cuellar and David Kaye describe how scientists define and assess the reliability and validity of some commonly encountered types of forensic science evidence. Such assessments are necessary for courts to admit putatively scientific evidence as bona fide and legally “reliable” science.

The flavour of whisky
Lagavulin, Talisker, Ardbeg—the names roll off the tongue and the liquid slides gloriously down the throat. Single malt Scotch whiskies count among the pleasures of life. But how can you classify their complex and various flavours? David Wishart savours a smoky, medicinal, peat-filled Islay and comes up with a scheme.

Flawed forensics: Statistical failings of microscopic hair analysis
For 20 years, FBI forensic experts gave flawed testimony regarding microscopic hair analysis. Jim Norton, William Anderson and George Divine unpick their mistakes.

Olympic medals: Does the past predict the future?
How many medals will each country win in Rio this August? Recent history provides some strong indications, but a more sophisticated approach might produce better predictions. Julia Bredtmann, Carsten J. Crede and Sebastian Otten investigate.

Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics
Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin's cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.

Status syndrome
Health and longevity are intimately related to position in the social hierarchy. The lower the status, the higher risk of illness and death, and consequently the shorter the life expectancy. In his book of the same name, Michael Marmot calls this social gradient in health the “Status Syndrome”. So what exactly is the cause of this gradient?


Thank you to our readers and contributors for supporting Significance throughout 2021. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and best wishes for 2022!