Posts filed under Just look it up (271)

April 25, 2017

Electioneering and statistics

In New Zealand, the Government Statistician reports to the Minister of Statistics, currently Mark Mitchell.  For about a decade, the UK has had a different system, where the National Statistician reports to the UK Statistics Authority, which is responsible directly to Parliament. The system is intended to make official statistics more clearly independent of the government of the day.

An additional role of the UK Statistics Authority is as a sort of statistics ombudsman when official statistics are misused.  There’s a new letter from the Chair to the UK political parties

The UK Statistics Authority has the statutory objective to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good.

My predecessors Sir Michael Scholar and Sir Andrew Dilnot have in the past been obliged to write publicly about the misuse of official statistics in other pre-election periods and during the EU referendum campaign. Misuse at any time damages the integrity of statistics, causes confusion and undermines trust.

I write now to ask for your support and leadership to ensure that official statistics are used throughout this General Election period and beyond, in the public interest and in accordance with the principles of the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. In particular, the statistical sources should be clear and accessible to all; any caveats or limitations in the statistics should be respected; and campaigns should not pick out single numbers that differ from the picture painted by the statistics as a whole.

I am sending identical letters to the leaders of the main political parties, with a copy to Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary.

We don’t have anyone whose job it is to write that sort of letter here, but it would be nice if the political parties (and their partisans) still followed this advice.

March 8, 2017

Yes, November 19

trends

The graph is from a Google Trends search for  “International Men’s Day“.

There are two peaks. In the majority of years, the larger peak is on International Women’s Day, and the smaller peak is on the day itself.

November 26, 2016

Garbage numbers from a high-level source

The World Economic Forum (the people who run the Davos meetings) are circulating this graph:cyjjcamusaaooga

According to the graph, New Zealand is at the bottom of the OECD, with 0% waste composted or recycled.  We’ve seen this graph before, with a different colour scheme. The figure for NZ is, of course, utterly bogus.

The only figure the OECD report had on New Zealand was for landfill waste, so obviously landfill waste was 100% of that figure, and other sources were 0%.   If that’s the data you have available, NZ should just be left out of the graph — and one might have hoped the World Economic Forum had enough basic cluefulness to do so.

A more interesting question is what the denominator should be. The definition the OECD was going for was all waste sent for disposal from homes and from small businesses that used the same disposal systems as homes. That’s a reasonable compromise, but it’s not ideal. For example, it excludes composting at home. It also counts reuse and reduced use of recyclable or compostable materials as bad rather than good.

But if we’re trying to approximate the OECD definition, roughly where should NZ be?  I can’t find figures for the whole country, but there’s some relevant –if outdated — information in Chapter 3 of the Waste Assessement for the Auckland Council Waste Management Plan. If you count just kerbside recycling pickup as a fraction of kerbside recycling+waste pickup, the diversion figure is 35%. That doesn’t count composting, and it’s from 2007-8, so it’s an underestimate. Based on this, NZ is probably between USA and Australia on the graph.

November 2, 2016

Lotto demographics

The headlines at both the Herald and Stuff say they’re about Lotto winners, but the vastly more numerous losers have to have basically the same demographics. That means any statistics drawn from a group of 12 winners are going to be very unreliable.

There some more reliable sources.  There’s (limited) information released by NZ Lotteries under the Official Information Act.  There’s also more detailed survey data from the 2012 Health and Lifestyles Survey (PDF)

Of the 12 people in today’s stories, 11 were men, even though men and women play Lotto at about the same rate. There’s a lot less variation by household income than I would have guessed. There is some variation by ethnicity, with Asians being less likely to play Lotto. People under 25 are a bit less likely to play. It’s all pretty boring.

I’ve complained a few times that clicky bogus polls have an error rate as bad as a random sample of about ten people, and are useless.  Here we have a random sample of about ten people, and it’s pretty useless.

Except as advertising.

 

October 18, 2016

The lack of change is the real story

The Chief Coroner has released provisional suicide statistics for the year to June 2016.  As I wrote last year, the rate of suicide in New Zealand is basically not changing.  The Herald’s story, by Martin Johnston, quotes the Chief Coroner on this point

“Judge Marshall interpreted the suicide death rate as having remained consistent and said it showed New Zealand still had a long way to go in turning around the unacceptably high toll of suicide.”

The headline and graphs don’t make this clear

Here’s the graph from the Herald

suicide-herald

If you want a bar graph, it should go down to zero, and it would then show how little is changing

suicide-2

I’d prefer a line graph showing expected variation if there wasn’t any underlying change: the shading is one and two standard deviations around the average of the nine years’ rates

suicide-3

As Judge Marshall says, the suicide death rate has remained consistent. That’s our problem.  Focusing on the year to year variation misses the key point.

September 1, 2016

Transport numbers

Auckland Transport released new patronage data, and FigureNZ tidied it up to make it easily computer-readable, so I thought I’d look at some of it.  What I’m going to show is a decomposition of the data into overall trends, seasonal variation, and random stuff just happening. As usual, click to embiggen the pictures.

