In the coming century, we expect to witness dramatic changes to environments around the world: ice sheet collapse, rainforest dieback and species extinction, to name but a few. One well-known indicator of man-made influence on the climate, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, has risen gradually. But it is wrong to assume that the complex symptoms of climate change will appear gradually. Instead, many environments are expected to reach a new state in a relatively abrupt, unpredictable fashion.
In recent years, countries have passed legislation to charge shoppers for each new plastic bag used to encourage them to re-use bags they already own. It’s one of many initiatives to reduce the large quantity of plastic waste that leaks into the natural environment, particularly the oceans, causing ecological damage (see our October 2017 issue for more on this story).
Each year at its conference the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) awards prizes to distinguished individuals for their service to statistics. The prizes include several named medals, each dedicated to a particular aspect of statistics: the Guy medals in gold (first awarded in 1892), silver (1893) and bronze (1936); and the Chambers (1977), Greenfield (1991), Bradford Hill (1994), West (2002) and Howard medals (2015). This year a new name joins the list: the Wood medal, awarded for excellent contributions to economic or social statistics.
Plastic waste is found in ocean waters, on beaches and in the marine food chain. Counting it all would be impossible, but the approximate scale of the problem can be estimated. In the October 2017 print edition of Significance, I highlight the many roles of statistics in describing and tackling this global issue.
This is the first of a series of articles on the design of simple graphs – graphs you could draw with pencil and ruler but are now more likely to be produced using software. You can find examples in the book Plain Figures1 covering the presentation of statistics by graphs and tables. Despite that and other sources of advice, simple two-dimensional graph forms often fail to communicate as their maker intended – or so one assumes.