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Stats + Stories

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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.
176 Episodes
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Of all places to look for statistics, who’d have thought a settlement house would be a place that you would find insight into data of their communities. However, that’s the focus of this episode of Stats+Short Stories with guest Sharon Lohr. Lohr researches and writes about statistics: where they come from, how to interpret them, and how to tell the good statistics from the bad. After receiving her Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sharon taught for 25 years at the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University, where she was Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Statistics. As a Vice President at Westat, she developed survey designs and statistical analysis methods for use in transportation, public health, crime measurement, and education. She now does freelance statistical consulting and writing. See the feature article about Sharon in the September 2018 issue of Amstat News.
When an individual is admitted to a hospital they are quite often hooked up to a pan plea of monitoring devices all designed to help the doctors and nurses caring for them meet their medical needs. Increasingly hospitals are exploring how machine learning can help them better monitor patient vital signs and that’s a focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Glen Wright Colopy. Colopy completed his PhD at the Oxford Institute of Biomedical Engineering in 2018. His primary research interests are in probabilistic modeling, time series analysis, and stochastic optimization. He has been doing research in healthcare since 2011, and  Glen's primary machine learning goal is to provide presentations that people can enjoy and learn from. His most recent public project is the "Philosophy of Data Science" series which investigates the role of scientific reasoning in practical data science.
Being able to effectively communicate data is becoming an increasingly important part of a journalists job, so much so that news outlets are expanding their staffs to include data scientists and statisticians and that is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Robert Cuffe. Cuffe is the head of statistics for BBC news. Before that he worked on HIV drug trials at GlaxoSmithKline and is head of statistics at ViiV Health Care. Cuffe is a statistical ambassador for the Royal Statistical Society and was chairman of the UK pharmaceutical statistician’s industry body PSI where he worked with the Science Media Center to set up a briefing service for the Lay Science Press. His research interests deal primarily with health statistics and the general communication of statistics as a whole.
With the 2020 U-S presidential election all but upon us, media are rife with prognostications about which way voters are going to swing. Will reliably red states stay red or will voters produce a blue wave that crashes across the country? Will economic uncertainty trump concerns over COVID 19? Is political polarization really as set-in-stone as some have suggested? Understanding voter behavior is a focus of this episode of Stats and Stories where we explore the statistics behind the stories and the stories behind the statistics with guest Andrew Gelman. Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University. He has received the Outstanding Statistical Application award three times from the American Statistical Association, the award for best article published in the American Political Science Review, and the Council of Presidents of Statistical Societies award for outstanding contributions by a person under the age of 40. His research interests include a wide range of topics, including: why it is rational to vote, why campaign polls are so variable when elections are so predictable and why redistricting is good for democracy among various others.
Delia North is the Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at University of KwaZulu Natal. She has over 25 years’ experience in the teaching and design of Statistics curricula at university. Her passion for teaching Statistics has resulted in her becoming a leading figure in South African Statistics Education circles, evidenced by being Theme Chair, Topic Chair, Session Organizer and Guest Speaker at various international conferences on Statistics Education. She is a member of the South African Statistical Association (SASA) executive committee, chairs the SASA Education Committee and is on a Council member of the International Statistical Association.
The US Census Bureau is conducting its annual count of the American population this year. Concerns have emerged about this particular census and these have included potential impact of a citizenship question. The shortening of the window for the count, the deadline for reports for reapportionment. All of these concerns might translate into miscounts that impact allocation of federal funds of representation in our legislative branch. The current status of the 2020 Census is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Rob Santos Robert Santos is vice president & chief methodologist at the Urban Institute as well as President-Elect of American Statistical Association. He has over 40 years of experience designing research and evaluation studies as well as sample surveys. His expertise includes quantitative and qualitative research design, sampling, survey operations, and statistical analysis; specialty areas include Hispanics, blacks, undocumented immigrants, and other disadvantaged populations.
