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Politics and statistics — not such an unlikely couple

Pedro Saraiva 2.jpg

Discussing politics can be tricky business, but Professor Pedro Saraiva, two-time parliamentarian in Portugal and professor of chemical engineering at the University of Coimbra, makes it interesting, objective and entertaining. 

Professor Saraiva was our closing keynote for Discovery Summit in Prague this past March. Early in his talk, he asked the audience (which included many statisticians) to raise their hands if they like politics and politicians. After gauging the response (no hands are raised), he makes the point that "statisticians can help improve even things they don’t like.” 

In his talk, "Statistical Thinking and Politics: Perspectives from a Parliamentary Experience," Professor Saraiva shows how statistical thinking and applications with the right data ultimately lead to better results, increased efficiency and efficacy. From his statistical perspective, he viewed the decision to go into politics as an “unknown domain through an (un)designed experiment that lasted for six years.”

He says when he refers to facts, he is referring to true facts (because he doesn’t know what alternative facts are all about). One of the paradoxes he notes is that the world is becoming more complex while commentary from politicians is becoming more superficial. This is one of three paradoxes he covers, adding levity to advocate more statistical thinking in politics to guide better decision-making.




Another stand-out comment he made was this: “I never introduce myself as a statistician. I say ‘We are here to improve things.’” I think it’s admirable that he infused more statistical thinking into politics and that he was willing to experiment with his own career. Now he has some great stories to tell!

Join us for this month’s episode of Analytically Speaking to see how Professor Saraiva applied his statistical perspective to turn data into understanding and value during his tenure as a member of Portugal’s parliament.

If you can’t join us for the premier on July 12, you can always catch the on-demand version at your convenience.

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