Archive for The Guardian

extra glass of wine? 30mn, please…

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Wines with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2018 by xi'an

As I was reading The Guardian early today, I came across this entry on how an extra glass (17.5cl) glass of wine was equivalent to 30mn less of life (expectancy), above the recommended maximum of five glass a week. As explained by Prof of Risk David Spiegelhalter himself! The Lancet study behind this analysis stated that “early deaths rose when more than 100g per week, which is five to six glasses of wine or pints of beer, was consumed.” So be careful!!!

bad graphics and poor statistics

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2018 by xi'an

Reading through The Guardian website, I came across this terrible graphic about US airlines 2016 comparison for killing pests pets they carry. Beyond the gross imprecision resulting from resorting to a (gross) dead dog scale to report integers, the impression of Hawaiian Airlines having a beef with pets is just misleading: there were three animal deaths on this company for that year. And nine on United Airlines (including the late giant rabbit). The law of small numbers in action! Computing a basic p-value (!) based on a Poisson approximation (the most pet friendly distribution) does not even exclude Hawaiian Airlines. Without even considering the possibility that, among the half-million plus pets travelling on US airlines in 2016, some would have died anyway but it happened during a flight. (As a comparison, there are “between 114 and 360 medical” in-flight [human] deaths per year. For it’s worth.) The scariest part of The Guardian article [beyond the reliance on terrible graphs!] is the call to end up pets travelling as cargo, meaning they would join their owner in the cabin. As if stag and hen [parties] were not enough of a travelling nuisance..!

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2018 by xi'an

““Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, after being presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from those countries [African nations].” The Guardian, Jan 12, 2018

“The Trump administration is creating an office to protect the religious rights of medical providers, including those who may oppose abortion or transgender rights.” The Guardian, Jan 18, 2018

“Nuclear experts are warning, using some of their most urgent language since President Trump took office, that Hawaii’s false alarm, in which state agencies alerted locals to a nonexistent missile attack, underscores a growing risk of unintended nuclear war with North Korea.” NYT, Jan 15, 2018

““I don’t know if the president is clinically off his rocker. I do know, from what I saw and what I heard from people around him, that Donald Trump is deeply unpredictable, irrational, at times bordering on incoherent, self-obsessed in a disconcerting way, and displays all those kinds of traits that anyone would reasonably say, ‘What’s going on here, is something wrong?’” [Michael Wolff]” The Guardian, Jan 15, 2018

“Mr. Trump received a score of 30 out of 30 on the Montréal Cognitive Assessment, a well-known test regularly used at hospitals. It asks patients to repeat a list of spoken words, identify pictures of animals like a lion or a camel, draw a cube or draw a clock face set to a particular time.” NYT, Jan 17, 2018

““Through statistical analysis, video evidence, and personal experience, our team has uncovered a disturbing reality. In the majority of cases, US border patrol agents are responsible for the widespread interference with essential humanitarian efforts. The practice of destruction of and interference with aid is not the deviant behavior of a few rogue border patrol agents, it is a systemic feature of enforcement practices in the borderlands.” [No More Deaths]” The Guardian, Jan 18, 2018

““We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars,” [Trump] said. “We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”” The Guardian, Dec 21, 2017

David Spiegelhalter in The Guardian

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , on June 30, 2017 by xi'an

In conjunction with David‘s Presidential Address at the Royal Statistical Society on Wednesday night, the Guardian published a piece covering the talk and its message. Which I find great given that it is not that common to see statisticians on the front-page. (David actually contributes to the Guardian from time to time, as does Neil Lawrence.)

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2017 by xi'an

“Trump wants us to associate immigrants with criminality. That is the reason behind a weekly published list of immigrant crimes – the first of which was made public on Monday. Singling out the crimes of undocumented immigrants has one objective: to make people view them as deviant, dangerous and fundamentally undesirable. ” The Guardian, March 22, 2017

“`I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,’ Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review (IJR), in an interview (…) `My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.'” The Guardian, March 22, 2017

“…under the GOP plan, it estimated that 24 million people of all ages would lose coverage over 10 years (…) Trump’s plan, for instance, would cut $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health, an 18 percent drop for the $32 billion agency that funds much of the nation’s research into what causes different diseases and what it will take to treat them.” The New York Times, March 5, 2017

the other end of statistics

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2017 by xi'an

A coincidence [or not] saw very similar papers appear in Le Monde and The Guardian within days. I already reported on the Doomsday tone of The Guardian tribune. The point of the other paper is essentially the same, namely that the public has lost trust in quantitative arguments, from the explosion of statistical entries in political debates, to the general defiance against experts, media, government, and parties, including the Institute of Official Statistics (INSEE), to a feeling of disconnection between statistical entities and the daily problems of the average citizen, to the lack of guidance and warnings in the publication of such statistics, to the rejection of anything technocratic… With the missing addendum that politicians and governments too readily correlate good figures with their policies and poor ones with their opponents’. (Just no blame for big data analytics in this case.)

the end of statistics [not!]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2017 by xi'an

endofstatsLast week I spotted this tribune in The Guardian, with the witty title of statistics loosing its power, and sort of over-reacted by trying to gather enough momentum from colleagues towards writing a counter-column. After a few days of decantation and a few more readings (reads?) of the tribune, I cooled down towards a more lenient perspective, even though I still dislike the [catastrophic and journalistic] title. The paper is actually mostly right (!), from its historical recap of the evolution of (official) statistics across centuries, to the different nature of the “big data” statistics. (The author is “William Davies, a sociologist and political economist. His books include The Limits of Neoliberalism and The Happiness Industry.”)

“Despite these criticisms, the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics.”

A central point is that public opinion has less confidence in (official) statistics than it used to be. (warning: Major understatement, here!) For many reasons, from numbers used to support any argument and its opposite, to statistics (-ians) being associated with experts, found at every corner of news and medias, hence with the “elite” arch-enemy, to a growing innumeracy of both the general public and of the said “elites”—like this “expert” in a debate about the 15th anniversary of the Euro currency on the French NPR last week equating a raise from 2.4 Francs to 6.5 Francs to 700%…—favouring rhetoric over facts, to a disintegration of the social structure that elevates one’s community over others and dismisses arguments from those others, especially those addressed at the entire society. The current debate—and the very fact there can even be a debate about it!—about post-truths and alternative facts is a sad illustration of this regression in the public discourse. The overall perspective in the tribune is one of a sociologist on statistics, but nothing to strongly object to.

“These data analysts are often physicists or mathematicians, whose skills are not developed for the study of society at all.”

The second part of the paper is about the perceived shift from (official) statistics to another and much more dangerous type of data analysis. Which is not a new view on the field, as shown by Weapons of Math Destruction. I tend to disagree with this perception that data handled by private companies for private purposes is inherently evil. The reticence in trusting the conclusions drawn from such datasets also extends to publicly available datasets and is not primarily linked to the lack of reproducibility of such analyses (which would be a perfectly rational argument!). It is neither due to physicists or mathematicians running those, instead of quantitative sociologists! The roots of the mistrust are rather to be found in an anti-scientism that has been growing in the past decades, in a paradox of an equally growing technological society fuelled by scientific advances. Hence, calling for a governmental office of big data or some similar institution is very much unlikely to solve the issue. I do not know what could, actually, but continuing to develop better statistical methodology cannot hurt!