Posts Tagged ‘ Cause-effect ’

Reading Everything is Obvious by Duncan Watts

February 15, 2017
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Reading Everything is Obvious by Duncan Watts

In his book, Everything is Obvious (Once You Know the Answer): Why Common Sense Fails, Duncan Watts, a professor of sociology at Columbia, imparts urgent lessons that are as relevant to his students as to self-proclaimed data scientists. It takes only nominal effort to generate narrative structures that retrace the past, Watts contends, but developing lasting theory that produces valid predictions requires much more effort than common sense. Watts’s is…

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Inspired by water leaks

December 19, 2016
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Inspired by water leaks

For me, 2016 is a year of water leaks. I was forced to move apartments during the summer. (Blame my old landlord for the lower frequency of posts this year!) That old apartment was overrun by water issues. In the past four years, there were two big leaks in addition to annual visible "seepage" in the ceiling. The first big leak ruined my first night back from Hurricane Sandy-induced evacuation.…

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Two quick hits: how bad data analysis harms our discourse

October 6, 2016
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I am traveling so have to make this brief. I will likely come back to these stories in the future to give a longer version of these comments. I want to react to two news items that came out in the past couple of days. First, Ben Stiller said that prostate cancer screening (the infamous PSA test) "saved his life". (link) So he is out there singing the praises of…

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Sitting still against the myth that sitting kills

March 23, 2016
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The fad of standing while working may die hard but science is catching up to it. The idea that standing at work will make one healthier has always been a tough one to believe. It requires a series of premises: Using a standing desk increases the amount of standing Standing longer improves one's health The health improvement is measurable using a well-defined metric The incremental standing is of sufficient amount…

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Statbusters: standing may or may not stand a chance

December 7, 2015
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In our latest Statbusters column for the Daily Beast, we read the research behind the claim that "standing reduces odds of obesity". Especially at younger companies, it is trendy to work at standing desks because of findings like this. We find a variety of statistical issues calling for better studies. For example, the observational dataset used provides no clue as to whether sitting causes obesity or obesity leads to more…

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Andrew Gelman delivers a lesson on statistical adjustment, so you can relax about middle-aged men killing themselves

November 11, 2015
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Andrew Gelman delivers a lesson on statistical adjustment, so you can relax about middle-aged men killing themselves

My co-columnist Andrew Gelman has been doing some fantastic work, digging behind that trendy news story that claims that middled-aged, non-Hispanic, white male Americans are dying at an abnormal rate. See, for example, this New York Times article that not only reports the statistical pattern but also in its headline, asserts that those additional deaths were due to suicide and substance abuse. It all bega n with the chart shown…

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RIP GFT

November 3, 2015
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It appears that Google Flu Trends (GFT) has slipped quietly into the night. In a short post to the Google Research blog, the team behind GFT announced that they are "no longer publishing" flu estimates, effectively ending the seven-year-old experiment. The GFT home page now links to some historical datasets. The post was dated August 15, and it appears that mainstream media completely missed it. GFT was one of the…

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Keep eating those sausages

November 2, 2015
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I am outsourcing this post to Aaron Carroll, whose Upshot column eviscerates the recent claim that eating meat will give you cancer, or that eating meat is the same as smoking cigarettes. While the media is partly culpable for spreading misinformation...

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Statbusters: Simple computations mislead, from selfies to colleges

October 5, 2015
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In this week's Statbusters (link), we discuss two recent widely-shared articles, one on deaths while taking selfies, and the other on the gender gap in income among graduates of top-tier universities. The common element between these two pieces is a reductionist analysis that looks at the correlation between a single variable X and an outcome Y when the outcome Y is affected by a multitude of variables. For example, it…

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Dumbing by numbers

August 20, 2015
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The New York Times has been making waves this week featuring management practices at Amazon and workplace tracking practices at various companies (link). These are essential references for how data make us dumber. I am going to ignore the shocking claim by the journalist who stated that GE is "long a standard-setter in management practices." To give him some credit, he did not say "good" management practice. It is true…

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