Category Archives: Complete Blog

Please note: None of the ideas expressed in this blog post are shared, supported, or endorsed in any manner by my employer.

semi-retiring from blogging

Unfortunately I shall be semi-retiring from blogging.

When I say “semi”, I mean that general discussions on my personal website and comment on my personal twitter account will become few and far between. I shall continue to make comments/blogs on my work account.

There are several, in some cases related, reasons:

(1) Standards of practice in DCEs are not improving in health. It’s profoundly depressing when you read a blog entry/article/op-ed that has you nodding fiercely – as just happened – and then you get to the central defence of the paper. And it involves a discrete choice experiment that has not followed proper practice and stands a non-trivial chance of being totally wrong.

(2) Standards of literature review are appalling and getting worse by the year. When I did my PhD you wouldn’t dream of submitting a paper that didn’t show awareness of the literature – particularly if key aspects of your design have been heavily criticised by others.

(3) I get the distinct impression “political arguments” are trumping “data”. This partly follows on from (2): it’s well-known and established why quota sampling is important in DCEs yet “population representative sampling” continues to be used as an “advantage” (ha!) of DCEs done in the field of QALY Decision-making.

If this makes no sense to you then can I respectfully suggest you need to go do some reading?

If you don’t know the finding (from the mid 1980s) that heteroscedasticity on the latent scale is a significant problem in terms of bias, and how it matters in QALY studies, then it makes me think you have a rather large hole in your statistical knowledge and worries me immensely.

I won’t name names, in the interests of discretion, but I’m tired of making this point year in year out, with no result (with the honorouble exception of the EuroQoL Foundation who funded a group I am part of to look at this)….and I showed it empirically in the BWS book. Please read the health chapters to understand this. I’m open to questions by email if you don’t understand the logic.

(4) I spent a lot of my own money showing how attitudes are related to preferences in terms of politics…..which got me zilch…..the media are lemmings….they’d rather all jump off the cliff together than report something different (and based on stronger assumptions) and risk being “the one who was wrong”. Again, lack of statistical training, noted already by people like Ben Goldacre.

So I’m afraid I’m a little tired of all this. I have a business to run. Parents to do a lot of stuff for.

I’m still here on email – ask me if you’re puzzled. I’m not trying to be obstructive here. But I need to concentrate on putting food on the table.

All the best,


Best-Worst voting the answer?

With the truly appalling outcomes for Labour and Lib Dems – compared to where they need to be to be competitive in the General Election in a few weeks – maybe it is time to start thinking about electoral reform again.

Let’s start with that old trope from the LibDems – “fair votes”. Kenneth Arrow got a Nobel prize for proving there’s no such thing. Stop using the term. You decide what are the key welfare criteria you want from your system, then you can choose a voting system that delivers those (and probably not the “unimportant criteria”).

Now, we know there is a strong desire in the UK to preserve the link between “an MP” and “a constituency”. Fair enough. But the Alternative Vote – defeated in the referendum a few years ago – is not the only, or indeed perhaps even best, replacement for first-past-the-post (FPTP)

Tony Marley – co-author on the BWS book with me – has written a lot about the maths behind voting systems. People don’t realise Best-Worst Scaling works as a voting system. Plus I reckon it’d be attractive in the UK.

Here’s an example of how it might work, and deliver a different outcome to that observed in the results just published in the Local Election for the TEES VALLEY.


  • CON – 40,278
  • LAB – 39,797
  • LD – 12,550
  • UKIP – 9,475


  • CON – 48,578
  • LAB – 46,400

So what happened? It’s pretty obvious most UKIP 2nd prefs went Conservative – their boost is suspiciously close to the UKIP vote. Of course we know UKIP has also poached from Labour in LEAVE-dominated northern seats, but I doubt many “kippers” put LAB as 2nd pref.

Where are the rest of the 2nd prefs?

About 7,000 are missing in action. Maybe people just refused to put a 2nd preference or gave them to fringe parties.

But I bet they knew what party they hated most.

Here’s how it might have played out under BWS:

  • LAB and LD voters encouraged to put Conservatives as “least”
  • UKIP put Labour (primarily) as “least” – some will put LD
  • CON put LAB as “least”


  • CON “lose” around 52,000 (LAB/LD) votes
  • LAB “lose” around 50,000 (CON/UKIP) votes

LIBDEM gain – or, if UKIP and some CON voters hate the LDs sufficiently (for their pro-Europe stance) even more than they hate Labour, then the “least” Labour vote leaves their net total beating the LIBDEMs. Either way the Conservatives don’t win – the UKIP/Conservative vote simply isn’t enough to offset both Labour and the LDs.

