Tag Archives | Statistics

THE BAYESIAN CONSPIRACY: Not World Domination, Just Optimization, or: How to be right almost all of the time, or at least not wrong most of the time

225px-Thomas_BayesOne of my favorite H.L. Mencken quotes is the following: “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” I find this as accurate now as it was when Mencken first wrote it, and I imagine it won’t only be the cynics in the audience agreeing with me. But is the reverse also true?  Is the urge to rule humanity ever a false front for the urge to save it? The Bayesian Conspiracy would like to think so, but then that’s exactly what a group dedicated to ruling humanity would say.

But first: Thomas Bayes is behind all this. Thomas Bayes, born in 1702 to a reverend Joshua Bayes, was a fellow of the Royal Society and was “one of the first non-conformist ministers to be publicly ordained in England.” His Philosophical Transactions became the basis of a statistical technique, now called Bayesian Estimation, for calculating the probability of the validity of a proposition on the basis of a prior estimate of its probability and new relevant evidence.Read the rest

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Is Someone Fudging Texting While Driving Death Statistics?

Texting_while_at_the_wheel_(4351110509)Most of us can probably agree that texting while driving is a dangerous practice, but is it as deadly as we’re being told? Karl Henkel has been looking at the numbers, and what he’s found may surprise you:

The Numbers Game:

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post comparing two data points from two federal agencies: The number of deaths resulting from text messaging while driving and the number of deaths resulting from syphilis.

The conclusion was that more die from syphilis than from texting and driving.

But a new study claims that 3,000 teenagers die annually as a result of texting and driving. Remember, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said in 2011 there were 39 texting and driving “incidents.”

For those scoring at home, the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York says there were 77 times more deaths as a result of TWD than fatal TWD incidents reported by NHTSA.

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Gun Crime Rates Are Actually Down in the United States

firearmsCrimes in which the perpetrator used a firearm are actually on the decline, according to the Pew Center. That doesn’t mean that it’s still not a problem, of course. In any case, most Americans think that “gun crime” is actually higher than it has ever been.

LA Times:

Gun crime has plunged in the United States since its peak in the middle of the 1990s, including gun killings, assaults, robberies and other crimes, two new studies of government data show.

Yet few Americans are aware of the dramatic drop, and more than half believe gun crime has risen, according to a newly released survey by the Pew Research Center.

In less than two decades, the gun murder rate has been nearly cut in half. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, paralleling a broader drop in violent crimes committed with or without guns. Violent crime dropped steeply during the 1990s and has fallen less dramatically since the turn of the millennium.

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Fox News’ Visually Distorted Charts

FlowingData points out a recent graphic from a story on Fox News showing the unemployment rate changes under Obama. The numbers are presumably correct, but do not seem to correspond to the rise and fall of the visual, in which, for instance, 8.6 is a higher number than 8.8 or 8.9. Ah, the “Fox Chart” — what does it mean? Is it a work of postmodern art?

00 Fox

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One In Seven Americans Lives On Food Stamps

viewerSad statistic of the day from IANS via Yahoo News:
Believe it or not, one in seven Americans - 15 percent of the country - now need government-provided food stamps simply to survive, according to latest government figures. Nearly 46 million Americans receive food stamps out of a population of some 311 million people, the US Department of Agriculture, which administers what's officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programme reported Thursday. The continued high unemployment and the weak US economy have contributed to the explosive growth of the food stamp programme with no end in sight to the monthly increases, CNN said noting that 27 million people were dependent on food stamps in October 2007...
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Does ‘Public Opinion’ Really Exist?

100602601_348e347e48_oFlip on cable news, and within twenty minutes the host will cite the latest survey as proof of which candidates should run for office and which foreign enemy we must now smite. Writing for New Left Media, John Brissenden tears apart the idea of opinion polls as a gauge for determining what anyone truly wants. The public may respond to opinion polls, but it’s the media, business, and political elite who compose the questions:

From its inception a century ago, and in its current construction, the terrain of ‘public opinion’ is far from being a neutral space where a representative democracy deliberates and resolves issues. At best, ‘public opinion’, as represented in opinion polls, is a deeply flawed mechanism for gauging the extent of wider support for a particular cause. At worst, it is hostile territory, constructed and owned by the ruling class.

In the 1920s, polling pioneers such as James Gallup advocated polls as a means of capturing and expressing the public will, in a more scientific – and therefore representative – way than, for example, pressure groups.

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The Happiest Person in America

Alvin Wong is happier than you -- statistically speaking (which brings to mind the old saying, "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics," but I digress). As ABC News reports, Mr. Wong is the exact statistical composite of the happiest person:
Alvin Wong always considered himself a happy guy. "I get up in the morning and say, 'I'm very fortunate. I'm living in Hawaii, doing what I want to do,'" Wong said. But when Wong, 69, learned he is the exact statistical composite of the happiest person in America, he wasn't sure what to think. "When The New York Times called and read off all the information about who this person is, I asked if it was a practical joke." According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the happiest person in America is...
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The Fail Files (Vol. I)

The expected ripostes have begun to trickle in from our inaugural post — especially from my favorite aggregation site, Disinfo.com.  I anticipate quite a number of challenges to the self-evident notion that 1-1=0 from the Korporate Kabbalist crowd.  So I thought I’d actually give a name to the series of posts I expect to file answering them, “The Fail Files” — reflecting the laughable durabilty of such a stupid notion as the Laffer Curve.

"You have slain my corporate master! Prepare to die!"

Okay, so here’s the first two questions I choose to answer*

1.  Q:  “But won’t our corporate masters simply pass their taxes on to us in the form of higher prices?”

A:  Not statistically likely.  There is an extremely weak correlation between increases in corporate income tax and inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index–less than 3%, in fact.  Which is within the typical margin of error for a coin flip.  See details here.… Read the rest

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Google Price Index Shows Deflation In U.S.

webhpThe U.S. federal government has long been accused of fudging its consumer price index (CPI) to show more or less growth or decline in prices, depending on political expediencies of the moment. Perhaps this new Google price index will help keep our government a bit more honest. Reported in the Financial Times via CNBC:

Google is using its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics.

The work by Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, highlights how economic data can be gathered far more rapidly using online sources. The official Consumer Price Index data are collected by hand from shops, and only published monthly with a time lag of several weeks.

At the National Association of Business Economists conference in Denver, Colorado, Mr Varian said that the GPI was a work in progress and Google had not yet decided whether to publish it.

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