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Posts Tagged ‘Census

“Indeed, you won the elections, but I won the count”*…

 

Count

 

“There’s nothing from the CDC that I can trust,” snapped US coronavirus task-force leader Deborah Birx at a White House meeting earlier this month. According to news reports, Birx was frustrated at the agency’s tally of coronavirus deaths, as she and colleagues worried that reported numbers were up to 25 percent too high. However, if some people inside the Beltway think the counts are inflated, others think they’re too low—and the seemingly simple task of tabulating bodies has become an intensely political act.

It’s a bizarre situation, because in some sense, there’s nothing more inherently impartial than a tally of objects. This is why the act of counting is the gateway from our subjective, messy world of confused half-truths into the objective, Platonic realm of indisputable facts and natural laws. Science almost always begins with counting, with figuring out how to measure or tabulate something in a consistent, reproducible way. Yet even that very first rung on the ladder to scientific understanding is slippery when the act of counting gets entangled with money or power…

With contested vote tallies, concerns over Census data, and now the Covid-19 death toll, 2020 may mark the ugly climax of a long dispute: “The Politics of Counting Things Is About to Explode.”

And for a case study in why the terrifically-difficult underlying mechanics of “counting” lend themselves to politicization, FiveThirtyEight’s “The Uncounted Dead.”

* Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, quoted in the Guardian (London), June 17, 1977

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As we contemplate calculation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that the Dow Jones Average made its first appearance in the Customers’ Afternoon Letter, the precursor to the Wall Street Journal.  It was named for two of the Letter‘s three reporters, Charles Dow and Edward Jones. It was originally comprised of 12 companies (now 30).  Although it is one of the most commonly followed equity indices, many consider it to be an inadequate representation of the overall U.S. stock market compared to broader market indices such as the S&P 500 Index or Russell 3000 because the Dow only includes 30 large cap companies, is not weighted by market capitalization, and does not use a weighted arithmetic mean.

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Historical (logarithmic) graph of the DJIA from 1896 to 2010

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“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.”*…

 

census

 

The census is an essential part of American democracy. The United States counts its population every ten years to determine how many seats each state should have in Congress. Census data have also been used to levy taxes and distribute funds, estimate the country’s military strength, assess needs for social programs, measure population density, conduct statistical analysis of longitudinal trends, and make business planning decisions.

We looked at every question on every census from 1790 to 2020. The questions—over 600 in total—tell us a lot about the country’s priorities, norms, and biases in each decade. They depict an evolving country: a modernizing economy, a diversifying population, an imperfect but expanding set of civil and human rights, and a growing list of armed conflicts in its memory…

From our friends at The Pudding (@puddingviz), a graphic history of the questions asked in the U.S. Census. What changes each decade, what stays the same, and what do the questions say about American culture and society? “The Evolution of the American Census.”

For a look at how the pandemic is impacting this year’s census, see “It’s the Official Start to the 2020 Census. But No One Counted On a Pandemic.” and “Coronavirus could exacerbate the US census’ undercount of people of color.”

* Article 1, Section 2, of the the Constitution of the United States of America, directing the creation and conducting of a regular census; Congress first met in 1789, and the first national census was held in 1790.

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As we answer faithfully, we might send illustratively enumerating birthday greetings to John James Audubon; he was born on this date in 1785.  An ornithologist, naturalist, and artist, Audubon documented all types of American birds with detailed illustrations depicting the birds in their natural habitats.  His The Birds of America (1827–1839), in which he identified 25 new species, is considered one of the most important– and finest– ornithological works ever completed.

Book plate featuring Audubon’s print of the Greater Prairie Chicken

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Written by LW

April 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Society is unity in diversity”*…

 

Diversity Map

 

In less than one year, the 2020 census will record just how much more racially diverse the nation has become, continuing the “diversity explosion” that punctuated the results of the 2010 census. While less authoritative than the once-a-decade national headcount, recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2018 make plain that racial minority populations—especially Hispanic, Asian and black Americans—continue to expand, leaving fewer parts of the country untouched by diversity…

From Brookings, a pre-2020 census look at the wide dispersal of the nation’s Hispanic, Asian and black populations: Six maps that reveal America’s expanding diversity.

* George Herbert Mead

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As we delight in difference, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that then 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote “The Defense of Fort M’Henry,” a poem– which provided the lyrics for the U.S. national anthem–  in which he described the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.

Indeed, he wrote lyrics beyond those most of us have heard:  a pro-slavery, anti-abolitionist campaigner, Key wrote a (now mostly omitted) third stanza that promises that “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

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Written by LW

September 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”*…

 

Foudray-tables-credit-excerpt

 

Elbertie Foudray did well playing an unfair game.

Between 1920 and 1945, she became one of the United States’ most important actuaries. World class experts scheduled meetings to talk statistics with her. The life insurance industry, the developing welfare system, and the first generation of American state planners all relied on her research. Foudray’s reputation grew. And her salary also grew too. Still she did not earn even half as much as she should have and despite two decades of celebrated service and significant responsibility, Foudray couldn’t escape the ranks of the “assistant” class…

In many ways, Foudray resembles one of the “hidden figures,” whose stories Margot Lee Shetterly so wonderfully told and director Theodore Melfi brought, with delightful verve, to a theater near you. Even though Foudray’s whiteness extended her privileges not available to Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, or Katherine Johnson, like them she made crucial contributions to a major national project only to have those contributions forgotten…

America’s elite population researchers trusted Foudray, identifying her with her tables. They trusted “the Foudray life tables,” which appeared in multiple / key / works of interwar demography. When Foudray (rather typically, it seems) challenged some assumptions made in calculations by Pascal K. Whelpton—the most important population forecaster of the day—he responded that he “surely will see Miss Foudray the first time I am in Washington…” He took her seriously…

Historian Dan Bouk tells the remarkable story of an unsung hero of modern America: “Elbertie Foudray and the Adventure of Life.”

* Joseph Campbell

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As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876 that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer observed “Indian activity” and prepared his troops for the engagement that unfolded the following two days– the most prominent battle in the Great Sioux War of 1876, in which Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors annihilated five companies of the U.S. 7th Cavalry led by Custer.  Known by its Native American participants as the “Battle of the Greasy Grass,” and by most American history books as the “Battle of Little Big Horn,” it culminated with “Custer’s Last Stand” on June 26, 1876.

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The Custer Fight by Charles Marion Russell

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“Above all else show the data”*…

 

Charts

Three of the many exhibits at Xenographics

… a collection of unusual charts and maps, managed by Maarten Lambrechts. Its objective is to create a repository of novel, innovative and experimental visualizations to inspire you, to fight xenographphobia and popularize new chart types…

* Edward Tufte

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As we put the info into infographics, we might ponder the terminally-tarnished legacy of James Dunwoody Brownson De Bow; he was born on this date in 1820.  While he was an accomplished statistician who served as as head of the U.S. Census from 1853 to 1857,  he was also the founder and first editor of DeBow’s Review, a widely-circulated magazine of “agricultural, commercial, and industrial progress and resource” in the American South from 1846 until 1884.  Before the Civil War, the magazine “recommended the best practices for wringing profits from slaves.”

James_Dunwoody_Brownson_DeBow_04 source

 

Written by LW

July 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

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