Friday, March 14, 2003

Today's Mini-Lecture: Statistics

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

99% of statisticians surveyed agree with the above statement.

A New York Times/CBS poll this week shows that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was "personally involved" in Sept. 11, about the same figure as a month ago.
-- The impact of Bush linking 9/11 and Iraq

Statistics, my friends, as anyone with some rigorous math behind them will tell you, are mostly bullshit. Why?

It's very easy to make statistics say what you want them to say. Without even trying.

For example, suppose you conduct a poll of 100 people from the same region of a Bible Belt Midwestern town, in a consistently-Republican-voting county. And of those 100 people, 45 of them answer your question, "Do you agree with US government reports that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks?" with a 'Yes'. 55 do not.

You then can state, in writing, that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was "personally involved" in Sept. 11. You asked 100 people, and 45 said 'Yes'. That's 45%, right?

Yes and no. You only asked 100 people. Was that 100 people a representative sampling of all Americans? No. Is 100 people enough to get a representative sampling? 100 people is nothing, when they're all from the same region, and you're talking about America, with population groups whose subdivisions (where people frequently line up along ideological lines) are larger (substantially larger) then the set of people you surveyed.

What you've just done is conducted a completely non-scientific poll. No prep work to determine how representative your sample is. No large population surveyed several times, with the results then combined. No standard deviation calculations. No sharing of your data with third-party analysts to validate your results. You've just collected 100 useless responses. But all the article in your local paper says is "45% of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was "personally involved" in Sept. 11."

And the average reader might even believe it. Because numbers don't lie, do they?

No, they don't lie, but they don't always tell the whole truth, either.

So, the next time you find yourself face to face with a statistic, ask the following questions:

1. How many people were surveyed?
2. What demographics of race, religion, economic position, location, country of origin, and political party were surveyed?
3. Could this be just a bunch of hooey?

And pay close attention to the answers.

Not Out Of My Pocket, Thank You

Idiocy abounds, I see. (Which doesn't make today much different than yesterday, does it?)

Bill proposed to allow return of U.S. vets buried in France

If you, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, would like to locate and solicit the individual permission from each appropriate relative of WWI/WWII soldiers, who died in service and were buried in France, and pay out of your own personal pocket to have their remains exhumed after 60-80 years and returned to the US, and cover the costs of memorial services and burial on American soil, be my guest.

If you want me to pay for it, kindly fuck off.

At least one person involved has their head screwed on straight:

Steve Thomas, a spokesman for the American Legion, said the veterans' group would need some time to look at the legislation. He said the American Legion has always respected the wishes of the families concerning those who died in combat, but noted that "a lot of people may not want to repatriate their fallen loved ones, separating them from their comrades, to make a statement about the French government."

Wasted Paper

So, purely rhetorically, I ask, what good does it do me to get an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) waiver to have an on/off switch for my air bag installed, if I can't find a shop willing to do the work?

I'm 4'11" tall. My sternum is 6 inches away from the steering column of my primary vehicle. An airbag takes at least 8 inches to deploy. I am firmly in the designated risk group(s), and the appropriate federal authority agrees.

I understand that any reputable service shop (whether a Toyota dealer or someone else) will want to ensure that they aren't liable for legal action in the event that they install such a switch and the air bag being on or off is a key element in some subsequent accident. However, that's the whole point of the waiver, isn't it? The waiver is their insurance.

If I can't have this work done legally, I have few options:

1. Do it illegally. (pros: it would be done. cons: might get caught.)
2. Live with it. (pros: everyone's happy. cons: except for me. Although, if I'm dead, no one can tell.)
3. Become an afficionado of classic cars/motorcycles, and drive a vehicle that doesn't, and never will, have an airbag. (pros: no airbag. cons: I love my truck. I want to drive my truck.)

Thursday, March 13, 2003

You're Kidding, it wasn't a Joke?

Our instructor (at the Rational CQ training I was at this week) threw up a web page on the projector (connected to his laptop) from some fake-senator's website about "French fries" becoming "freedom fries", and the first thing that popped out of my mouth was,
(mad peals of laughter) Hey! Is that the new Onion? That's great!

Not a fake-senator's website at all, evidently.

All I see, again, and again, is smoke and mirrors. What, I ask you, is the government hiding behind said smoke and said mirrors? What? What? What?
Hi, Mom!

Y'know, when the camera pans past at the big game, and you wave, show a v for victory, and mouth 'hi, Mom!'?

Hi, Mom!

Been out of the office for the past 3 days, when means connection-free for the past 5, due to the weekend. Hence the lack of posting. However, the reason for being out was interesting (Rational's ClearQuest administration training, a 3-day course) and useful. If you are coming to Rational products brand-new, I would recommend whatever site/web-based training you can get. And -- I hate to admit this -- the commute from Oceanside to Irvine (approx. 45 miles) was easier, I swear to you, then the 27 mile commute from Oceanside to my office here in San Diego. No, no, I'm serious.

This with the added bonus of driving even more extremely conscientiously than normal, due to the knowledge that my brakes were worn down to the nub. However, I know how to drive that truck -- sure, I wouldn't have driven it in SF, but Irvine-Oceanside? Care, knowledge of one's vehicle, and diligence, hey, now, let's say it again, diligence, as in paying fucking attention to what you are doing. The world would be a better place if more people paid attention to what they were doing. But that would involve thinking, which I know, especially evident in recent activity conducted allegedly in my name (as a member of the American public) is too much to ask.

How much longer do I have to wait to vote Junior out of office? Is it time yet? Have we learned whatever karmic lesson was due?

Hi, Mom!