Boing Boing 

When scientists hoard data, no one can tell what works

Peer review and replication are critical to the scientific method, but in medical trials, a combination of pharma company intransigence and scientists' fear of being pilloried for human error means that the raw data that we base life-or-death decisions upon is routinely withheld, meaning that the errors lurk undetected in the data for years -- and sometimes forever.

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Being a cop just keeps on getting safer

The police will tell you that the reason they're arming up with surplus military gear and pursuing a shoot-first posture to their job is that being a cop is deadly business -- but as the saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

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Statistics Done Wrong: The Woefully Complete Guide

From a brilliant Web-rant to an indispensable guide to the perils of statistics and their remedies, Alex Reinhart's Statistics Gone Wrong is a spotter's guide to arrant nonsense cloaked in mathematical respectability.Read the rest

Existential risks: RPGs versus real life

In 2012, Jim Henley got tongue cancer, but it was the good kind -- his odds are like making a save-against-death throw on a D8 and needing to beat a one.

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Improving the estimate of US police killings

Patrick Ball and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group applied the same statistical rigor that he uses in estimating the scale of atrocities and genocides for Truth and Reconciliation panels in countries like Syria and Guatemala to the problem of estimating killing by US cops, and came up with horrific conclusions.

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"Stranger Danger" to children vastly overstated

Oft-cited stats about child abduction puts kidnappers behind every bush. But the numbers are old and frequently mangled, distorting our understanding of genuine risks to children.Read the rest

Movies that critics hate and audiences love (and vice versa)

It is no surprise that critics and viewers alike agree that The Godfather is the "best film" among the ~2600 films considered on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 100% score among professional reviewers and a 98% score from the audience. It is perhaps somewhat more surprising to learn which films divide those two groups; thanks to Benjamin Moore, we can contemplate that...

“Overrated” and “underrated” are slippery terms to try to quantify. An interesting way of looking at this, I thought, would be to compare the reviews of film critics with those of Joe Public, reasoning that a film which is roundly-lauded by the Hollywood press but proved disappointing for the real audience would be “overrated” and vice versa.

To get some data for this I turned to the most prominent review aggregator: Rotten Tomatoes...

On the whole it should be noted that critics and audience agree most of the time, as shown by the Pearson correlation coefficient between the two scores (0.71 across >1200 films). [But] using our earlier definition it’s easy to build a table of those films where the audience ending up really liking a film that was panned by critics:

Here we’re looking at those films which the critics loved, but paying audiences were then less enthused:

Explore an interactive version of the chart at the top of this post here; and read more of Moore's methodology and findings here.

XKCD's brilliant explanation of Fermi Estimation

The latest installment in Randall Munroe's XKCD "What If?" series is called Paint the Earth and it is amazing. One of Munroe's readers wanted to know "Has humanity produced enough paint to cover the entire land area of the Earth?" and Munroe uses this as a springboard for explaining Fermi estimation, a powerful, counter-intuitive tool that has applications in many fields.

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XKCD's "Frequency" - using blinking GIFs to visualize the relative frequency of the momentous and trivial

In Frequency, the latest XKCD cartoon, Randall Munroe has assembled a grid of animated GIFs representing various events in the universe, each keyed to blink in the frequency in which they occur in reality. As with the best of Munroe's work, it's a mix of the trenchant and the silly, and the juxtapositions are smart and provocative. There's real genius in putting "50,000 plastic bottles are produced" and "50,000 plastic bottles are recycled" next to each other, the former blinking much more often than the latter -- but the best part is "A Sagittarius named Amelia drinks a soda," just above them, mixing up the alarming and the humorous.

The other juxtapositions are just as delicious -- one birth/one death; China builds a car/Japan builds a car/Germany builds a car/US builds a car/someone else builds a car; someone buys "To Kill a Mockingbird"/someone's cat kills a mockingbird -- and so on. This being XKCD, you can be sure that Munroe has an absurdly well-thought-through process for establishing and documenting his numbers, too.

The tool-tip notes that he wanted to include pitch-drops in the chart, but "it turns out the gif format has some issues with decade-long loops." Frequency (via IO9)

Representation of women in games and movies: the awful numbers

Catriona tumbled these enraging statistics about gender and representation in games and films for 2013:

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MPAA asks judge to exclude evidence on piracy losses

In a crowded field of talented practitioners, MPAA piracy figures are standout examples of misleading, silly, outright BS. No wonder then, that the MPAA has asked a judge to exclude any data on losses due to piracy from its lawsuit against Isohunt.

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Statistics explained with the help of modern dance

If you're the type of person who really needs some good visuals to make a concept stick in your head, this series of YouTube videos made by the British Psychological Society Media Centre will help you remember the meanings behind statistical concepts like "correlation", "frequency distributions", and "sampling error". There are four videos in the series so far, and they do a great job of painting pictures around abstract ideas. Bonus: Soothing music.

Via Openculture

Death and the Mainframe: How data analysis can help document human rights atrocities

Between 1980 and 2000, a complicated war raged in Peru, pitting the country’s government against at least two political guerilla organizations, and forcing average people to band together into armed self-defense committees.

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Solving Monopoly with Markov chains

Business Insider's Walter Hickey did the math on Monopoly, calculating the most frequently landed-up squares (taking into account dice probability, Go To Jail events, and Community Chest/Chance cards) and conceived of a supposedly optimal strategy for buying and building upon property. I still hate Monopoly, but I suspect that this would make it less boring (for a while, at least).

How To Use Math To Crush Your Friends At Monopoly Like You've Never Done Before (via MeFi)

Decline in fertility after age 30 may be vastly overstated

As a woman, you do become less fertile as you get older, eventually culminating in menopause and the end of your potential babymaking years. But what does "less fertile" mean, and at what age, and how quickly does the drop-off in fertility happen?

According to this really fascinating piece by Jean Twenge at The Atlantic, some of the commonly cited scare stats — that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, say — are based on extremely old data collected from historical birth records that don't necessarily reflect what's happening with real women who are alive right now. That statistic mentioned above, for instance, comes from French records (likely those collected by local church baptismal registries) for the years 1670 to 1830.

That matters because fertility is affected by things like quality of nutrition, infection rates, and even childhood illnesses — all of which have changed drastically for the average Western woman since the 19th century.

Look at more modern records, and the outlook for post-30 babymaking is completely different.

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The mathematics of tabloid news

Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez have an interesting piece at The New York Times about DNA evidence in murder trials, the mathematics of probability, and the highly publicized case of Amanda Knox. What good is remembering the math you learned in junior high? If you're a judge, it could be the difference between a guilty verdict and an acquittal.

Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Toms River by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing. Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on.