Where does outreach funding go?

Over the past 17 years I've been based in Manchester and Cardiff. During my time in those places I was involved with a few public engagement grants from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). These grants are called "Small Awards" (there has also been a "Large Awards Scheme" in the past) and are open to anyone who wants to promote the science areas covered by STFC. They are awarded in two rounds each year. For instance, I was on a team that got three STFC Small Awards to create and improve the Jodcast.

I've benefited from the STFC Small Awards but something has niggled at me over the years. After each round is complete I look at the list of funded projects and I've noticed that very few were from the area I grew up in - Yorkshire. I've been meaning to check if this was just my perception or was actually a thing and I've finally gotten around to it. I have converted all the PDFs listing previous award winners between 1999-2014 into a simple data table, written some code, and started to visualise the data. Here is a heat map of UK funding scaled by the population in each region.

UK map of STFC funding
Map showing STFC Small Award funding between 1999-2014 scaled by population in each UK region. The scaling is linear with the North East at 0.09 pence/person/year and Wales on 0.56 pence/person/year. For the numbers see the table.

These data show that the North East and Yorkshire don't get an equal share of physics outreach funding. It is a little surprising that Leeds - the UK's 3rd largest city - only got 2 outreach grants over a 15 year period. Those were both for a theatre company that did national tours - none involved the university. So is this a bias in STFC? Given the make-up of the Small Award panel I really don't think so. I suspect that the bias is at the application stage with few people from the North East and Yorkshire applying.

If you are from Yorkshire or the North East and want to communicate physics, please consider applying for a Small Award. The next round closes on 9th October 2014 at 4pm BST. Go apply.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 27th Aug 2014 (16:40 BST) | Permalink

Comparing areas

On Twitter over the weekend I saw a couple of retweets of an infographic comparing the money raised to combat various diseases and the number of deaths caused by those diseases in the US. The infographic is interesting. It is also unintentionally misleading within each column.

Money raised vs deaths
An infographic comparing money raised for various diseases and the deaths for the same diseases. The original source is unknown. I have included the image here for critique.

The problem stems from the fact that 2D shapes (circles) have been used to represent the values but the infographic artist has scaled the shapes by their diameters. When we look at the graphic we naturally compare the areas of the circles. Unfortunately, areas scale as the square of the diameter: if a value is twice as big and you double the diameter, you've made the area four times as big. As a result, this infographic distorts the relative values. For instance it makes it look as though breast cancer accounts for about 72% of the money raised when it is actually about 51%. In the deaths column, it looks as though heart disease accounts for about 92% of deaths whereas it is actually 64%.

I've made a version of the infographic to show the difference between scaling the circles by diameter and scaling them by area.

Money raised vs deaths
A comparison of comparisons. The money raised and the deaths with the circles scaled by diameter (misleading) and by area.

The moral of this post: if you are using 2D shapes to show relative values, make sure you scale them correctly.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Sunday 24th Aug 2014 (23:35 BST) | Permalink
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