Piracy dooms motion picture industry to yet another record-breaking box-office year

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Once again the MPAA has released its box-office numbers for the year, and once again, this year has smashed all records (as has been the case throughout our young century) (really!). As always, the astronomical rise-and-rise of their fortunes is somehow used to launch a call for more publicly subsidized enforcement against "piracy." Read the rest

Outliers: the statistical mysteries that hold the key to understanding

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John Johnson and Mike Gluck's new book, Everydata: The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Every Day is a tour-de-force of statistical literacy. This excerpt, a chapter on understanding statistical outliers, is as clear an explanation of what an outlier is, and what it means, and why it matters, as you're likely to find.

Up to half of the Americans killed by police have a disability

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Police violence is America is a statistical black hole, where data collection on shootings and killings are kept in haphazard or nonexistent form across local, state and federal levels, leaving scholars to piece together statistical pictures using techniques developed to reconstruct genocides from survivors' accounts. Read the rest

Calculating US police killings using methodologies from war-crimes trials

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Statistician Patrick Ball runs an NGO called the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, which uses extremely rigorous, well-documented statistical techniques to provide evidence of war crimes and genocides; HRDAG's work has been used in the official investigations of atrocities in Kosovo, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Syria and elsewhere. Read the rest

The correlates of Trumpism: early mortality, lack of education, unemployment, offshored jobs

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Wonkblog runs the numbers on the counties with the strongest support for Trump and finds that the typical Trump supporter is likely to live in a place with higher-than-normal mortality for whites (middle-aged white mortality has been increasing since the 1990s at a rate unseen in the developed world since the collapse of the Soviet Union), lower-than-usual rates of university eduction, higher-than-normal rates of unemployment, where manufacturing jobs have vanished due to offshoring. Read the rest

Sometimes, starting the Y-axis at zero is the BEST way to lie with statistics

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If you've read Darell Huff's seminal 1954 book How to Lie With Statistics, you've learned an important rule of thumb: any chart whose Y-axis doesn't start at zero is cause for suspicion, if not alarm. Read the rest

500 phrases from scientific publications that are correlated with bullshit

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Matthew Hankins catalogs 500 phrases used in scientific articles that researchers use to figleaf the fact that their results aren't statistically significant, and to hand-wave-away the fact that they're publishing anyway. Read the rest

Science is really f*cking hard

The rash of high-profile journal retractions, revelations of systematic frauds in peer-review, and journals publishing deliberately bogus papers (e.g. "Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List") -- are we experiencing a crisis in science? Read the rest

Kansas officials stonewall mathematician investigating voting machine "sabotage"

Wichita State University's Beth Clarkson (who is also chief statistician of WSU's National Institute for Aviation Research) discovered "odd patterns" in Kansas electoral voting records, so she requested public docs to help her get to the bottom of things -- requests that state officials ignored, dodged, and stalled. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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.

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

"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.

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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