Posts filed under Just look it up (240)

August 1, 2015

NZ electoral demographics

Two more visualisations:

Kieran Healy has graphs of the male:female ratio by age for each electorate. Here are the four with the highest female proportion,  rather dramatically starting in the late teen years.



Andrew Chen has a lovely interactive scatterplot of vote for each party against demographic characteristics. For example (via Harkanwal Singh),  number of votes for NZ First vs median age



July 25, 2015

Some evidence-based medicine stories

  • Ben Goldacre has a piece at Buzzfeed, which is nonetheless pretty calm and reasonable, talking about the need for data transparency in clinical trials
  • The Alltrials campaign, which is trying to get regulatory reform to ensure all clinical trials are published, was joined this week by a group of pharmaceutical company investors.  This is only surprising until you think carefully: it’s like reinsurance companies and their interest in global warming — they’d rather the problems would go away, but there’s not profit in just ignoring them.
  • The big potential success story of scanning the genome blindly is a gene called PCSK9: people with a broken version have low cholesterol. Drugs that disable PCSK9 lower cholesterol a lot, but have not (yet) been shown to prevent or postpone heart disease. They’re also roughly 100 times more expensive than the current drugs, and have to be injected. None the less, they will probably go on sale soon.
    A survey of a convenience sample of US cardiologists found that they were hoping to use the drugs in 40% of their patients who have already had a heart attack, and 25% of those who have not yet had one.
July 24, 2015

Are beneficiaries increasingly failing drug test?

Stuff’s headline is “Beneficiaries increasingly failing drug tests, numbers show”.

The numbers are rates per week of people failing or refusing drug tests. The number was 1.8/week for the first 12 weeks of the policy and 2.6/week for the whole year 2014, and, yes, 2.6 is bigger than 1.8.  However, we don’t know how many tests were performed or demanded, so we don’t know how much of this might be an increase in testing.

In addition, if we don’t worry about the rate of testing and take the numbers at face value, the difference is well within what you’d expect from random variation, so while the numbers are higher it would be unwise to draw any policy conclusions from the difference.

On the other hand, the absolute numbers of failures are very low when compared to the estimates in the Treasury’s Regulatory Impact Statement.

MSD and MoH have estimated that once this policy is fully implemented, it may result in:

• 2,900 – 5,800 beneficiaries being sanctioned for a first failure over a 12 month period

• 1,000 – 1,900 beneficiaries being sanctioned for a second failure over a 12 month period

• 500 – 1,100 beneficiaries being sanctioned for a third failure over a 12 month period.

The numbers quoted by Stuff are 60 sanctions in total over eighteen months, and 134 test failures over twelve months.  The Minister is quoted as saying the low numbers show the program is working, but as she could have said the same thing about numbers that looked like the predictions, or numbers that were higher than the predictions, it’s also possible that being off by an order of magnitude or two is a sign of a problem.


July 20, 2015

Pie chart of the day

From the Herald (squashed-trees version, via @economissive)


For comparison, a pie of those aged 65+ in NZ regardless of where they live, based on national population estimates:


Almost all the information in the pie is about population size; almost none is about where people live.

A pie chart isn’t a wonderful way to display any data, but it’s especially bad as a way to show relationships between variables. In this case, if you divide by the size of the population group, you find that the proportion in private dwellings is almost identical for 65-74 and 75-84, but about 20% lower for 85+.  That’s the real story in the data.

June 23, 2015

Refugee numbers

Brent Edwards on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint has done a good job of fact-checking claims about refugee numbers in New Zealand.  Amnesty NZ tweeted this summary table


If you want the original sources for the numbers, the Immigration Department Refugee Statistics page is here (and Google finds it easily).

The ‘Asylum’ numbers are in the Refugee and Protection Status Statistics Pack, the “Approved” column of the first table. The ‘Family reunification’ numbers are in the Refugee Family Support Category Statistics Pack in the ‘Residence Visas Granted’ section of the first table. The ‘Quota’ numbers are in the Refugee Quota Settlement Statistics Pack, in the right-hand margin of the first table.

