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Stats + Stories

Author: The Stats + Stories Team

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Statistics need Stories to give them meaning. Stories need Statistics to give them credibility. Every Thursday John Bailer, Richard Campbell and Rosemary Pennington get together with a new interesting guest to bring you the Statistics behind the Stories and the Stories behind the Statistics.
161 Episodes
The work of health researchers is vitally important to the safety and well-being of people around the world, with the COVID-19 crisis making that all too clear. However, health researchers are facing a crisis of their own, a crisis of trust. It’s fueled partly by the proliferation of social media, the politicization of data, and the reluctance of some researchers to discuss their work. The issue of trust and health research is a focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Sandra Alba Sandra Alba, MSc, PhD, is an epidemiologist at KIT Royal Tropical Institute with a background in medical statistics. She has 15 years’ experience in the application of statistical and epidemiological methods to evaluate public health programs primarily low- and middle-income countries. At KIT Sandra has specialized in the application of statistical and epidemiological methods M&E and impact evaluations within multidisciplinary teams and in collaboration with local partners in Africa and Asia. Her areas of expertise include child health, malaria, WASH and TB. How did trust become such an issue? (1:44) Scientific vs. public debate (4:57) Cultural disconnects drives distrust (8:50) More certainty (11:45) Engaging nurses and doctors (16:30) COVID Vaccine (19:16) Work with TB (21:15)
The use of statistics to improve processes and business industry government and academia is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with Deming Lecturer Award winner Nicholas Fisher. Fisher left his position as Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO  in 2001 to found ValueMetrics Australia, an R&D consultancy that carries out R&D in Performance Measurement, in which area he has consulted to a wide variety of business, industry and Government clients in Australia and overseas. What got you into performance measurement? 1:00, How important is context in productivity measurements? 4:30, Measurements can affect behavior 9:12, How should journalist report of performance statistics 13:27, What advise would you give people studying performance 17:45, Who are some of the legends in this field 20:30
The data official statistical offices collect and generate are of vital importance to the work of national governments and international organizations. However, the work of collecting national data can be difficult and at times can be politicized, and as with so much over the last several months, the COVID pandemic has only shown how important national statistics are as well as how fraught their interpretation can be. Official statistics is a focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Gemma Van Halderen. Gemma Van Halderen is Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Prior to joining ESCAP in June 2018, Gemma was a member of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Executive Team, leading the transformation of ABS’ statistical programs and implementation of modernized statistical capabilities. She was responsible for transformation strategies and programs for data sharing, data integration and micro-data access including ABS’ contribution to the Australian Government’s Data Integration Partnership for Australia. Among her many responsibilities at different levels, in 2017, Gemma was seconded to the Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to prepare the Government’s response to a Productivity Commission Inquiry into Data Availability and Use.
Protestors have taken to streets across the U-S this summer in order to fight back against what they see as an unjust criminal justice system – one that treats People of Color in prejudicial and violent ways. The concern over racial bias in policing has long been a concern of activists, but there’s an increasing focus on other ways racial bias might influence decisions made in America’s courts and police stations. The statistics related to race and the criminal justice system is a focus of this episode of Stats and Stories. Tarak Shah is a data scientist at HRDAG, where he cleans and processes data and fits models in order to understand evidence of human rights abuses. Prior to his position at HRDAG, he was the Assistant Director of Prospect Analysis at University of California, Berkeley, in the University Development and Alumni Relations, where he developed tools and analytics to support major gift fundraising. What spurred this research?(1:33) What is a risk assessment model? (2:12) What ore these tools suppose to do? (4:00) What is fairness? (5:18) What did you learn? (10:12) What is the takeaway for the layperson? (15:20) What’re some parallels to this work? (19:35) How do you make this interesting? (22:07) What’s the flow of your work, for reproducibility? (25:00)
What comes to mind at the start of summer? Backyard barbecues, quality time spent, and long drive. Transportation safety is the topic of this episode of Stats+Stories with guest Joel Greenhouse Joel B. Greenhouse, Ph.D., is Professor of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University, and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He is an elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an elected Member of the International Statistical Institute.