Of course with turnout around 21% a LOT more potential votes are up for grabs if people are energised to believe their vote(s) matter.

Worth thinking about.



BREXIT survey stuff on work account

Just a reminder that the results of my Best-Worst Scaling survey which showed what would happen if we could know the (LEAVE/REMAIN) view of every eligible voter in the UK is on my work account.

Most follow-up – regional variation, recommendations as to which type of BREXIT are preferred by whom, how 8% of that 28% who never turned out to vote could have held the key to everything – will be on that account too.

Some interesting observations from the raw data – and remember we can look at an individual’s responses here, because BWS gave us 10 data points to estimate 5 parameters:

  • The East Midlands, although heavily LEAVE, skews quite heavily toward a different type of BREXIT to other LEAVE regions.
  • The strong preference for free trade is simply not there….it has shifted – VERY heavily – toward the free movement of people throughout Europe. This “strong positive liking of immigration” is visible nowhere else. The non-English countries/principalities (Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) have a broadly neutral view on immigration. The non East-Midlands part of England strongly dislikes it
  • East Midlanders also have a strong antipathy toward several key aspects of the EU – in fact the pattern of their dislikes looks remarkably consistent with a “Swiss form of BREXIT” – one of the so-called “soft” BREXIT options.
  • They also are the region which loathes the EU budget contribution the most.
  • Their results form a remarkably realistic view, compared to some other segments of British society: they (we – am a Nottinghamian) seem quite happy to sacrifice elements of the single market and the customs union, plus we’ll adopt a constructive view on immigration with our European neighbours if it means we “get some money back”. We’ll also compromise on free trade quite happily.

So what gives? Has everyone round here had some secret training in Ricardo’s work, thus recognising when free trade is not welfare-enhancing?

this is the biggie folks

Sometimes you have to take a punt yourself….when you want something done properly you have to do it yourself…..and I have.

Keep checking my WORK ( website news/blog over the next 10 days…..the study I’m launching will either go nowhere or…..well, let’s just say “it’ll make waves”. No, I”m not revealing what it’s about, but it may make or break me! Sorry for the cloak and dagger….but need to get people looking at the biggest work project to date and which has the potential for causing a right rumpus…..hey it’s me, when do you expect anything less?


eu_support_graph copy


Well, I’ve finally got round to programming a model that:

  • Asks you just five best-worst scaling questions – you choose your “most agreed with principle” and “least agreed with principle” – people take 2-3 mins to answer this tops.
  • Runs a best-worst scaling (BWS) exercise on just YOUR five answers.
  • Spits out three things:
    • A pie chart showing how likely each of the six main options (continued EU membership/Norway option/ Switzerland option/ Canadian option/ Turkish option/ World Trade Organisation option) would best satisfy YOUR principles
    • A pie chart showing the predicted chances of you personally supporting each of the five principles
    • A pie chart showing the predicted chances of you personally rejecting each of the five principles





Thus, the first chart tells you, based on which of these five principles we could “get” under each of the six models, what are the chances of getting “as much as we want” from each model of a new British-European relationship – the six models (one REMAIN, five BREXIT) .

This, like all CORRECT best-worst scaling, is an individual model, giving you PERSONALISED results, not “you averaged with others”.

We can, of course, average across people, slice and dice the results across sex/gender/political affiliation etc, to find out what model is most popular in certain groups. But the point is, my model doesn’t NEED to do that. All because just five BWS questions tell me everything I need to know about what you value.

Gold dust for all the campaigns – and the government, as it struggles to negotiate what type of new relationship would command majority support in the country.

I have deliberately answered the survey as a “hypothetical REMAINer” to show what they should have done – namely made the single European market something people understood and fought for, above other factors.

There are lots of scenarios – including what probably actually happened in that people were in reality “sure” they disliked free movement of people and/or EU budget contributions but unsure about their SEM/FTA/CU support – which lead to a BREXIT outcome as the most likely to achieve their preferences….your relative preferences for these determines which BREXIT model (hard/soft) is most likely to suit you.

Campaign managers/constituency parties/national party executives as well as Jo(e) Public would be very interested in this.


Best-worst capabilities endorsed

Wow. In this article Will Hutton interviews Amartya Sen. A crucial quote:

“…you have to take in, somehow, the unattractiveness of the last as well as the attractiveness of the first candidate.”


Wow, quantifying the worst as well as the best?

