Archive for The New York Times

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2018 by xi'an

“…in less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Donald T.

“President Trump is building a wall of tariffs around the domestic economy, attempting to protect American jobs by limiting imports. But a tire factory that opened last year in Richburg, S.C., offers a reminder that globalization is hard to stop.”  NYT, Sep 18

“Worried their chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could slip away, a growing number of evangelical and anti-abortion leaders are expressing frustration that Senate Republicans and the White House are not protecting Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh more forcefully from a sexual assault allegation”  NYT, Sep 20

 President Trump rejected the official estimate from the Puerto Rico government that nearly 3,000 people died from Hurricane Maria through a series of misleading or false claims: He cited an outdated tally that officials had acknowledged almost immediately was too low, misleadingly suggested that doubt over the tally did not emerge until “a long time later,” accused Democrats, without evidence, of inflating the figures and wrongly described the current official estimate as counting all deaths on the island, regardless of whether they were related to the storm.” NYT, Sep 13

“The Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era standards to limit planet-warming methane pollution from oil and gas operations on federal lands (…) In a separate action, the Environmental Protection Agency last week finalized a plan to eliminate the Obama administration’s requirement that oil and gas companies monitor and fix methane leaks for new operations.” The Guardian, Sep 19

a free press needs you [reposted]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on August 16, 2018 by xi'an

“Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are “fake news” is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the “enemy of the people” is dangerous, period.”

running shoes

Posted in Books, Running, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2018 by xi'an

A few days ago, when back from my morning run, I spotted a NYT article on Nike shoes that are supposed to bring on average a 4% gain in speed. Meaning for instance a 3 to 4 minute gain in a half-marathon.

“Using public race reports and shoe records from Strava, a fitness app that calls itself the social network for athletes, The Times found that runners in Vaporflys ran 3 to 4 percent faster than similar runners wearing other shoes, and more than 1 percent faster than the next-fastest racing shoe.”

What is interesting in this NYT article is that the two journalists who wrote it have analysed their own data, taken from Strava. Using a statistical model or models (linear regression? non-linear regression? neural net?) to predict the impact of the shoe make, against “all” other factors contributing to the overall time or position or percentage gain or yet something else. In most analyses produced in the NYT article, the 4% gain is reproduced (with a 2% gain for female shoe switcher and a 7% gain for slow runners).

“Of course, these observations do not constitute a randomized control trial. Runners choose to wear Vaporflys; they are not randomly assigned them. One statistical approach that seeks to address this uses something called propensity scores, which attempt to control for the likelihood that someone wears the shoes in the first place. We tried this, too. Our estimates didn’t change.”

The statistical analysis (or analyses) seems rather thorough, from what is reported in the NYT article, with several attempts at controlling for confounders. Still, the data itself is observational, even if providing a lot of variables to run the analyses, as it only covers runners using Strava (from 5% in Tokyo to 25% in London!) and indicating the type of shoes they wear during the race. There is also the issue that the shoes are quite expensive, at $250 a pair, especially if the effect wears out after 100 miles (this was not tested in the study), as I would hesitate to use them unless the race conditions look optimal (and they never do!). There is certainly a new shoes effect on top of that, between the real impact of a better response and a placebo effect. As shown by a similar effect of many other shoe makes. Hence, a moderating impact on the NYT conclusion that these Nike Vaporflys (flies?!) are an “outlier”. But nonetheless a fairly elaborate and careful statistical study that could potentially make it to a top journal like Annals of Applied Statistics!

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2018 by xi'an

“David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, recently summed up the “Trumpian world-view” writing, “Trump takes every relationship that has historically been based on affection, loyalty, trust and reciprocity and turned it into a relationship based on competition, self-interest, suspicion and efforts to establish dominance.” NYT, June 14

“Donald Trump has dismissed concerns about the widely condemned human rights record of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, praising him as a “tough guy”, a “smart guy” and a “great negotiator”.” The Guardian, June 14

“Clinics that call themselves crisis pregnancy centers are not obliged to tell women when state aid may be available to obtain an abortion, according to a US supreme court ruling that represents a blow to pro-choice groups (…) All three of the court’s female members dissented.” The Guardian, June 27

“A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the (…) United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly. Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes. Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations. The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration.” NYT, July 8

“President Trump on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out sentences for arson on federal land (…) The pardons undo an Obama administration appeal to impose longer sentences for the Hammonds and show that, at least in this case, the Trump administration is siding with ranchers in the battle over federal lands.” NYT, July 10

“President Trump stood next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday and publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence (…) “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said in a statement. “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” ” NYT, July 16