Social media is always awash in pet videos and images, but since the COVID lockdowns it seems as though there is even more pet content to be found online as cats invade video conferences and dogs beg for even more walks. There are sometimes even calls in spaces such as Twitter for people to share pet images when someone’s having a bad day. The connection between pets and wellness is one of the focuses of this episode of Stats and Stories, with guest Allen McConnell. Allen McConnell is University Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Miami University. His research examines how relationships with family and pets affect health and well-being, how people decode others’ nonverbal displays, and how self-nature representations influence pro-environmental action with this work supported over the years by National Institutes of Health (NICHD and NIMH) and National Science Foundation grants. His research has been featured in a variety of popular press outlets such as ESPN, CBC, CNN, BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Atlantic Monthly, and Cosmopolitan. He has served as Editor in Chief of Social Psychological and Personality Science, Associate Editor of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and President of the Midwestern Psychological Association and of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. His Social Self blog at Psychology Today receives more than 10K unique views per post. How did you start studying pets? (1:25) Ways pets improve health (3:20) How do you do control groups when studying pet ownership? (5:40) What about the pets that cause stress? (8:15) Pets relationship with media (9:50) How does this fit into social/positive psychology? (12:12) How do you feel about the reporting around your work? (13:40) Divisions in pet ownership and how people view pets (16:10) Is there data like this around the world? (19:47) Nature’s impact on mental health (21:20)
When reporters cover mass shootings news outlets often struggle to find ways to cover the event that won’t inspire others to do the same thing. Something similar follows in the wake of a suicide. Journalists don’t always cover suicides in their communities but when they do one of the concerns is whether that coverage might lead to a spike in suicides after the story is out. The media’s influence on the actions of individuals is a chronic concern for researchers in a number of fields and is a focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Joel Greenhouse Joel B. Greenhouse, Ph.D., is Professor of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University, and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He is an elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an elected Member of the International Statistical Institute. Why did you study 13 Reasons Why? (1:23) What data did you use in this? (2:20) How did you choose the age ranges? (7:40) Editing the episode (9:45) What’re the limitations of this research (10:56) Correlation/causation issues? (13:21) Any outrageous stories about your work? (15:02) Most surprising result of your work? (16:15) Contagion with suicide (18:24) How would you follow this study up? (20:23)
Across the country, protesters are taking to the streets to fight against police brutality and systemic racism. The use of force by police departments as well as the seeming militarization of many has been a concern of activists for some time. Another concern has been the use of big data in the use of surveillance technologies by departments to conduct predictive policing. Advocates for the approach say it helps police better marshal resources as the data is used to identify where hotspots of criminal activity might be. Opponents suggest the approach can just reproduce long-standing biases in the criminal justice system compounding systemic inequality. The intersection of big data and policing is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories, with guest Sarah Brayne. Sarah Brayne is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. In her research, Brayne uses qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the social consequences of data-intensive surveillance practices. Her forthcoming book, Predict and Surveil: Data, Discretion, and the Future of Policing, draws on years of ethnographic research of the Los Angeles Police Department to understand how law enforcement uses predictive analytics and new surveillance technologies. Prior to joining the faulty at UT-Austin, Brayne was a Postdoctoral Researcher at Microsoft Research. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Policy from Princeton University. Brayne has volunteer-taught college-credit sociology classes in prisons since 2012. In 2017, she founded the Texas Prison Education Initiative. Timestamps: How did you get interested in this topic (1:31), Tell use about your study, (2:44,)How were you received in the LAPD (4:22), How did you get trained in this? (6:43), How did you get the data you’ve collected (8:01), Misuse of Data (10:24) Define Predictive Policing (12:05), Most surprising part of your research (16:40, What insights did you get from ride-a-longs (18:20), Differences between Canada (20:15), What’s next for Sarah Brayne (22:20), Texas Prison Education Initiative 26:45
As researchers and medical professionals struggle to get a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists struggle to tell the pandemic’s story with many news outlets increasingly turning to info graphics and data visualizations to help them do so. Visualizing data for news is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Harry Stevens. Harry Stevens joined The Washington Post as a graphics reporter in 2019. He is part of the team that won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for its climate change-focused series. He previously worked at Axios, where he designed news graphics and worked on data-driven investigations. Stevens's journalism career has also included stints at the Hindustan Times in New Delhi, India, and the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah.
