The Liverpool View: Better data, better lives

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Dr Laura Bonnett is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Liverpool’s Department of Biostatistics.

“Declare you are a statistician and it is likely someone will quote, “lies, damned lies, and statistics!” Of course, this is unfair as if you have good quality data, and handle it appropriately the results really can be life-changing.

Today is the second ever World Statistics Day, and the theme is Better Data, Better Lives. The first one was back in 2010, and the next one is not until 2020, so this offers a rare opportunity to promote the benefit of statistics. I have the pleasure of handling and analysing data every day, and I truly believe that we can improve lives through statistics. As a biostatistician, the data I see relates to particular medical conditions, primarily tuberculosis (TB) and epilepsy.

I currently work within the PreDiCT-TB Consortium with Dr Geraint Davies at the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, and Professor Paula Williamson at the Institute of Translational Medicine. This multi-centre collaborative project aims to find the most rapid and reliable ways to identify the best combinations of new drugs, and hasten their arrival into the clinic.

Clinical trials have been ongoing in TB since 1948 – in fact, the first ever clinical trial tested medication for TB. Since then, hundreds of trials have taken place across the globe. Although these are interesting individually, it can be difficult to see the overall picture. However, as a statistician I am able to combine all the existing evidence to determine the most successful treatments for patients.

My research with epilepsy primarily considers the risk of a future seizure. If someone has a seizure, they must temporarily forfeit their driving license. The length of the ban is decided by the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) guidelines, which used to be based on clinical experience alone. However, using data from a very large clinical trial (the SANAD Study, run by Professor Tony Marson here at the University of Liverpool) I was able to estimate how long someone should refrain from driving until their risk of a future seizure fell below the DVLA’s risk threshold.

This work has certainly improved lives – not only has it ensured that the DVLA’s guidelines are informed by the best possible evidence; it is also informing the harmonisation of driving regulations across the European Union.

Additionally, I have recently been awarded an NIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship to continue my research in epilepsy. I plan to improve lives for patients with epilepsy, and patients with asthma, by estimating the time to their next seizure or attack, rather than just the chance it might happen.

Many people claim to be scared of statistics, but I believe statistics and the appropriate handling of good quality data should be inspiring. So, the next time you meet a statistician do not mention lies; instead ask them how they are improving people’s lives and prepared to be amazed at their response!”

To find out more about statistics, including the Royal Statistical Society’s statistical literacy campaign “getstats” visit

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