Archive for Amazon

nomadland

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2021 by xi'an

I went to the cinema last week, for the first time since 1917!, and with my daughter (in a sort of ritual of going to see a film the day before a major exam, and this was the majorest of all major exams!). And she selected Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. I had little a priori on the contents of the film, apart from the main theme, and it had not yet been discussed on my favourite France Inter weekly critical show. And I got very impressed by a unique film, staying away from cheap miserabilism, crude ideology or voyeurism. Maybe due to our sitting quite close to the screen, I was stuck by the way the characters were shot at their closest and how this would bring them to a higher level of reality, again without any form of caricature or judgemental detachment. The humanity of the film is purely staggering, with portraits of people with a complex and rich life. And Frances McDormand is fabulous, as she merges with the non-professional actors so seamlessly she shares their ethereal, transient attitude. There is no idealisation of the van life either, from the hardship of living with no toilet to the need to grab a tough living from temporary jobs all across the Western US. (The closest to a conflictual situation is when the main character, Fern, has to listen to much wealthier relatives droning about the ideal life of these nomads!) This being a movie about a van, there are also numerous (too many?) great shots of the Western USA, between Nevada, the Badlands [with a very brief historical reminder that this was the land of Lakota people, via the forefront of a 1906 saloon], some redwoods, and the (northern?) California coast. Which reveals a strong contrast with the places where Fern needs to work and live, like the Amazon warehouses, the beet processing plant, the soulless and exchangeable gas stations and laundromats along the road, the dirty camping toilets she cleans as a National Park worker… But again without delivering a message or adhering to an agenda. After watching the film, while biking home, I was reflecting that this was both a form of post-Trumpian film, since demonstrating the complexity and fundamental goodness of the people captured by the camera, away from binary statements and vociferation,  and a post-Bernie film as well as these people are not actively engaged against a harsh social system that does not provide basic help during their retirement years and let them with no further horizon than the next payslip. It is more complicated…

democracy suffers when government statistics fail [review of a book review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2020 by xi'an

This week, rather extraordinarily!, Nature book review was about official statistics, with a review of Julia Lane’s Democratizing our Data. (The democratizing in the title is painful to watch, though!) The reviewer is Beth Simone Noveck, who was deputy chief technology officer under Barack Obama and a major researcher in digital democracy, excusez du peu! (By comparison, Trump’s deputy chief technology officer had a B.A. in politics and no other qualification for the job, but got nonetheless promoted to chief…)

“Lane asserts that the United States is failing to adequately track its population, economy and society. Agencies are stagnating. The census dramatically undercounts people from minority racial groups. There is no complete national list of households. The data are made available two years after the count, making them out of date as the basis for effective policy making.” B.S. Noveck

The debate raised by the book on the ability of official statistics to keep track of people in a timely manner is most interesting. And not limited to the USA, even though it seems to fit in a Hell of its own:

“In the United States, there is no single national statistical agency. The process of gathering and publishing public data is fragmented across multiple departments and agencies, making it difficult to introduce new ideas across the whole enterprise. Each agency is funded by, and accountable to, a different congressional committee. Congress once sued the commerce department for attempting to introduce modern techniques of statistical sampling to shore up a flawed census process that involves counting every person by hand.” B.S. Noveck

This remark brings back to (my) mind the titanesque debates of the 1990s when Republicans attacked sampling techniques and statisticians like Steve Fienberg rose to their defence. (Although others like David Freedman opposed the move, paradoxically mistrusting statistics!) The French official statistic institute, INSEE, has been running sampled census(es) for decades now, without the national representation going up in arms. I am certainly being partial, having been associated with INSEE, its statistics school ENSAE and its research branch CREST since 1982, but it seems to me that the hiring of highly skilled and thoroughly trained civil servants by this institute helps in making the statistics it produces more trustworthy and efficient, including measuring the impact of public policies. (Even though accusations of delay and bias show up regularly.) And in making the institute more prone to adopt new methods, thanks to the rotation of its agents. (B.S. Noveck notices and deplores the absence of reference to foreign agencies in the book.)

“By contrast, the best private-sector companies produce data that are in real time, comprehensive, relevant, accessible and meaningful.”  B.S. Noveck

However, the notion in the review (and the book?) that private companies are necessarily doing better is harder to buy, if an easy jab at a public institution. Indeed, public official statistic institutes are the only one to have access to data covering the entire population, either directly or through other public institutes, like the IRS or social security claims. And trusting the few companies with a similar reach is beyond naïve (even though a company like Amazon has almost an instantaneous and highly local sensor of economic and social conditions!). And at odds for the call of democratizing, as shown by the impact of some of these companies on the US elections.

What the …?!

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2020 by xi'an

temp

absurd prices on Amazon

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , on November 30, 2019 by xi'an

Nature worries

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2019 by xi'an

In the 29 August issue, worries about the collapse of the Italian government coalition for research (as the said government had pledge to return funding to 2009 [higher!] levels), Brexit as in every issue (and the mind of every EU researcher working in the UK), facial recognition technology that grows much faster than the legal protections which should come with it, thanks to big tech companies like Amazon and Google. In Western countries, not China… One acute point in the tribune being the lack of open source software to check for biases. More worries about Amazon, the real one!, with Bolsonaro turning his indifference if not active support of the widespread forest fires into a nationalist campaign. And cutting 80,000 science scholarships. Worries on the ethnic biases in genetic studies and the All of Us study‘s attempt to correct that (study run by a genetic company called Color, which purpose is to broaden the access to genetic counseling to under-represented populations). Further worries on fighting self-citations (with John Ioannidis involved in the analysis). With examples reaching a 94% rate for India’s most cited researcher.