Posts Tagged ‘statistics’
It’s become cliché that unusually many prominent people died in 2016. Is this true?…
[Image above: source]
* François Rabelais
As we usher in the new, we might spare a thought for the first woman in the Western world considered to be a mathematician: Maria Gaetana Agnesi, she died this date in 1799. While she thought and wrote broadly about natural science and philosophy, she is best remembered for her work in differential calculus– perhaps most particularly for her work on the cubic curve now know as the “witch of Agnesi.”
… but happily, progress is made.
As we fight hangovers (both from New Years festivities and from the slow-motion train wreck that was 2016), Max Roser reminds us that in many critical dimensions life has gotten better- much better– around the world… and he reminds us why it’s so very important that we understand this…
* “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we look on the bright side, we might that it was on this date in 1890 that E.A. McIlhenny, the son of Tabasco brand pepper sauce inventor Edmund McIlhenny and manager of the family condiment empire, shot and killed a 19′ 1″ long alligator, reputedly the longest American alligator ever recorded. McIlhenny, who was an amateur naturalist and conservationist, made the claim in one of his four books, The Alligator’s Life History.
Your correspondent is heading into his annual Holiday hiatus (regular service will resume on January 2), so by way of being sure that readers have something to occupy them in the meantime…
We’ve spent time before with Hans Rosling (“By the Numbers…” and “Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell“*…), the man who reasons that experts cannot solve major challenges if they do not operate on facts. “But first you need to erase preconceived ideas,” he says, “and that is the difficult thing.” Nature has done us all the service of collecting a wide variety of his amazing, mind-changing presentations…
Hans Rosling knew never to flee from men wielding machetes. “The risk is higher if you run than if you face them,” he says. So, in 1989, when an angry mob confronted him at the field laboratory he had set up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rosling tried to appear calm. “I thought, ‘I need to use the resources I have, and I am good at talking’.”
Rosling, a physician and epidemiologist, pulled from his knapsack a handful of photographs of people from different parts of Africa who had been crippled by konzo, an incurable disease that was affecting many in this community, too. Through an interpreter, he explained that he believed he knew the cause, and he wanted to test local people’s blood to be sure. A few minutes into his demonstration, an old woman stepped forward and addressed the crowd in support of the research. After the more aggressive members of the mob stopped waving their machetes, she rolled up her sleeve. Most followed her lead. “You can do anything as long as you talk with people and listen to people and talk with the intelligentsia of the community,” says Rosling.
He is still trying to arm influential people with facts. He has become a trusted counsellor and speaker of plain truth to United Nations leaders, billionaire executives such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and politicians including Al Gore. Even Fidel Castro called on the slim, bespectacled Swede for advice. Rosling’s video lectures on global health and economics have elevated him to viral celebrity status, and he has been listed among the 100 most influential people in the world by the magazines Time and Foreign Policy. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says, “To have Hans Rosling as a teacher is one of the biggest honors in the world.”…
More of Rosling’s story– and lots of his short-but-world-view-changing presentations– at “Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world.”
* Arthur Conan Doyle, “
As we celebrate facts, we might send amazing birthday greetings to John Nevil Maskelyne; he was born on this date in 1839. An accomplished stage magician, he was also an inventor, perhaps most notably, of the first pay toilet (the “penny toilet,” origin of the phrase “spend a penny”).
His son, Nevil Maskelyne, was also a magician and inventor– and the perpetrator of the first instance of electronic hacking.
Happy Holidays! See you in the New Year…
In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with averages and medians: the average temperature in New York in April is 52 degrees; Stephen Curry averages 30 points per game; the median household income in the United States is $51,939.
But the concept of taking many different measurements and representing them with one best number is a relatively recent invention. In fact, there are no historical examples of the average or median being used in this manner prior to the 17th Century.
So how did the concept of averages and medians develop? And how did the average triumph as the measurement of our times? The supremacy of the average over the median has had profound consequences about how we understand data. In many cases, it has led us astray…
More at “How the Average Triumphed Over the Median.”