Which group has been at the forefront world-wide of doing this?

Yep, we’ve been way ahead of our time.

EU inequality

OK I’m breaking my self-imposed law within a few hours.

Ben says EU good

Ben says EU good





I usually have utmost respect for Ben Goldacre and don’t want to get into trolling territory on twitter but this is a simplistic statement. The first statement is true. The second is highly debatable if you stratify by age.

It is well known (see Bill Mitchell amongst a wealth of others, many of whom could not be seen as “outsiders” but are well within the mainstream) that unemployment in southern EU countries is appalling amongst the young. 50% or so. People with PhDs living at home with parents and, if they’re lucky, doing some barista work. All courtesy of the banking rules that force them to “live within their means – like a household”. All a nonsense paradigm of course if you understand how money is created and destroyed. But the results are in and have been in for many years now. There is, of course, a strong affinity with the EU, given the benefits of the past. However, recent ECB policy means the young can’t afford a home, and get bare-bones healthcare.

spring cleaning

New year = digital spring cleaning time! Ugh. No matter how future-proof you aim to be with how you structure files, aim to work seamlessly across PCs etc it never takes long for reality to change and you realise you need to do the rigmarole again.

When admin is done I’m back to the project looking at comparing Case 2 BWS estimates with DCE ones. I shall look with “fresh eyes” since I haven’t worked on it since before xmas. (Plus we need to get this rounded off so we can submit and get paid, hehe.)

Then it’s the (long-delayed) big marketing push for TF Choices LTD. I’ve had a good number of proposals and funded projects come my way so far but can’t rest on my laurels…time to make sure a load of marketers and others know what I can do for them, in addition to the academic community I was part of!

I can’t think of anything methodological I want to shout about today (phew, they think)….I’ll continue to post anything big or of key relevance but as there are only so many hours in the day and company stuff must come front and centre in 2017 it’s likely that my comments and posts will be related to things I’m doing at the time (like Case 2 vs DCEs) rather than detailed posts triggered by twitter or citation alerts I get.


Happiness: SMH ignores own backyard

Sometimes I feel like a stuck record.

Six years ago I gave a lecture in Sydney explaining that :

  1. Happiness is an idiotic public policy goal.
  2. It isn’t the same as well-being (quality of life) – which is a desirable goal.
  3. The two bear no relationship in old age. Something that the UK and USA have now both already shown. Happiness looks “good” in old age but it’s a cohort/longitudinal effect: either the current cohort of older people are using very different yardsticks “we got through the war” or older people naturally think along the lines of “we got to age 80, we must be doing OK” (despite a wealth of evidence to suggest huge numbers are unhealthy, poor, lonely and generally in need of greater resources).

Well, the Sydney Morning Herald has picked up on one of these silly life satisfaction/happiness surveys which has (finally) cast doubt over the “everything is hunky dory in old age” conclusion….which was what they were proclaiming, along with the US and UK media, until recently, when questions over such “happiness/life satisfaction” methods began to be raised on the back of (now not particularly “new” academic research). Better late than never I suppose.

But do you know why this is so frustrating?

The methods to properly value well-being/quality of life quantitatively, without using these “life satisfaction numbers” were developed – ON THE BACK OF AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH – in 2008 and applied in the UK and Australia very quickly by me and my colleagues.

Why is asking a person for a numerical score bad? Well the bottom line, these were debunked by 2001 in the top academic marketing journals in the world. Did you know that “4” in Mandarin also has connotations with “death” and so is considered an unlucky (and unused) number by a lot of Chinese people? That two other numbers we could use in these scales have a Cantonese connotation with something that an internet family filter will kill – suffice to say “flaccid” and “hard” are the relevant descriptors.

That’s just for starters.

We have methods to properly describe well-being using a framework devised by one winner of the Economics “Nobel” prize and a method to properly value it using a framework of another.

And the ironic thing? All this work came together based on work done in Sydney 10 years ago.

But the Sydney Morning Herald, although running one or two little pieces on quiet news days, never had the courage to showcase that Australian research. It wasn’t until the Brits and the Yanks showed it that it now appears as a major article. Tall poppy Syndrome anyone?

For almost 6 years I worked just down the road from the SMH and the ABC, yet was only asked to do “filler” stories. I feel sad rather than annoyed. By the time I left Australia I’d realised what the score was. It’s a shame. Sexy news, rather than good research wins out – and that’s NOT specific to Australia. But when the result is whole generations of people being under-resourced, one has to stop for a moment and think.