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We go to war with the data we have, not the data we want

This post is by Phil. Psychologists perform experiments on Canadian undergraduate psychology students and draws conclusions that (they believe) apply to humans in general; they publish in Science. A drug company decides to embark on additional trials that will cost tens of millions of dollars based on the results of a careful double-blind study….whose patients are […]

Help with this problem, win valuable prizes

                This post is by Phil. In the comments to an earlier post, I mentioned a problem I am struggling with right now. Several people mentioned having (and solving!) similar problems in the past, so this seems like a great way for me and a bunch of other […]

The more likely it is to be X, the more likely it is to be Not X?

This post is by Phil Price. A paper by Wood, Douglas, and Sutton looks at “Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories.”  Unfortunately the  subjects were 140 undergraduate psychology students, so one wonders how general the results are.  I found this sort of arresting: In Study 1 (n=137), the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her […]

Benford’s Law suggests lots of financial fraud

This post is by Phil. I love this post by Jialan Wang. Wang “downloaded quarterly accounting data for all firms in Compustat, the most widely-used dataset in corporate finance that contains data on over 20,000 firms from SEC filings” and looked at the statistical distribution of leading digits in various pieces of financial information. As […]

Another day, another stats postdoc

This post is from Phil Price.  I work in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and I am looking for a postdoc who knows substantially more than I do about time-series modeling; in practice this probably means someone whose dissertation work involved that sort of thing.  The work involves developing models […]

Even a good data display can sometimes be improved

When I first saw this graphic, I thought “boy, that’s great, sometimes the graphic practically makes itself.” Normally it’s hard to use lots of different colors to differentiate items of interest, because there’s usually not an intuitive mapping between color and item (e.g. for countries, or states, or whatever). But the colors of crayons, what […]

Censoring on one end, “outliers” on the other, what can we do with the middle?

This post was written by Phil. A medical company is testing a cancer drug. They get a 16 genetically identical (or nearly identical) rats that all have the same kind of tumor, give 8 of them the drug and leave 8 untreated…or maybe they give them a placebo, I don’t know; is there a placebo […]

How the ignorant idiots win, explained. Maybe.

According to a New York Times article, cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have a new theory about rational argument: humans didn’t develop it in order to learn about the world, we developed it in order to win arguments with other people. “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince […]

Improvement of 5 MPG: how many more auto deaths?

This entry was posted by Phil Price. A colleague is looking at data on car (and SUV and light truck) collisions and casualties. He’s interested in causal relationships. For instance, suppose car manufacturers try to improve gas mileage without decreasing acceleration. The most likely way they will do that is to make cars lighter. But […]

Worst statistical graphic I have seen this year

This gets my vote for the worst statistical graphic I (Phil) have seen this year. If you’ve got a worse one, put a link in the comments. “Credit” for this one goes to “Peter and Maria Hoey (Source: Tommy McCall/Environmental Law Institute).”

Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

We all have opinions about the federal budget and how it should be spent. Infrequently, those opinions are informed by some knowledge about where the money actually goes. It turns out that most people don’t have a clue. What about you? Here, take this poll/quiz and then compare your answers to (1) what other people said, in a CNN poll that asked about these same items and (2) compare your answers to the real answers.

Quiz is below the fold.






Graphical insights into the safety of cycling.

This article by Thomas Crag, at Copenhagenize, is marred by reliance on old data, but it’s so full of informative graphical displays — most of them not made by the author, I think — that it’s hard to pick just one. But here ya go. This figure shows fatalities (among cyclists) versus distance cycled, with […]

Lies, Damn Lies…that’s pretty much it.

This post is by Phil Price.

We’re all used to distortions and misleading statements in political discourse — the use of these methods one thing on which politicians are fairly nonpartisan. But I think it’s rare to see an outright lie, especially about a really major issue. We had a doozy yesterday, when Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann presented a graphic that attributed the 2009 federal budget to the Obama administration. Oddly, most of the other facts and figures she presented were correct, although some of them seem calculatedly misleading. If you’re going to lie about something really big, why not just lie about everything?






“If it saves the life of a single child…” and other nonsense

This post is by Phil Price. An Oregon legislator, Mitch Greenlick, has proposed to make it illegal in Oregon to carry a child under six years old on one’s bike (including in a child seat) or in a bike trailer. The guy says “”We’ve just done a study showing that 30 percent of riders biking […]

News coverage of statistical issues…how did I do?

This post is by Phil Price. A reporter once told me that the worst-kept secret of journalism is that every story has errors. And it’s true that just about every time I know about something first-hand, the news stories about it have some mistakes. Reporters aren’t subject-matter experts, they have limited time, and they generally […]

“Tied for Warmest Year On Record”

The National Climatic Data Center has tentatively announced that 2010 is, get this, “tied” for warmest on record. Presumably they mean it’s tied to the precision that they quote (1.12 F above the 20th-century average). The uncertainty in the measurements, as well as some fuzziness about exactly what is being measured (how much of the […]

Reinventing the wheel, only more so.

Posted by Phil Price: A blogger (can’t find his name anywhere on his blog) points to an article in the medical literature in 1994 that is…well, it’s shocking, is what it is. This is from the abstract: In Tai’s Model, the total area under a curve is computed by dividing the area under the curve […]

Consulting: how do you figure out what to charge?

I’m a physicist by training, statistical data analyst by trade. Although some of my work is pretty standard statistical analysis, more often I work somewhere in a gray area that includes physics, engineering, and statistics. I have very little formal statistics training but I do study in an academic-like way to learn techniques from the […]

Works almost as well, costs a lot less

No matter how famous you are, billions of people have never heard of you.

I was recently speaking with a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a Californian in a tight race this year. I mentioned the fivethirtyeight.com prediction for him, and he said “fivethirtyeight.com? What’s that?”