There are a lot of facts and figures to sift through when it comes to the COVID 19 pandemic – there are death rates and infection rates to consider, as well as the paths of infection in a particular community. Investigating the pandemic is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guests Ron Fricker and Steve Rigdon. Dr. Ronald D. Fricker, Jr. is a Professor of Statistics and the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Administration in the Virginia Tech College of Science. He holds a PhD and an MA in Statistics from Yale University, an MS in Operations Research from The George Washington University, and a bachelor’s degree from the United States Naval Academy.  He is the author of Introduction to Statistical Methods for Biosurveillance published by Cambridge University Press and co-author with Dr. Steve Rigdon of Monitoring the Health of Populations by Tracking Disease Outbreaks and Epidemics: Saving Humanity from the Next Plague published by the American Statistical Association and CRC Press. Dr. Fricker is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, an Elected Member of the International Statistical Institute, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Steve Rigdon is a Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice where he teaches about Baysian statistical methods. His research interests include Biosurveillance; models for election prediction; quality; survival analysis.
If you’ve been following the news much then you may have noticed reporters beginning to explore how COVID is impacting crime rates around the country. Police commissioners are even appearing on newscasts trying to explain how various COVID measures may have changed the kinds of crimes they’re seeing in their cities. One of the problems becomes tying those changes directly to COVID and of course, a long-standing issue when it comes to crime rates is understanding how we measure crime in the first place. Measuring crime is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Sharon Lohr. Lohr researches and writes about statistics: where they come from, how to interpret them, and how to tell the good statistics from the bad. After receiving her Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sharon taught for 25 years at the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University, where she was Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Statistics. As a Vice President at Westat, she developed survey designs and statistical analysis methods for use in transportation, public health, crime measurement, and education. She now does freelance statistical consulting and writing. See the feature article about Sharon in the September 2018 issue of Amstat News.
Statistics is generally a field not known for its humor, at least to the broad public. Which is a shame because humor is a way to make complicated subjects – like statistics or big data – accessible to general audiences. The intersection of humor and stats is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Timandra Harkness, coming to you from the annual meeting of the Royal Statistical Society with guest host Brian Tarran. Harkness writes and presents BBC Radio 4 documentaries including the series FutureProofing and How To Disagree, and Are You A Numbers Person? for BBC World Service. She formed the UK’s first comedy science double-act with neuroscientist Dr. Helen Pilcher, and has performed scientific and mathematical comedy from Adelaide (Australia) to Pittsburgh PA with partners including Stand Up Mathematician Matt Parker and Socrates the rat. Her latest solo show, Take A Risk, hit the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe with randomized audience participation and an electric shock machine. A fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, she’s a founder member of their Special Interest Group on Data Ethics. Timandra’s book Big Data: does size matter? was published by Bloomsbury Sigma in 2016.
We live at a curious moment, when data and information from a variety of sources overwhelm our senses and when there are people who are working to manipulate some of that data, spreading disinformation and discord. This has led to a skepticism and distrust of data that can make it difficult to find common ground and which, when it comes to public health, may make us all less safe. Overcoming that distrust and helping people see how the world adds up is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Tim Harford coming to you virtually live from the RSS International conference, with guest host Significance Magazine editor Brain Tarran. Harford is an economist, journalist and broadcaster. He is author of "How To Make the World Add Up", "Messy", and the million-selling "The Undercover Economist". Tim is a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4's "More or Less", the iTunes-topping series "Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy", and the new podcast "Cautionary Tales". Tim has spoken at TED, PopTech and the Sydney Opera House. He is an associate member of Nuffield College, Oxford and an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. Tim was made an OBE for services to improving economic understanding in the New Year honors of 2019.
There's a lot of statistical information shared every day in news stories. Everything from COVID cases to economic data is Quantified help us better understand our world. But do news presentations really help us do that? And what do statisticians think about the way journalists are covering their work, that’s the topic behind this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Megan Higgs and Ashley Steel. Megan Higgs is a statistician, freelancer, and owner of Critical Inference. She has experience in academic research and teaching, as well as consulting and scientific collaboration in many disciplines. She believes in the importance of raising awareness about limitations of current uses of statistical methods and inference in scientific practice and communication. Ashley Steel is a statistician and quantitative ecologist with experience in academia, government and international organizations. She wrote “The Truth About Science: A Curriculum for Developing Young Scientists” which guides middle school students through the process of conducting research. She also designed and taught a course on statistical thinking at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she is affiliate faculty. Passionate about the value of probabilistic thinking in every-day decision making, she volunteers at science fairs and supports teachers in understanding statistics.
