Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Audacious Epigone

This is not the only site that looks at data and tries to draw conclusions.  Other ones which I discussed were FracTracker on Marcellus Shale fracking and the Incidental Economist which are included on the list of relevant blogs on the right.  Another which I haven't discussed yet but did include on the blog list is five thirty eight by Nate Silver which uses logistic regression to predict the outcome of elections and things like the Oscars.

One which I'm going to discuss now but not include on my blogroll is The Audacious Epigone.  Epigone means a second rate imitator.  Below it's heading it states "Validating stereotypes since 2005."  In the post that I am skewering he or she uses IQ data to argue that McCain voters were more intelligent than Obama's in 2008.   The author places a lot of faith in books like The Bell Curve which argue for racial hierarchy in intelligence and takes data from the general social survey broken down by voting for McCain or Obama and various demographic variables presented below.

Voted for...ObamaMcCainMcCain's edge





There are obvious things wrong with this reasoning.  The table does look at the underlying minority and gender differences but the author does not look at the possible reasons for these differences such as income, educational opportunities, environmental issues, etc.  All of these variables can interact in complex ways.  Also there is no statistical test reported to determine if any of these differences are statistically significant (in other words outside the statistical margin of error).  This data is based on a sample of 921 Americans which coming from the federal Government is representative of the population but does not include enough minority McCain voters for a comparison (a much larger sample would be needed for that). 

There are also not so obvious conclusions that can be drawn from IQ data.  Sometimes we place such faith in derived statistics from other statistics as if they came to us from God (even atheists sometimes) that we never think to question them when they are really human inventions to explain a phenomena that can't be directly observed.  This includes QB ratings in football, the Dow Jones Averages, and consumer confidence.  IQ and other standardized tests are often criticized for cultural biases in their questions.  Even if the differences were real what do they really mean?  IQ is a composite of different scale scores, a verbal and a performance, which are broken down to still more specific subtests.  An overall difference of 0.3 points between white Obama & McCain voters if real can have an infinite number of possible meanings. 

One final source of differences can be random.  To use a football example, suppose Peyton Manning has a QB rating of 101 next season and his brother Eli has one of 101.1.  That tenth of a point might mean something for fantasy football leagues and their agents might try to make a big deal out of it in contract negotiations but I doubt it matters to their coaches or their dad Archie.

George Bush and Sarah Palin may not be geniuses when it comes to American history but when it comes to pushing people's buttons they do not fall in the idiot or imbecile category. 

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Need for CSI Without Dead Bodies (& Similar Websites)

We live in times of disconnect.  With three wars raging that the US is still involved in, a widening gap between rich and poor, and many unsolved problems still raging.  So far I have avoided writing about the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election because there is nothing of substance to people's lives discussed yet.  The media intelligentsia is hyperfocused on things like whether Sarah Palin will run or not (she might as well with candidates like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain in the race) and right now Weinergate. 

Fox News loves to crow about how they rout their competition in the cable news ratings.  While this is true because it tells their conservative viewers what they want to hear and they are distributed more widely Comedy Central's The Daily Show gets better ratings than any of their shows except The O'Reilly Factor.  The Daily Show and it's spinoff The Colbert Report get a lot of mileage out of skewering the cable and network news industry (not just Fox News) for not dealing with relevant issues to people's lives as in this clip on the treatment of Palin's (possible Presidential candidate and Fox News employee) butchering of the history of Paul Revere's famous ride.

While these shows provide necessary catharsis (relief) from the disconnect from reality they do not go far enough to remedy the disconnect.  They do not go beyond that chatter on those networks.  In my blogposts and the ones on my blogroll attempts are made to go past this chatter and ask deeper questions.  In my field of statistics I try to show that at least some of these deeper questions can have some light shed upon.


Journalist legend Bill Moyers appeared on the non profit radio/tv program Democracy Now to discuss the state of public/private journalism, it's relationship to power, and his role in that symbiosis from the Johnson administration in the 60's onward.

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