HM Treasury Management team

20 07 2014

Some info over at the HM Treasury website.

  • Sir Nicholas Macpherson. senior British civil servant, serving as the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury since August 2005. His objectives for 2014/15 include supporting “Ministers in their objective of  keeping Scotland within the UK, informing  the debate with clear, rigorous and accurate  analysis”. Strongly against currency union in event of independent Scotland.
  • Sharon White. BA Hons Economics from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and an MSc in Economics from UCL. “I got interested in welfare reform and did a stint at the British embassy in Washington analysing US welfare reform and then worked as an adviser on the same subject at the Downing Street policy unit after the 1997 election”
  • John Kingman. Mathematical statistician. Uncompleted PhD in queuing theory. Publications in stats. Friends with Robert Peston who is in his own words “economics editor for the BBC, allegedly” and according to Daily Fail “TV face of the credit crunch”
  • Mark Bowman. Not much obvious info out there – spent a lot of time with Gordon Brown. Knows about Swift.
  • Dave Ramsden. Fan of “fiscal credibility”. Trustee of Pro-Bono Economics, who “provide charities with a free service: the expertise of economists to help them answer questions about measurement, results, impact and value”
  • Charles Roxburgh. Read Classics and has an MBA. Was at McKinsey and Co for 26 years.
  • Indra Morris. PPE Oxford. Spent 9 years at Accenture. Various work in civil service around work and pensions and social security.

Drip debate

15 07 2014


Not many people turned up and most of those who did were useless. However, these MPs did a great job:

And the others…? Julian Huppert seemed incapable of making a reasoned argument. Interestingly and worryingly when someone wondered why it wasn’t an open vote, Jack Straw shared his views on the importance of the whip system, toeing the party line – essentially the importance of blindly following the parliamentary party and ignoring constituents, i.e., the people who vote these useless MPs in.

Reply to Glenda Jackson MP re the DRIP bill

13 07 2014

I’m afraid I can’t believe the 95% statistic without further information explaining how it was calculated. This is one illustration of why debate is essential and DRIP should be slowed down. The evidence in the documents states only that communications data “was used” in 95% of “serious” cases. But how essential was it? Which cases? Another misleading section of the evidence notes that 121 “arrests or convictions” were possible. I couldn’t find a recent number for the convictions, but around 2012 it was closer to 30. Arrest does not imply guilt. Nor does conviction imply that blanket collection of communications data led to that conviction.

Do the examples provided justify bulk collection of everyone’s geolocation data? Think what this means. Databases stored in telecoms companies across the country detailing moment-by-moment movements of the entire mobile-phone owning population. Organised criminals will easily overcome this by leaving mobiles at home. Email meta-data can easily be hidden by using internet relays like Tor and free webmail accounts. This mass collection of data will mostly affect innocent people.

There are many ways communications data could be misused by people ranging from telecoms employees, hackers, nearly 600 public bodies - 600! - through to shadowy people in the intelligence services. Let’s not forget what the latter have been up to, e.g., Snowden’s allegations of GCHQ’s mass collection of webcam images. All in the name of protecting national security and economic well being? Councils have even been caught spying on parents to check claims of where they live.

Mass data collection and storage in telecoms companies and webmail providers across the country is just asking for trouble. There is no emergency. DRIP must be carefully dissected and debated, with advice from independent experts. Maintaining the status quo is also no excuse.

Please reconsider, speak to data security and civil liberties experts, and don’t be rushed into a decision.

Glenda Jackson’s and Labour’s position on the Investigation Powers Bill

12 07 2014

This is the same-day reply I received to my email of 11 July:

I am very concerned by news of a data retention and investigation powers bill being rushed through parliament. Labour appears to be offering no opposition. Please, consider finding a way to slow this process down.


Thank you for e-mailing me about the Investigation Powers Bill. I thought it might be useful to give you some further information about my position and the position of the Parliamentary Labour Party on this issue. As a result of a recent judgement by the European Court of Justice, the police and intelligence agencies are in danger of losing vital information which is used in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations as well as counter terrorism investigations and online child abuse.