* Benjamin Disraeli
As we average it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that employees of the City of New York held a “Parade of Statistical Graphics,” replete with large graphs on horse-drawn floats, and a photograph with people arranged in a bell-shaped curve. The crowd’s favorite was the float devoted to the decline in death rate due to improvements in sanitation and nursing.
Ever since I found out about the Statistical Atlas of the United States, historically produced by the Census Bureau, it annoyed me that there wasn’t one in the works for the 2010 Census due to cuts in funding. The last one was for 2000. Actually, the 2000 edition was called the Census Atlas, but whatever. With more data than ever, it seems like there should be one.
Maybe that’s why there’s isn’t one. Too much data, too much of an undertaking, and too many bureaucratic decisions to make.
The first Atlas, by Francis A. Walker, was published in 1874 using the data from the prior 1870 Census. Counting cover, credits, and all that, it was 56 pages.
I got to thinking, hey, I could do that. And if I did, I wouldn’t have to be annoyed anymore. So I recreated the original Statistical Atlas of the United States with current data. I used similar styling, and had one main rule for myself. All the data had to be publicly available and come from government sites…
See the stunning– and stunningly useful– results (with larger versions of each chart) at “Reviving the Statistical Atlas of the United States with New Data.”
* “I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s?” – Hal Varian, The McKinsey Quarterly, January 2009
As we discriminate between the median and the mean, we might spare a thought for Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson; he died on this date in 1948. A classics scholar who was also an accomplished biologist and mathematician, Thompson is best remembered for On Growth and Form (1917, new ed. 1942), a profound consideration of the shapes of living things, starting from the simple premise that “everything is the way it is because it got that way.” Thus one must study not only finished forms, but also the forces that molded them: “the form of an object is a ‘diagram of forces’, in this sense, at least, that from it we can judge of or deduce the forces that are acting or have acted upon it.”
The book paved the way for the scientific explanation of morphogenesis, the process by which patterns are formed in plants and animals. Thompson’s description of the mathematical beauty of nature inspired thinkers as diverse as Alan Turing and Claude Levi-Strauss, and artists including Henry Moore, Salvador Dali, and Jackson Pollock. Peter Medawar, the 1960 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, called On Growth and Form “the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue.”
Cartographer Daniel Huffman has created a series of maps in which American river systems are visualized as subway maps (specifically, in the manner of Harry Beck’s 1930s London Tube maps), with nodes representing connections between streams and tributaries.
Huffman strikes a particular chord in the map-lover’s heart. On an Internet brimming with sleek, sharp geo-visualizations, Huffman’s maps offer a sweetly idiosyncratic view of the world. The signatures of historic figures turn into street vectors. Oregon’s wine country gets the ‘90s computer-game treatment. A simple bike path becomes a work of calligraphy.
“What it really probably comes down to is a desire to do things differently than others,” he says in an email. “I crave variety, and so it often leads me to thinking of weird ideas and saying, ‘I wonder if I can do X[.]’”
Lately, a trend has emerged out of Huffman’s impulses towards novelty—an idea he calls “Modern Naturalism,” in which his maps present natural features in the type of “highly-abstracted, geometrically precise visual language that we often apply to the constructed world on maps,” according to his website…
More on Huffman and his marvelous maps at “When Rivers Look Like Subway Systems.”
* Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
As we hop onto our rafts, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Nightingale, born on this date in 1820. Famed for her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, she went on to found training facilities and nursing homes– pioneering both medical training for women and what is now known as Social Entrepreneuring. Less well-known are Nightingale’s contributions to epidemiology, statistics, and the visual communication of data in the field of public health. Always good at math, she pioneered the use of the polar area chart (the equivalent to a modern circular histogram or rose diagram) and popularized the pie chart (which had been developed in 1801 by William Playfair). Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society, and later became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.