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February 17, 2009 | 3 Comments

Cute Fox News ad

On page B3 of today’s Wall Street Journal, Fox News has taken out a full page ad.

It reads, in large, bold letters:

#1 Total* Viewers: Adults 25-54.

7 Years & Counting…

You’ll have noticed the asterisk above the word Total. We’ve seen that same asterisk in a similar ad for CNN, where it led to small print which read something like, “Among those Cleveland viewers between 7 and 8 pm last Tuesday who shave left-handed after playing hockey.”

Being number 1 in that demographic is a victory of sorts, I suppose.

But there is what is under the asterisk for Fox:

This would be where CNN & MSNBC use an asterisk in their ads to point out some half-baked one-time statistics to prove that somebody stumbled across their channels giving them a temporary spike in the ratings, which they would tout as unprecedented, earth-shattering and monumental. It’s actually pathetic since we all know if they massage their statistics long enough, they can come up with something to make their tiny lame point. But deep in their little hearts, even they know that FOX NEWS IS NUMBER ONE in cable news and has been for years.

Pretty good way to summarize a lot of marketing statistics.

(Incidentally, I do not watch Fox, CNN, or other channel. I’m strictly a radio, newspaper, and internet person.)

February 16, 2009 | 20 Comments

For I, James Hansen, Scientist, have spoken

The quotations below are true in spirit. For the original political editorial, click here, which you really should read first.


James Hansen, Scientist, speaks
James Hansen, Scientist, speaks
James Hansen, Scientist, speaks
James Hansen, Scientist, speaks

I struggled for a long time to think of an adequate way to summarize the latest political output of Dr X, who, it can now be revealed, is actually Dr James Hansen, Scientist.

But, other than letting him speak for himself, I could not think of something that would point out the naked absurdity of Dr Hansen’s comments but would also not do a disservice to who I believe is an honest man.

Who else but an honest man would publicly tell the German Chancellor (and others) that coal trains are “trains of death” and then go on to mention “factories of death”? Perhaps, in his passion, he has forgotten that these metaphors do not induce the same images in Germany as they do elsewhere. Or, worse, perhaps he has not forgotten.

Who else but a man who is a True Believer would start by telling us that he gave marching orders to the world’s leaders, but they would not listen to him! And it’s a conspiracy! Since they will not heed him, he alleges dirty tricks “governments play on their citizens.” This kind of thing is only found in somebody who believes he is in possession of the truth.

You’ll notice—what has been written about better at Roger Pielke Jr’s place—that Hansen thinks that by merely saying he is telling us what The Science says, that we have no alternative but to listen, for, lo, he speaks of Science.

What is the science? Why, it is that which James Hansen says will happen. Those of us who gauge that the more dire consequences claimed to be due to global warming are less probable than Hansen estimates, are accused of preaching pseudo science.

“When I show German officials” my evidence, they ignore me.

“When I point out [my science], they are silent.”

“Politicians [in Europe] have asked me why am I speaking to them.” It is because, I, James Hansen, Scientist, am speaking!

February 13, 2009 | 15 Comments

Count ’em: The White House should not control the Census

Judd Gregg rann for the door yesterday to escape from being installed as Commerce secretary in Obama’s administration. Part of why he got the willies was that he did not like Obama’s idea of forcing the Census to operate under the watchful eyes of the White House.

Here’s what our constitution says about the census:

“[An] Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

Generally, and to this point in time, the word Enumeration and the phrase in such Manner as they shall by Law direct has been interpreted to mean “Everybody will be physically counted.”

So, once every decade, Census workers pop outdoors and start tallying bodies.

Everybody agrees that it is practically impossible to count every single citizen because some of us are pretty good at hiding when we see government agents heading in our direction. Other people, starved for attention, offer themselves up more than once. The gist: the official count has some error.

Some statisticians heard about this predicament and offered up their services. “We have experience making up numbers where none exist,” they said, “so we can estimate the people that are missed. To do this, we will use comforting-inducing complicated mathematical formulae. It’s science.”

This reasoning is, as readers of this blog know, irresistible to certain people. Labeling something science is enough to offer it immunity from probing or dissection. How, after all, can we mere mortals argue with science?

Other politicians liked the idea that statisticians didn’t need to actually physically count people. They could just grab a few here and there, call that a survey, plug the survey into some equations, and out would pop the desired numbers. Much cheaper and vastly quicker.

An added bonus is that the survey-method would let Census statisticians create a scientific guess on the size of any disaffected group of choice a politician might care to ask about. This was an enormous advantage because most politicians argued strenuously that their disaffected group was under-counted in the Census. The affected groups, they said, were counted just fine.