Alison Hedley has a PhD in Communication and Culture and holds a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) postdoctoral fellowship at McGill University. Her current research addresses the history of data visualization in popular journalism, focusing especially on Victorian and Edwardian Britain. She is editor of the Yellow Nineties Personography, a biographical database about authors and artists of the 1890s, and author of the forthcoming book Making Pictorial Print: Media Literacy and Mass Culture in British Magazines, 1885-1918 (University of Toronto Press). Timestamps What makes Florence Nightingale compelling? 1:30 What was the context of data in this era? 3:06 Skepticism of early visualization 5:45 Design Rhetoric 9:00 Population Journalism 13:27 What is visualization literacy? 22:20
Recent COVID-forced move to online instruction for both K through 12 and higher-ed has come an intense discussion of best teaching practices in digital spaces. While the focus has been on teaching online, the conversation has foregrounded long-standing debates over pedagogy and practice in education. Understanding what works in the classroom is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Ellen Yezierski. Dr. Ellen Yezierski is the Professor of Chemistry and Director of Teaching Excellence at Miami University. Yezierski became familiar with the challenges of actively engaging students in large classes while pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She has worked to integrate her research on the particulate nature of matter and conceptual change to improve teaching in large lecture courses. Her research interests include inquiry instruction, teacher change, and the effects of high school teacher professional development on teachers and their students. Timestamps What is the Centre for Teach Excellence At Miami 1:35 What drew you into helping people teach better? 2:37 Have we gotten better? 4:10 How do people learn? 6:15 How do you define effectiveness? 7:40 What can be done about a fear of science? 11:10 How does learning change with more skill? 14:45 Online learning in the COVID-19 world 18:12 How to recruit good STEM teachers? 23:11 Building trust with students 25:40
Journalism in the United States is imagined as a public good, an institution that aids in the maintenance of democracy as it holds people in power accountable for their actions. Journalists are also tasked with helping citizens understand how their communities are run. However, that’s becoming increasingly difficult as local new rooms around the country shrink or are shuttered completely. Journalism and news deserts are the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with guest Tom Stites Stites is a seasoned writer, editor and entrepreneur with a passion for strengthening journalism and democracy.  Currently he is a consulting editor for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the founder and president of the Banyan Project  which aims to strengthen democracy by pioneering a sustainable and easily replicable new model for Web journalism. As an editor he has supervised reporting that has won an array of major journalism awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes; as an entrepreneur he has been the founding publisher of two print magazines and three Web publications.
Almost every day we seem to get new data about the COVID crisis. Whether it’s infection rates, death rates, testing rates, false-negative rates, there’s a lot of information to cull through. Making sense of COVID data is the focus of this episode of Stats and Stories with Megan Price and Maria Gargiulo. Megan Price is the Executive Director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Price designs strategies and methods for statistical analysis of human rights data for projects in a variety of locations including Guatemala, Colombia, and Syria. Her work in Guatemala includes serving as the lead statistician on a project in which she analyzed documents from the National Police Archive; she has also contributed analyses submitted as evidence in two court cases in Guatemala. Her work in Syria includes serving as the lead statistician and author on three reports, commissioned by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), on documented deaths in that country. @StatMegan Maria Gargiulo is a statistician at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. She has conducted field research on intimate partner violence in Nicaragua and was a Civic Digital Fellow at the United States Census Bureau. She holds a B.S. in statistics and data science and Spanish literature from Yale University. She is also an avid tea drinker. You can find her on Twitter @thegargiulian. Timestamps 2:55 What’s the reaction been? 11:10 How important is the information in supporting these decisions. 14:30 What stories are we missing? 18:14 Schools and Covid 23:30 How to Make Sense of all of the COVID data
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.
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