First, the trends: rides are up.

trends

It’s hard to see the trend in ferry use, so here’s a version on a log scale — meaning that the same proportional trend would look the same for all three modes of transport

trendslog

Train use is increasing (relatively) faster than bus or ferry use.  There’s also an interesting bump in the middle that we’ll get back to.

Now, the seasonal patterns. Again, these are on a logarithmic scale, so they show relative variation

season

The clearest signal is that ferry use peaks in summer, when the other modes are at their minimum. Also, the Christmas minimum is a bit lower for trains: to see this, we can combine the two graphs:

season2

It’s not surprising that train use falls by more: they turn the trains off for a lot of the holiday period.

Finally, what’s left when you subtract the seasonal and trend components:

residual

The highest extra variation in both train and ferry rides was in September and October 2011: the Rugby World Cup.

 

August 17, 2016

Official statistics

There has been some controversy about changes to how unemployment is computed in the Household Labour Force Survey. As StatsNZ had explained, the changes would be back-dated to March 2007, to allow for comparisons.  However, from Stuff earlier this week:

In a media release Robertson, Labour’s finance spokesman, said National was “actively massaging official unemployment statistics” by changing the measure for joblessness to exclude those using websites, such as Seek or TradeMe.

Robertson was referring to the Household Labour Force Survey, due to be released on Wednesday, which he says would “almost certainly show a decrease in unemployment” as a result of the Government “manipulating official data to suit its own needs”.

Mr Robertson has since withdrawn this claim, and is now saying

“I accept the Chief Statistician’s assurances on the reason for the change in criteria but New Zealanders need to be aware that National Ministers have a track record of misusing and misrepresenting statistics.”

That’s a reasonable position — and some of the examples have appeared on StatsChat — but I don’t think the stories in the media have made it clear how serious the original accusation was (even if perhaps unintentionally).

Official statistics such as the unemployment estimates are politically sensitive, and it’s obvious why governments would want to change them. Argentina, famously, did this to their inflation estimates. As a result, no-one believed Argentinian economic data, which gets expensive when you’re trying to borrow money. For that reason, sensible countries structure their official statistics agencies to minimise political influence, and maximise independence.  New Zealand does have a first-world official statistics system — unlike many countries with similar economic resources — and it’s a valuable asset that can’t be taken for granted.

The system is set up so the Government shouldn’t have the ability to “actively massage” official unemployment statistics for minor political gain. If they did, well, ok, it was hyperbole when I said on Twitter ‘we’d need to go through StatsNZ with fire and the sword’, but the Government Statistician wouldn’t be the only one who’d need replacing.

August 4, 2016

Garbage numbers

This appeared on Twitter

CcO-e4rWwAERzX5

Now, I could just about believe NZ was near the bottom of the OECD, but to accept zero recycling and composting is a big ask.  Even if some of the recycling ends up in landfill, surely not all of it does.  And the garden waste people don’t charge enough to be putting all my wisteria clippings into landfill.

So, I looked up the source (updated link). It says to see the Annex Notes. Here’s the note for New Zealand

New Zealand: Data refer to amount going to landfill

The data point for New Zealand is zero by definition — they aren’t counting any of the recycling and composting.

When the most you can hope for is that the lies in the graph will be explained in the footnotes, you need to read the footnotes.

 

May 26, 2016

Budget visualisations

This will likely be updated as I find them

  1. From Keith Ng. Budget now and over time. This gets special mention for being inflation-adjusted (it’s in 2014 dollars). Doesn’t work on my phone, but works well on a small laptop screen
  2. NZ Herald. Works (though hard to read) on a mobile. Still hard to read on a small laptop screen, but attractive on a large screen. I still have reservations about the bubbles.
  3. Stuff has a set of charts. The surplus/deficit one is nicely clear, though there’s nothing about the financial crisis/recession as an explanation for a lot of it.
  4. The government has interactive charts of Core Crown Revenue, Core Crown Expenditure, and breakdown for a taxpayer. On the last one, they lose points for displaying just income tax, when the Treasury are about the only people who could easily do better.
May 7, 2016

Open data: baby names

The Herald has a headline “Emma and Noah continue to be tops for baby names”, with this link from the web front page

baby

In fact, Noah was number 11 as a baby boy’s name, and Emma didn’t make the top hundred names for baby girls in New Zealand.  The top names in NZ, as in this Stuff story from the first week of January, were Oliver and Olivia. That story also had tables and graphs from the Dept of Internal Affairs data.

The new Herald story is about the USA, where they take longer to accumulate and release the baby-name data, but where they have the indefatigable Laura Wattenberg to make sure it gets publicised.

In fact, it’s kind of surprising how much difference there is between the US and NZ lists. Enough to make it worth pointing out in the story.  UK data won’t be out for another few months. Based on last year, it’s a bit more similar to NZ. Maybe we’ll get another story then.