Serious criminal investigations and counter terrorism intelligence operations must not be jeopardised. That is why we are supporting this emergency legislation which we accept is designed solely to protect existing capabilities, however, given the limited parliamentary time to discuss emergency legislation we have ensured that the Government agree to make this legislation temporary – it will expire in 2016. This will require the Government and Parliament to consult on and consider longer term proposals next year.

We have also secured agreement to our proposal for a major independent review of the legal framework governing data access and interception (the RIPA review we called for earlier this year) in the light of the huge changes in technology. As we have previously argued we need a wider public debate about the right balance between security and privacy online, a review of powers and a stronger oversight. This review will enable longer term questions and concerns to be properly dealt with and debated in time for new legislation. We have also called for and secured further safeguards to restrict the ways in which communications data and intercept can be used to prevent misuse.

We have raised serious concerns with the Government about this rushed process and we will scrutinise the detail in Parliament next week. But we will support the temporary legislation as it would be far too damaging to the fight against serious crime, online child abuse and terrorism to suddenly lose the capabilities now. Our safeguards have secured a better process for longer term reform to make sure we have the right capabilities and right safeguards in place

If I can be of further assistance in this or any other matter in the future please do not hesitate to contact me again.

Yours sincerely,


FIGJAM-based practice

25 06 2014

Alternative to evidence-based practice: FIGJAM-based practice.MM0726_Fig_Jam__66623_std
(F**k I’m Good, Just Ask Me.)

Evidence is for the bureaucrats.
Trust us, we’re experts.
Join the school of the FIGJAM.
Throw your positivist randomised trials on the fire.

“I used the FIGJAM approach and I felt better.”

Coming to a social enterprise near you soon.

Book review: High-quality psychotherapy research by Areán and Kraemer (2013)

8 06 2014

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are great, the gold standard of empirical research. The only thing better than RCTs are systematic reviews of lots and lots of RCTs. (So the story goes.) The reader may have noticed that RCTs evaluating CBT for psychosis have been vigorously debated for many months after a review was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (Jauhar et al., 2014). Maybe not everyone agrees that RCTs are great (disclosure: I have analysed a couple), but I think it’s fair to say they are unavoidable whether you are trying to design or demolish them.

High-quality psychotherapy research by Patricia Arean and Helena Chmura Kraemer sets out to be a “practical, step-by-step guide” to designing and running RCTs. So why bother with an RCT? Observational trials, the authors explain, might involve studying participants who choose one of two or more interventions of interest by simply observing how they get on. This is problematic as differences in outcomes might be due to whatever factors led to them ending up receiving an intervention rather than the effect it had. RCTs use randomisation to overcome this problem so that people differ only in terms of the intervention received. That’s about it for the “why”: don’t expect debate on the epistemology.

The book’s strengths emerge as it develops: it catalogues issues that should worry study investigators and the authors draw on their own experience to offer hints. The Delphi consensus-building approach is introduced to solve the problem of developing an intervention manual and examples are given of how to word a letter asking for feedback on the proposed result. Randomisation techniques are introduced including horror stories of how they have gone wrong and invalidated RCTs. Ideas are provided for control groups, e.g., waiting list, usual care, and “gold standard” controls, and their strengths and drawbacks. The importance of not using pilot study results to determine sample size choices is explained. Guidance is provided on the people required; for example you need three or more therapists, at least two research assistants in case one takes ill, and a good statistician amongst other people. The Appendix includes a sample budget justification. All practical advice.

The text runs to under 200 pages so this could never be a comprehensive guide to all aspects of RCTs. What this book does do well is provide a systematic menu of options and ideas for things to consider. It might possibly give some ideas of what to demolish too, should you be so inclined, but this book is really only for those who are already sold on RCTs and want to get on with the seemingly painful task of designing and running one.


Areán, P. A., & Kraemer, H. C. (2013). High-quality psychotherapy research: from conception to piloting to national trials. Oxford University Press.

Jauhar, S., McKenna, P. J., Radua, J., Fung, E., Salvador, R., & Laws, K. R. (2014). Cognitive-behavioural therapy for the symptoms of schizophrenia: systematic review and meta-analysis with examination of potential bias. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 204, 20–29. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.112.116285



9 05 2014


Rest in peace, Dad.


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