Posts Tagged ‘Statistics’

The younger generation’s new normal

December 3, 2018

No one under the age of 32 has ever experienced a cooler-than-average month on this planet.


The Earth has been warmer than average for 406 months in a row by Andrew Freedman for Axios.  Hat tip to

How to nudge with statistics

September 23, 2014

… Between 15 and 20 percent of regular smokers, let’s say men sixty years old, who have smoked a pack a day for forty years will die of lung cancer.

But regulators don’t publicize that number, even though it ought to frighten people away from smoking, because they figure that some smokers may irrationally take shelter in the complementary statistic of the 80–85 percent of smokers who will not die of lung cancer.

So instead they say that smoking raises the chances of getting lung cancer.  That will nudge many people toward the right behavior, even though it doesn’t in itself provide an assessment of how dangerous smoking actually is at least not without a baseline percentage of nonsmokers who get cancer.

Or consider the way lawmakers nudge people away from drunk driving. 

There are about 112 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among adults in the US each year. Yet in 2010, the number of people who were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes 10,228 was an order of magnitude lower than that, i.e., almost one ten thousandth of the number of incidents of DWI.

The lawmakers don’t say that 0.009 percent of drunk drivers cause fatal accidents implying, correctly, that 99.991 percent of drunk drivers do not.

They say instead that alcohol is responsible for nearly one third (31 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States—which nudges people in the right direction, even though in itself it tells us next to nothing about how dangerous drunk driving is.

via It’s All for Your Own Good by Jeremy Waldron | The New York Review of Books.

This quote is part of a review of Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism by a law professor named Cass Sunstein.   His argument is that government officials and others in positions of authority should not force people to do what’s good for them, but instead set things up so that the objectively best choice is the path of least resistance.

An example would be a corporation that automatically enrolled employees in a 401(k) savings plan, unless they explicitly refuse.  Or, more controversially, a Department of Motor Vehicles automatically signing up motors as organ donors unless they checked a box opting out.

I don’t like the idea of being manipulated for my own good, but I don’t have a strong objection of Sunstein’s philosophy, in view of all the advertisers and political propagandists that are trying to manipulate me for their good and not my own.

Like it or not, we’re all being nudged in different ways, sometimes to our benefit and more often the reverse.  If we don’t like it, we need to be alert to see how we are being nudged.  It is better to be a nudger than a nudgee.


Correlation is not causation

August 23, 2014


I found this when I came across the Spurious Correlations web site.

The difference between average and typical

July 23, 2014


Here is a case study in statistics—showing why what is statistically average is not necessarily typical.

If all the wealth in the United States were divided equally, every American household would have $301,000.  But only a minority of Americans have that much net worth.  The more meaningful measure is the median, the point that divides the wealthiest half of Americans from the poorest half.  That midpoint is $45,000, a much lower figure.

Some of the reasons middle class Americans have less than their counterparts in other advanced countries is that we have greater debt and less equity in our homes, and also have to pay more for higher education and medical care, which reduces the ability to save.

For details, click on Middle class Americans: Not so rich as we think by Tami Luhby for CNN Money.

Nate Silver and the triumph of fact

November 13, 2012

One of the big winners in the 2012 national election is Nate Silver, a statistician-blogger who predicted President Obama’s election victory.  He called every state correctly and predicted the margin of the popular vote correctly, while better-known pundits, especially on the Republican side, were embarrassingly wrong.   He was subject to personal abuse as well as accusations of left-wing bias from readers who forgot that he predicted the Republican comeback in Congress correctly in 2010.

natesilverforecast2012He was lucky as well as right.  Based on the odds that Silver himself quoted, it wouldn’t have been surprising or discrediting if one of the swing states had gone otherwise than as he predicted.  But he certainly deserves his success and acclaim, for basing his conclusions on fact and logic rather than intuition and wishful thinking.

I’m not surprised that Silver got his start as an analyst of baseball statistics.  I think that on the average daily newspaper, sports writers and their readers have a more sophisticated understanding of statistics than political and business writers do.

Click on Nate Silver wiki for his biography, including his background as a baseball statistician and how during one period of his life he supported himself playing on-line poker.   If you read it, you’ll better appreciate the following comments by Bob Lefsetz on The Big Picture web log on the lessons of Nate Silver’s career success.


Campbell’s law

April 10, 2011

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is supposed to monitor.


DEBTris: where the billions went

January 5, 2011

This is the first of a series of animated visualizations planned by David McCandless, a London-based data journalist and information designer.  Click on Information Is Beautiful to see his web site, which includes a UK version of this animation.

Here is McCandless’s presentation of similar information in static form.  Click twice to enlarge.

Click on Information Is Beautiful visualizations to browse more presentations like this.

Hat tip to The Browser.