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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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 […]
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?
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to think that Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in Kenya. But why? People choose to be Republicans or Democrats because they prefer the policy or ideology of one party or another, and it’s not obvious that there should be any connection whatsoever between those factors and their judgment of a factual matter such as Obama’s religion or country of birth.
In fact, people on opposite sides of many issues, such as gay marriage, immigration policy, global warming, and continued U.S. presence in Iraq, tend to disagree, often by a huge amount, on factual matters such as whether the children of gay couples have more psychological problems than the children of straight couples, what are the economic impacts of illegal immigration, what is the effect of doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and so on.
Of course, it makes sense that people with different judgment of the facts would have different views on policies: if you think carbon dioxide doesn’t cause substantial global warming, you’ll be on the opposite side of the global warming debate from someone who thinks it does. But often the causality runs the other way: instead of choosing a policy that matches the facts, people choose to believe the facts that back up their values-driven policies. The issue about Obama’s birth country is an extreme example: it’s clear that people did not first decide whether Obama was born in the U.S., and then decide whether to vote Republican or Democratic. They are choosing their fact based on their values, not the other way around. Perhaps it is helpful to think of people as having an inappropriate prior distribution that makes them more likely to believe things that are aligned with their desires.
This blog is threatening to turn into Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, Social Science, and Literature Criticism, but I’m just going to go with the conversational flow, so here’s another post about an essayist.
I’m not a big fan of Janet Malcolm’s essays — and I don’t mean I don’t like her attitude or her pro-murderer attitude, I mean I don’t like them all that much as writing. They’re fine, I read them, they don’t bore me, but I certainly don’t think she’s “our” best essayist. But that’s not a debate I want to have right now, and if I did I’m quite sure most of you wouldn’t want to read it anyway. So instead, I’ll just say something about John McPhee.
As all right-thinking people agree, in McPhee’s long career he has written two kinds of books: good, short books, and bad, long books. (He has also written many New Yorker essays, and perhaps other essays for other magazines too; most of these are good, although I haven’t seen any really good recent work from him, and some of it has been really bad, by his standards). But…