As the COVID 19 death toll continues to rise, researchers and public health professionals around the world are working to understand just how prevalent the disease is. News stories of the last several months have talked about contact tracing and featured images of drive through COVID testing. One of the issues that has come up with testing is whether we should test people who don’t show signs of infection. That’s the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories, with guests Nick Fisher and Dennis Trewin. Nick Fisher left his position as Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO in 2001 to found ValueMetrics Australia, an R&D consultancy that carries out R&D in Performance Measurement, in which area he has consulted to a wide variety of business, industry and Government clients in Australia and overseas. He is a Past President of the Statistical Society of Australia and of ISBIS, and was founding Editor-in-Chief of the ISI online journal Stat. Dennis Trewin was trained as a Statistician but has had 40 years of executive management experience in official statistics in Australia and New Zealand. He was the Australian Statistician from 2000 to 2007. He has also been an Electoral Commissioner and an Associate Commissioner at the Productivity Commission. He has chaired and been a member of Boards/Councils in the superannuation and university sectors. He is the current Chair of the Australian Mathematics Trust.
Luke Bornn (@LukeBornn) is currently Vice President, Strategy and Analytics for the Sacramento Kings . Prior to joining the Kings, Bornn served as Head of Analytics for A.S. Roma of the Italian Serie A Football League, where he worked closely with managers, coaches and sports scientists to measure and evaluate athletes and performance. In addition to his work with soccer and basketball teams, the British Columbia native has previously held tenure-track professorships in Statistics at both Harvard University and Fraser University. Bornn is a frequent contributor to the field of sports analytics, authoring research articles for the Journal for Quantitative Analysis, the Annals of Applied Statistics and the Journal of the American Statistical Association amongst others.
Latoya Jennings-Lopez hosts this special episode of Stats+Stories with the children of Howard W. Bishop middle school. Listen to Alyana and Collin ask our host John Bailer and other special guest Wendy Martinez about their careers in Statistics, and how young people can get involved early.
Lynn McDonald is a professor emerita at the University of Guelph. McDonald’s career has focused on enduring contributions as a scholar and social activist. She also served as a member of Parliament when her Non-Smokers’ Health Act of 1988 led the world in enacting legislation to establish smoke-free work and public spaces. In addition, in a labor of love, she published the definitive collection of Florence Nightingale’s writings, bringing renewed attention to this important female icon for a new generation.
Steve Pierson is director of science policy for the American Statistical Association where he works to raise the profile of statistics in policymaking and advocates on the interests of statisticians. He was previously head of government relations at the American Physical Society and associate professor of physics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Amalia Bastos is a biologist and photographer who is currently a Ph.D candidate at The University of Auckland. She is part of the Animal Minds lab and work with three different species: dogs, kea, and New Caledonian crows. Her main interest is on how evolutionary pressures have shaped the minds of different species. Her PhD thesis focuses on the signature-testing approach, which aims to identify which cognitive processes animals use to understand their environment.
Roland Geyer is Professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. Prior to joining the Bren School he held research positions in Germany, France, and the UK. Since 2000 he has worked with a wide range of governmental organization, trade associations, and companies on environmental sustainability issues. Roland has won multiple awards for his work, such as the International Statistic of the Year, and been featured widely in the media, like CBS 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, and PBS News Hour. He has a graduate degree in physics and a PhD in engineering. Learn more about Roland and his work on
Dan Cooley is a Professor or Statistics at Colorado State University and is a past member and chair of the ASA’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change Policy.  Dan’s research is primarily focuses on developing statistical methods for the study of extreme values and is largely motivated by problems in atmospheric science. Dr. Michael F. Wehner is a senior staff scientist in the Computational Research Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Wehner’s current research concerns the behavior of extreme weather events in a changing climate, especially heat waves, intense precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones.
Bekah McBride is a science writer and communications specialist who has worked with both companies and universities to turn data and research into applicable and actionable messages that inspire change. She holds a B.S. in Life Science Communication with an emphasis in Business from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.A. in Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her work has been published on and in Significance.
John Pullinger is the current president of International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) and finished his five-year term as United Kingdom National Statistician, Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority in June 2019. There, his role was to safeguard the production and publication of high quality official statistics by all departments, agencies and institutions in the UK. On appointment he described his role as to, “mobilize the power of data to help Britain make better decisions.” He also has represented the UK internationally in EU, UN, OECD and other forums. He was both Chair and Vice-Chair of the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC).
Amanda Makulec is the Senior Data Visualization Lead at Excella and holds a Masters of Public Health from the Boston University School of Public Health. She worked with data in global health programs for eight years before joining Excella, where she leads teams and develops user-centered data visualization products for federal, non-profit, and private sector clients. Amanda volunteers as the Operations Director for the Data Visualization Society and is a co-organizer for Data Visualization DC. Find her on Twitter at @abmakulec
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