F train Blues, Michael Palin is proud, and some misuses of statistics

Just back from my trip. I’ll go through the comments from last week’s posts later today and catch up. Meanwhile, here are a few interesting stories.

That F’ing train! You’ve heard me complain about “the dreaded F train” before. Now comes proof that my perception was correct. “The F train stands for failure these days.”

I’m forced onto this line as I make my way to Park Slope, Brooklyn. There are more free concerts—exogenous emanations from ear buds—on this train than on any other. The best part is the jackhammering at the Bleeker street station. It’s the only thing loud enough to drown out the music.

Michael Palin not a lefty? “Britons should stop apologising for their colonial past and be proud of our Empire’s achievements” (link here).

The TV star said: ‘If we say that all of our past involvement with the world was bad and wicked and wrong, I think we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.

‘It has set up lines of communication between people that are still very strong.

‘We still have links with other countries – culturally, politically and socially – that, perhaps, we shouldn’t forget.’

Packing heat gets you shot, say profs (sent in by reader Andreas) “Medical researchers in Philadelphia have conducted a study which indicates – according to their interpretation – that carrying a gun causes people to get shot more often” (link here). In short: owning a gun gets you shot.

This is my entry for the worst use of statistics in a medical study for 2009:

According to the profs, six per cent of the shooting victims were packing heat when they got plugged. They compared that to a control sample of Philadelphians who had not been shot, and concluded that “people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun”.

Overreporting Sexual Assaults “The University of California at Davis revealed Thursday that for at least three years it reported an inflated number of sexual assaults to the federal government” (link here).

Her heart was in the right place, so lying is OK:

Davis reported 48 forcible sexual offenses in 2005, 68 in 2006 and 69 in 2007. The actual totals, according to the two reviews, were 21, 23 and 33.

The university places the blame on Jennifer Beeman, former director of its Campus Violence Prevention Program, who retired in June 2009…

Beeman’s misconduct may go back further. A 2001 Sacramento Bee investigation found that though the university had reported no sexual assaults under the Clery Act in 1998, Beeman said, when applying for a $543,000 federal grant, that there had been 700 rapes or attempted rapes there that year

No birthmarks on parade “Police refuse to show suspect’s birthmark in ID parade… because of his human rights” (link here).

Whatever you do, don’t show her the guilty one:

When Tracy Ryan spotted a suspected burglar emerging from the dog sanctuary where she works, she thought she would have little problem pointing him out to police.

After all, he had a large port-wine stain on his face.

But when police set up an identity parade, they refused to take the man’s distinctive birthmark into account – in case it infringed his human rights.

Loving, Caring State takes little boy from father (link here).

Don’t take him out to the ballpark:

The sign above the Comerica Park concession stand said: “Mike’s Lemonade 7.00.”

So when Christopher Ratte of Ann Arbor ordered one for his 7-year-old son at an April 4 Detroit Tigers game, he had no idea that he was purchasing an alcoholic beverage. Or that the boy would end up spending three days and two nights in the custody of Children’s Protective Services….

[The boy] was sent to Children’s Hospital in Detroit, where he was examined, found to have no alcohol in his blood, and cleared to go home. But he was instead taken into custody by Wayne County Children’s Protective Services, a division of the state Department of Human Services.


  1. Kevin

    I can’t comment on your train ride, but I reduced my own music listening years ago because I seemed to be bombarded by it in public. Has this caused me some cognitive harm? Maybe. At any rate Bleeker Street Station reminded me of a story of Robert Oppenheimer, a jackhammer, and a speaker at a colloquium. The speaker was incomprehensible. The jack hammer was breaking concrete just outside the classroom window–raising a hell of a racket. Finally, Oppenheimer shut the window and said something like “Gawd that’s irritating. Especially, when it makes more sense than this talk.”

    What can a person say about that medical study other than most people don’t understand the meaning of ‘control’? We require a course in algebra for any degree program on campus, but we’d turn out better prepared adults if we required a statistics course, and one including some discussion of design of experiments and the value of skepticism.

    We have a “care team” on campus that is meant to investigate all sorts of threats, and who work diligently to make the place safe for persons of all persuasions. People can make anonymous referrals. Eventhough I doubt they make-up incidents, the team does tend to see crises and threats everywhere. Last year we had two suicides on campus, one of which was clearly in the sights of this team before hand, and yet could not be prevented. A college campus is a small analog of the real world, complete with incompetent government.

  2. Governments seem compelled to try to take away the ability for ordinary citizens and their public servants to exercise any sort of judgment. This is extended not only to police but even to the judiciary who have been saddled with mandatory sentencing laws and the like.

    This compulsion is usually combined with a need to assign simple explanations for complex situations where quite often the obvious facts do not substantiate the explanation. Usually situations arise for complex reasons for which there is not a simple explanation. It is therefore usually impossible to prescribe a set of rules which deals with every event and often a large number of events will be inappropriately dealt with a set of rules.

    We are therefore stuck with the idiocies of the little boy taken from his parents and the need to find 12 people with port wine stains on their face for an identity parade.

    Would it not be wonderful if governments could be persuaded to research their social policies and to prove them in the public arena by objective research? I doubt this would be politically possible given that company boards or executives seldom have to justify ex facto their investment decisions to their shareholders which in principle would be quite easy.

    On the question of whether carrying a gun is more likely to get you shot in an assault is also surely another example of not taking the whole situation into account. It is clear that in the USA and South Africa where guns are readily available, you are several times more likely to be shot compared to countries such as Canada and Australia where guns are not so available. The statistics of deaths by gunshot are interesting and the difference between the USA and Australian murder rates are almost entirely explained by those resulting from gunshot.

  3. The university places the blame on Jennifer Beeman, former director of its Campus Violence Prevention Program, who retired in June 2009…

    She’s not kin to me, but that West Coast crowd is giving me a bad name!

  4. Rich

    So 94% of shooting victims weren’t carrying a gun. In terms of missong the point I’m reminded of a story from (I think) the first world war. The British dropped leaflets making scurrilous accusations against the German general responsible for that part of the front. He responded by dropping leaflets on the British lines denying them. You just think, “What goes through these people’s heads?”

  5. Bernie

    Thank God. For a moment I thought it was you!!

    It is stories like this that make me even more skeptical of any statistics quoted by those who in anyway shape or form benefit from those same statistics. The need for transparency and openness about both data and analytic methods increases as advocacy increases. Those who quote such statistics, like weathermen, are seldom accountable for their pronouncements. Alas the spirit of used car salesmen seems to have jumped the species barrier and now can be found in all professions including, no doubt, statisticians!!

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