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Macfarlane, Alison

Macfarlane, Alison
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The following is an interim description which may change when detailed cataloguing takes place.

This archive relates to different strands of Alison Macfarlane's work as a Statistician and includes: records from her work with the MRC Air Pollution Unit; her involvement with the Radical Statistics Group; records donated to RCOG; and records donated to NPEU.

Records acquired from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (RCOG) relate to Alison Macfarlane's perinatal research and work on maternity care and the health of women and babies. This area of Alison Macfarlane's work focused on using statistics and epidemiology to identify risk factors for adverse outcomes in pregnancy and early life, including geographical, environmental and social factors. Includes papers and correspondence relating to Alison Macfarlane's work, papers and minutes from various maternity and child mortality groups and committees that Alison participated in, as well as conferences and workshops attended. The papers also capture Alison's involvement influencing government legislation and policy and lobbying for improved maternity services. There are also some papers on the Health Statistics Users Group, and Radical Statistics papers. Topics include: place of birth / settings for birth, child mortality, statistics, multiple births (twins and triplets), abortion, and inequalities in health and maternity care, including cuts to NHS spending and maternity services.

The MRC Air Pollution Unit records include records relating to Alison Macfarlane's research with the Unit, including: data, research notes and papers, microfilms showing methodology of data analysis, correspondence, offprints, unpublished papers and reports, papers on daily mortality, and MPhil dissertation by Haroulla Filakti. The majority of the records date from the 1970s and 1980s.

The Radical Statistics records include papers relating to two sub-groups of Radstats: the Health Group, 1976-1993; and the Nuclear Disarmament Group, 1981-1988. Records include materials from the Health Group; materials from the Nucler Disarmament Group; drafts of publications; research data; materials compiled for use in articles / contributed to; conference papers; parliamentary lobbying material; subject files; correspondence; articles and reports; pamphlets and grey literature collected from other bodies, including pamphlets from 1980s right wing think tanks; notes of meetings, talks and presentations; mailings and orders for publications; teaching materials; and press cuttings. Subjects covered include: the National Health Service (NHS), inc. health reorganisation, NHS performance, private health care, resource allocation, Health and Medicines Bill; Private Finance Initiative (PFI); Health of the Nation; Labour and Socialist Health Association (SHA); Gulf War.



Physical description

171 boxes 3 boxes of born-digital carriers


Acquisition note

Born-digital records have been extracted for further processing. Corporate records belonging to NPEU and RCOG have been retained by those institutions for their own archives.

Biographical note

Alison Macfarlane is a statistician whose work has led her to work on subjects as diverse as air pollution, perinatal deaths, nuclear disarmament, epidemiology, and NHS funding cuts. Using statistics, her work considers how factors such as ethnicity, gender, social class and age, healthcare provision, and challenges how politicians skew and misuse statistics to fit their own agendas. After studying statistics at UCL, Alison worked as a statistician in agricultural research, transport surveys and on the health effects of air pollution. She then went to London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1975 to work on analyses of data relevant to the health of babies and children.

From the late 1970s onwards Macfarlane has concentrated on health statistics, working initially at the newly-formed National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit on research related to maternity care and the health of women and babies. In 2001 she joined the Department of Midwifery at City University, retiring in March 2011 while continuing with part-time research. Alison has also worked with the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Macfarlane has also undertaken research relating to links between air pollution and health for the MRC Air Pollution Unit. The MRC Air Pollution Research Unit was established as a direct response to the great smog that affected London in 1952. It was headed by Patrick Lawther and Robert Waller and based at Barts. Through a series of epidemiological studies the Unit demonstrated a direct relationship between levels of smoke, sulphur dioxide and chronic bronchitis and produced a series of studies which were influential in underpinning the UK's Clean Air Act and also led to the first World Health Organization guidelines on air quality. The Unit closed in the mid-1970s, although some of its work may have been subsumed by other MRC units.

AMF worked for the MRC Air Pollution Research Unit between 1972 and 1975. She took over a study involving analysis of daily mortality statistics, which had been running since the late 1950s. Data was received from the GRO and from 7 pollution monitoring sites and the two plotted against each other. These were the early days of computerised data analysis, when results were output to microfilm (there are examples in the collection, showing the methodology).

Macfarlane has also been heavily involved with the work of The Radical Statistics Group (also known as Radstats). This group was formed in 1975 as part of the radical science movement associated with the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science. Those statisticians involved were concerned about the political implications of their work and the extent to which official statistics reflected governmental purposes. They preferred instead to promote the use of statistics in campaigns for social change.

Alison Macfarlane has been particularly involved in two aspects of Radstats activity: the Nuclear Disarmament Group and the Health Group. The latter produced a number of high-profile challenges to the government use of health statistics from the 1970s onwards.

In October 2010, she stood down from her role as research lead, but has continued to research part time since retiring from full time work in March 2011 [accurate as of 2020].

Accruals note

No further accruals are expected.

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