Blog Archives

Limits of statistics, and by extension data science, as illustrated by Deflate-gate

January 27, 2015
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Limits of statistics, and by extension data science, as illustrated by Deflate-gate

A number of readers sent me Warren Sharp's piece about the ongoing New England Patriots' deflate-gate scandal (link to Slate's version of this) so I suppose I should say something about it. For those readers who are not into American football, the Superbowl is soon upon us. New England, one of the two finalists, has been accused of using footballs that are below the weight requirements on the rulebook, hence…

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How Optimizely will kill your winning percentage, and why that is a great thing for you (Part 1)

January 23, 2015
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In my HBR article about A/B testing (link), I described one of the key managerial problems related to A/B testing--the surplus of “positive” results that don’t quite seem to add up. In particular, I mentioned this issue: When managers are reading hour-by-hour results, they will sometimes find large gaps between Groups A and B, and demand prompt reaction. Almost all such fluctuations result from temporary imbalance between the two groups,…

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Boxes or lines: showing the trend in US adoptions

January 21, 2015
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Boxes or lines: showing the trend in US adoptions

Time used a pair of area charts (a form of treemap) to illustrate the trend in Americans adopting babies of foreign origin. The data consist of the number of babies labeled by country of birth in 1999 and in 2013....

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Three reasons to doubt the GDP-gas price conjecture

January 20, 2015
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Dragged by infectious incuriosity, the financial press ran with the story that falling gasoline prices (50% drop in 6 months) is "the best economic stimulus one can get". See former Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Altman on CNBC, Business Insider's "cheap gas boost", Wall Street Journal citing the "low oil prices as an effective tax cut for consumers", New York Times quoting a Citigroup analyst claiming a global > $1 trillion…

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Why you need a second pair of eyes

January 13, 2015
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Why you need a second pair of eyes

Reader Aaron K. submitted an infographic advertising the upcoming New England Auto Show to be held in Boston (link). As Aaron pointed out, there is plenty of elementary errors contained in one page. I don't think the designer did these...

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Trifacta revisited: tackling a Big Data problem

January 12, 2015
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During my vacation, I had a chance to visit Trifacta, the data-wrangling startup I blogged about last year (link). Wei Zheng, Tye Rattenbury, and Will Davis hosted me, and showed some of the new stuff they are working on. Trifacta is tackling a major Big Data problem, and I remain excited about the direction they are heading. From the beginning, I am attracted by Trifacta’s user interface. The user in…

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Figuring out what data supports the argument, and what is just window-dressing

January 8, 2015
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Figuring out what data supports the argument, and what is just window-dressing

That is the question in my head when I read an article like USA Today's "Jobless Claims Fall, Suggests Strong Hiring". (link) The headline makes the connection between newly-released jobless claims data and the conclusion of "strong hiring". But it turns out the new data is merely window-dressing, and the conclusion is based on longer-term trends. Here is the new data, as reported by the USA Today reporter: applications for…

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Losing sleep over schedules

January 5, 2015
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Losing sleep over schedules

Fan of the blog, John H., made a JunkCharts-style post about a chart that has been picked as a "Best of" for 2014 by Fast Company (link). I agree with him. It seems more fit to be on the "Worst...

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A great start to the year

January 1, 2015
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A great start to the year

I'd like to start 2015 on a happy note. I enjoyed reading the piece by Steven Rattner in the New York Times called "The Year in Charts". (link) I particularly like the crisp headers, and unfussy language, placing the charts...

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Sheep tramples sense

December 25, 2014
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Sheep tramples sense

Merry Christmas, readers. *** A Twitter follower pointed me to this visual: I have yet to understand why the vertical axis of the top chart keeps changing scales over time. The white dot labelled "Peak 1982" (70 million) is barely...

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