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Weekend Links

April 6, 2014

I’m not going to make a habit of this, but there have been some great articles for interested actuaries this week that I wanted to point to. Tim Harford in the FT wondered whether in our enthusiasm for Big Data, we have forgotten some statistical principles: Four years after the original Nature paper was published, Nature News had sad tidings to convey: the latest flu outbreak had claimed an unexpected victim: Google Flu Trends. After reliably providing a swift and accurate account of flu outbreaks for several winters, the theory-free, data-rich model had lost its nose for where flu was going. Google’s model pointed to a severe outbreak but when the slow-and-steady data from the CDC arrived, they showed that Google’s estimates of the spread of flu-like illnesses were overstated by almost a factor of two. The problem was that Google did not know – could not begin to know –…

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How many ships disappear each year?

March 30, 2014
Oil tanker in Greenwich, Sydney

When I read The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, one statistic that astonished me was that “two large ships sink every week on average [worldwide] ” according to Dr Wolfgang Rosenthal. The author, Susan Carson, suggests that the numbers are high, but that “every year, on average, more than two dozen large ships sink, or otherwise go missing, taking their crews along with them.” In a prescient comment, she says, “imagine the headlines if even a single 747 slipped off the map with all its passengers and was never heard from again”. In…

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Mortality statistics in Australia

March 23, 2014
Mortality statistics in Australia

Every year, the ABS puts out an analysis of mortality statistics for the calendar year, imaginatively entitled Deaths. And most years I post a quick analysis. The most recent one is based on mortality statistics for the calendar year 2012. This year I’ve focused on mortality improvement, and what has been happening over the past generation. The first graph I’ve shown is a little busy, but broadly what it shows is that the biggest improvement in male mortality rates has been at younger ages. From newborns until around the age of 20, mortality rates have improved every year, for the last…

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Glass ceiling statistics

March 16, 2014
Glass Ceiling

Back as part of the International Women’s Day festivities, Tony Abbott, speaking at an event in Canberra on Tuesday to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, declared that while we still have some work to do Australia is a nation which has just about “smashed every glass ceiling”. “If you look at our country and the deal that it gives to women; it is obviously pretty good,” he said. “It wasn’t so long ago as a Sydneysider that…

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Is MoS Accounting to blame for the woes of the Australian retail life insurance industry?

March 9, 2014
Is MoS Accounting to blame for the woes of the Australian retail life insurance industry?

At the Actuaries Institute Financial Services Forum, in May, I’m running a Panel discussion entitled Is MOS Accounting Responsible for the Woes of the Retail Life Industry? This post gives some background to the question and why it seemed a good topic for a panel discussion. What are the woes of the Retail Life Industry? I posted earlier this year about the issues affecting the Australian life industry as a whole. Annualised profit as a percentage of…

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Quick hit: Bayesian Statistics

March 2, 2014

Bayseian probability seems quite obvious once it is explained, but it is incredibly counterintuitive. Using Bayesian methods is one of the “thinking slow” methods that Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow identifies – very few people can do it intuitively. So via Barry Ritholtz, here is a great example of why it matters from Nature: Go ahead and read the whole article. Working out what is likely to be really going on in an experiment…

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Management ideas come from surprising places

February 23, 2014
Management ideas come from surprising places

This week at work we had an hour long session with Tim Sharp from the Happiness Institute. He was talking about the power of optimism, and why optimism is not just positive thinking, but is about focusing on the positives, on those things you have control over, and just getting on with things. He talked about the way in which optimism and pessimism can show up in how you deal with challenges. If you think about…

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Book Review: The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

February 16, 2014

The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life, by Uri Gneezy and John List When I discovered this book, I realised it was the perfect book for this blog. A book about behavioural economics, which also examines gender and other discrimination through an economic lens. What could be better? Uri Gneezy and John List are economists, who focus on experimental economics – creating and investigating real experiments in economic behaviour to tease…

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Blogging for actuaries

February 9, 2014

  There are as many schools of thought about blogging as there are blogs.  Everyone has their own reason, but here are a few of my favourites: It gives you a creative outlet Blogging is a creative activity. The act of crafting a post, working out what your message is and communicating it is deeply satisfying. Actuaries are creative people and getting creative with a liability valuation is generally frowned upon. One of my favourite blogs…

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The gender gap in longevity

February 2, 2014
Beer - not great for your longevity, but better than vodka

People continue to live longer and longer around the world (for an interesting discussion of how superannuation should respond, see Paul Keating on Cuffelinks), which is mostly good. But different parts of populations have quite different experiences of mortality improvement. The (UK) Institute of Actuaries publishes a regular longevity bulletin. The latest one, about gender differences, showed just how different those different experiences can be. It is a summary of the experience of gender gaps in longevity…

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Book roundup for 2013

January 27, 2014
Reading in the tropics

As an annual exercise, I’ve done a quick review of all the non fiction books I read in 2013. You can find it here. Enjoy! The 2012 one was here.

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The business kiss

December 15, 2013
The Kiss, by Auguste Rodin

One of my earliest posts on this blog was about the business kiss. When is the right time to kiss in business? We had a long discussion about this at work the other day; probably because we were at a combination farewell and Christmas dinner – both events guaranteed to increase the propensity for kissing. Dale Murray from the (UK) Telegraph is uncomfortable with the business kiss, “Of course men don’t kiss each other at…

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About me

My name is Jennifer Lang, and I am an actuary working in financial services in Sydney. This site consists of my own personal views, and does not necessarily reflect the views of my employers - past, present or future.

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