Update: @DoingOurBitNZ pointed me to the appeals process, which admits about 50 more refugees per year: 53 in 2013/4; 57 in 2012/3; 63 in 2011/2; 27 in 2010/11.


May 6, 2015

All-Blacks birth month

This graphic and the accompanying story in the Herald produced a certain amount of skeptical discussion on Twitter today.


It looks a bit as though there is an effect of birth month, and the Herald backs this up with citations to Malcolm Gladwell on ice hockey.

The first question is whether there is any real evidence of a pattern. There is, though it’s not overwhelming. If you did this for random sets of 173 people, about 1 in 80 times there would be 60 or more in the same quarter (and yes, I did use actual birth frequencies rather than just treating all quarters as equal). The story also looks at the Black Caps, where evidence is a lot weaker because the numbers are smaller.

On the other hand, we are comparing to a pre-existing hypothesis here. If you asked whether the data were a better fit to equal distribution over quarters or to Gladwell’s ice-hockey statistic of a majority in the first quarter, they are a much better fit to equal distribution over quarters.

The next step is to go slightly further than Gladwell, who is not (to put it mildly) a primary source. The fact that he says there is a study showing X is good evidence that there is a study showing X, but it isn’t terribly good evidence that X is true. His books are written to communicate an idea, not to provide balanced reporting or scientific reference.  The hockey analysis he quotes was the first study of the topic, not the last word.

It turns out that even for ice-hockey things are more complicated

Using publically available data of hockey players from 2000–2009, we find that the relative age effect, as described by Nolan and Howell (2010) and Gladwell (2008), is moderate for the average Canadian National Hockey League player and reverses when examining the most elite professional players (i.e. All-Star and Olympic Team rosters).

So, if you expect the ice-hockey phenomenon to show up in New Zealand, the ‘most elite professional players’, the All Blacks might be the wrong place to look.

On the other hand Rugby League in the UK does show very strong relative age effects even into the national teams — more like the 50% in first quarter that Gladwell quotes for ice hockey. Further evidence that things are more complicated comes from soccer. A paper (PDF) looking at junior and professional soccer found imbalances in date of birth, again getting weaker at higher levels. They also had an interesting natural experiment when the eligibility date changed in Australia, from January 1 to August 1.


As the graph shows, the change in eligibility date was followed by a change in birth-date distribution, but not how you might expect. An August 1 cutoff saw a stronger first-quarter peak than the January 1 cutoff.

Overall, it really does seem to be true that relative age effects have an impact on junior sports participation, and possibly even high-level professional acheivement. You still might not expect the ‘majority born in the first quarter’ effect to translate from the NHL as a whole to the All Blacks, and the data suggest it doesn’t.

Rather more important, however, are relative age effects in education. After all, there’s a roughly 99.9% chance that your child isn’t going to be an All Black, but education is pretty much inevitable. There’s similar evidence that the school-age cutoff has an effect on educational attainment, which is weaker than the sports effects, but impacts a lot more people. In Britain, where the school cutoff is September 1:

Analysis shows that approximately 6% fewer August-born children reached the expected level of attainment in the 3 core subjects at GCSE (English, mathematics and science) relative to September-born children (August born girls 55%; boys 44%; September born girls 61% boys 50%)

In New Zealand, with a March 1 cutoff, you’d expect worse average school performance for kids born on the dates the Herald story is recommending.

As with future All Blacks, the real issue here isn’t when to conceive. The real issue is that the system isn’t working as well for some people. The All Blacks (or more likely the Blues) might play better if they weren’t missing key players born in the wrong month. The education system, at least in the UK, would work better if it taught all children as well as it teaches those born in autumn.  One of these matters.