The Census is used to count how many citizens there are and where they live. These numbers are then used to gerrymander—no, sorry, draw up Congressional districts and allocate numbers of representatives. Areas which have fewer people have fewer politicians assigned to watch over them.

This idea is abhorrent to the politicians who might lose their jobs if the Census finds that fewer people now live under their jurisdiction. Thus, the loudest cries of “under-count!” are from those leaders in areas which have lost population. They are therefore eager to find a way to boost their numbers, and the best way to do that is to drag out the slogan “disaffected group!” or one of its variants.

Why is this so? Because the survey-method can, and does, count non-citizens. Now, non-citizens are fine people, but they are just what they sound like: non citizens. By trivial definition, they should not be counted as part of the official count of citizens. But if they are counted, and they are input into the arcane algorithms, they will increase the estimate of the count of people living in the area in which they were surveyed.

The mathematical apparatus that the statisticians have constructed has myriad knobs, levers, and switches that can be tweaked to produce numbers either higher or lower as directed. Twist this knob and Ames, Iowa goes up 2%, flip that switch and San Francisco drops 4%.

It would be very tempting for somebody to play with those controls to massage the numbers so that, say, the tenets of social justice are obeyed, and Congressional districts are apportioned to favor those politicians that are more properly Enlightened. A higher good is being served this way.

Which is why exactly why Obama would not want to bring a department that had been operating just fine before he came to us under his wing. Instead, presumably, he just likes statisticians around him (who doesn’t?). Obviously, he would not meddle with the independence of the Census. That is why he is drawing it closer. To not meddle.

We statisticians are lovely folk—we know some great jokes, and can integrate multidimensional integrals faster than you can crack open a peanut—but we cannot be trusted to not play with our own creations, especially when our bosses, eager for a certain result, are watching over our shoulders.

Let’s just stick with enumerate.

February 11, 2009 | 28 Comments

resource: property that can be converted into supplies (Webster)

A friend recently related this, unfortunately not atypical, incident at my friend’s company.

It was the joyous time of year for personal evaluations. Way they do it at that company is to have a list of goals, agreed upon by employee and manager. Through the year both manager and employee track these goals, ending with the employee asked to evaluate their self on a scale of 1 (substandard) to 5 (outstanding).

The manager takes the employee’s self evaluation, adds their own comments, and passes the whole thing on to human “resources.” Whence various mystical incantations from that department are applied to the document.

My friend is a top employee, a fact which nobody questions, and so my friend gave four personal goals a 5 and one goal a solid 4. The form was then handed in.

It wasn’t long before a human “resources” resource got on the phone to question the ratings. “Did you know,” the resource questioned, “that your group is only allocated three ‘outstandings’? So you cannot put four of them for your self.”

There are more than two dozen people in my friend’s department. The following is roughly what was said.

My friend replied, “But I thought that I was supposed to rate myself. Isn’t that true?”

“Yes, but groups aren’t typically allowed to have so many high ratings.”

“Why not?”

“Because that group wouldn’t be balanced. It would have more ‘outstandings’ than other groups. It would stick out.”

“But I think my performance has been outstanding. Why can’t I put that?”

“Yes, we know you, and your role is secure. Everybody knows you do a great job. You just can’t use so many outstandings. You can talk to your manager about it. He’ll probably let you have one of them, and other people in your group will probably get the other two.”

My friend was somewhat flustered. “But isn’t the purpose of this form to rate myself?”

“It is.”

“Then why can’t I put what I feel I deserve?”

“You can. But you just can’t put so many ‘outstandings’.”

“Is this a formal policy? Why doesn’t the form say you can’t use the ‘outstandings’.”

“You can use the ‘outstandings’. It’s just that we have to have a balance between the departments…”

There is no fighting a resource, so my friend said “Ok, fine. What should I put then?”

“Well, a lot of people have been putting 3s (met expectations)…”

“But I did more than that. I’ll put 4s.”

“Hmm. You’ll have to talk to your manager about that.”

“Ok, I will.” And my friend hung up.

All this happened yesterday, so the conclusion has not been reached.

Certainly the resource has a college degree–who can get a job at a major company these days without a ‘degree’?—so this is just more evidence that a degree is only loosely correlated with knowledge and ability. Or maybe it’s just evidence that people given a desk and told to do something will make themselves busy. Like, by designing useless employee evaluation forms.

Anybody else have a similar experience?