“The Interior Department on Thursday proposed the most sweeping set of changes in decades to the Endangered Species Act, the law that brought the bald eagle and the Yellowstone grizzly bear back from the edge of extinction but which Republicans say is cumbersome and restricts economic development.” NYT, July 20

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2018 by xi'an

“Donald Trump’s attacks on the press are “out of control” and damaging “the civic life and debate of the country”, the editor of the New York Times said on Sunday. Dean Baquet was responding to a tweet in which the president attacked his main rival. “The Washington Post is far more fiction than fact,” Trump wrote. `Story after story is made up garbage – more like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not names), many of which don’t exist.’ ” The Guardian, April 8

The Trump administration is expected to announce today a rule that would strip federal funding from clinics that provide abortions or refer patients to places that do. The rule, a return to a Reagan-era policy, is a victory for social conservatives. It’s also a jab at Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of women who receive federally funded family planning services.2  NYT, May 18

“Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran on Tuesday, moving to re-impose sanctions on Iran and defying pleas from close allies who had called for the agreement to be preserved. The decision marks a bitter defeat for America’s European allies, who have spent months beseeching Mr Trump to stay in a deal that he has denounced as “insane”. Critics warned it would further endanger stability in the Middle East. ” FT, May 8

“Donald Trump has slammed the gun laws of major US allies, claiming foreign countries could better protect their citizens – and possibly stop terrorist attacks – by loosening their gun control laws. In a speech to the NRA Leadership Forum, Mr Trump sought to reassure members of the US’s largest gun rights lobbying group of his support for the Second Amendment, after briefly expressing support for gun control measures in the wake of a school shooting in Florida.” The Independent, May 5


Les Enfants Rouges

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on February 4, 2018 by xi'an

An happenstance reservation at Les Enfants Rouges led to a great and unique meal. The restaurant is located in Le Marais, north of Paris City Hall, and the chef Daï Shinozuka brings a precision in the cooking and presentation of traditional French food that makes each dish a masterpiece. Above the “neo bistro-fare” lauded by The New York Times. But definitely part of the new and exciting food scene in Paris!


algorithm for predicting when kids are in danger [guest post]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2018 by xi'an

[Last week, I read this article in The New York Times about child abuse prediction software and approached Kristian Lum, of HRDAG, for her opinion on the approach, possibly for a guest post which she kindly and quickly provided!]

A week or so ago, an article about the use of statistical models to predict child abuse was published in the New York Times. The article recounts a heart-breaking story of two young boys who died in a fire due to parental neglect. Despite the fact that social services had received “numerous calls” to report the family, human screeners had not regarded the reports as meeting the criteria to warrant a full investigation. Offered as a solution to imperfect and potentially biased human screeners is the use of computer models that compile data from a variety of sources (jails, alcohol and drug treatment centers, etc.) to output a predicted risk score. The implication here is that had the human screeners had access to such technology, the software might issued a warning that the case was high risk and, based on this warning, the screener might have sent out investigators to intervene, thus saving the children.

These types of models bring up all sorts of interesting questions regarding fairness, equity, transparency, and accountability (which, by the way, are an exciting area of statistical research that I hope some readers here will take up!). For example, most risk assessment models that I have seen are just logistic regressions of [characteristics] on [indicator of undesirable outcome]. In this case, the outcome is likely an indicator of whether child abuse had been determined to take place in the home or not. This raises the issue of whether past determinations of abuse– which make up  the training data that is used to make the risk assessment tool–  are objective, or whether they encode systemic bias against certain groups that will be passed through the tool to result in systematically biased predictions. To quote the article, “All of the data on which the algorithm is based is biased. Black children are, relatively speaking, over-surveilled in our systems, and white children are under-surveilled.” And one need not look further than the same news outlet to find cases in which there have been egregiously unfair determinations of abuse, which disproportionately impact poor and minority communities.  Child abuse isn’t my immediate area of expertise, and so I can’t responsibly comment on whether these types of cases are prevalent enough that the bias they introduce will swamp the utility of the tool.

At the end of the day, we obviously want to prevent all instances of child abuse, and this tool seems to get a lot of things right in terms of transparency and responsible use. And according to the original article, it (at least on the surface) seems to be effective at more efficiently allocating scarce resources to investigate reports of child abuse. As these types of models become used more and more for a wider variety of prediction types, we need to be cognizant that (to quote my brilliant colleague, Josh Norkin) we don’t “lose sight of the fact that because this system is so broken all we are doing is finding new ways to sort our country’s poorest citizens. What we should be finding are new ways to lift people out of poverty.”