May 5, 2015

Civil unions down: not just same-sex

The StatsNZ press release on marriages, civil unions, and divorces to December 2014 points out the dramatic fall in same-sex civil unions with 2014 being the first full year of marriage equality. Interestingly, if you look at the detailed data, opposite-sex civil unions have also fallen by about 50%, from a low but previously stable level.


May 4, 2015

US racial disparity: how do we compare?

There’s a depressing chart at Fusion, originally from the Economist, that shows international comparisons for infant mortality, homicide, life expectancy, and imprisonment, with White America and Black America broken out as if they were separate countries.

Originally, I was just going to link to the chart, but I thought I should look at how Māori/Pākehā  disparities compare. European-ancestry New Zealanders and Māori make up roughly the same proportions of the NZ population as self-identified White and Black do in the US. The comparison is depressing, but also interesting: showing how ratios and differences give you different results.

First, infant mortality.  Felix Salmon writes

A look at infant mortality, a key indicator of development, is just as grim. Iceland has 1.6 deaths per 1,000 births; South Korea has 3.2. “White America” is pretty bad — by developed-country standards — with 5.1 deaths per 1,000 births. But “Black America,” again, is much, much worse: at 11.2 deaths per 1,000 births, it’s worse than Romania or China.

According to the Ministry of Health,  Māori infant mortality was 7.7/1000 in 2011 compared to 3.7/1000 for non-Māori, non-Pacific. According to StatsNZ, the rate for Māori was lower in 2012 (the numbers don’t quite match: different definitions or provisional data).  So, the Māori/Pakeha ratio is similar to the Black/White ratio in the US, but the difference is quite a bit smaller here.

Incarceration rates show a similar pattern. In the US, the rate is 2207/100k for Blacks and 380/100k for Whites.  In New Zealand, the rates are (about) 700/100k for Māori and 100/100k for European-ancestry. The NZ figures include people on remand; I don’t know if the US figures do. The ratio is a bit lower in New Zealand, but the difference is dramatically lower.

Homicide rates are harder to compare, because New Zealand only started collecting ethnicity of victims last year, and because NZ.Stat will only show you one month of data at a time. However, it looks as though the ratio is a lot less than the nearly 9 in the US. More importantly, the overall rate is much lower here: our rate is 0.9 per 100k, the overall US rate is 4.5 per 100k.

If the Māori/Pākehā disparities are slightly less serious than US Black/White disparities as ratios but much less serious as differences, which comparison is the right one? To some extent this depends on the question: risk ratios may be more relevant as indicators of structural problems, but risk differences are what actually matter to individuals.

May 1, 2015

Have your say on the 2018 census


StatsNZ has a discussion forum on the 2018 Census


They say

The discussion on Loomio will be open from 30 Apr to 10 Jun 2015.

Your discussions will be considered as an input to final decision making.

Your best opportunity to influence census content is to make a submission. Statistics NZ will use this 2018 Census content determination framework to make final decisions on content. The formal submission period will be open from 18 May until 30 Jun 2015 via

So, if you have views on what should be asked and how it should be asked, join in the discussion and/or make a submission


April 30, 2015

Half the median

From the Herald, under the headline “First-home buyers nab new home subsidies”

The AMP 360 First Home Buyer Affordability Report, published yesterday, shows housing remains “affordable” in all regions except Auckland and Queenstown.

The index tracked the lower-quartile (halfway between zero and the median) selling prices of houses and the median after-tax income of typical first-home buyers (a working couple both aged 25 to 29).

The lower quartile is not “halfway between zero and the median”. The lower quartile is the price that 25% of sales are below and 75% are above.

What’s more, the interpretation is obviously wrong. If you take the first Google link, at, there’s a table by region, and it lists the lower quartile price for Auckland metro as $587000 and Auckland City as $681000. The Herald reports the median price often enough that they must know it isn’t over a million dollars.

While I’m complaining: the data table at is in a state of sin. It’s not actually a data table; it’s a picture of a data table, a GIF image.