November 9, 2014

The world’s most profitable crop?

pot

This chart is from a beautiful infographic about cash crops.  I don’t believe the cannabis revenue number. That’s partly because I read Keith Humphreys and Mark Kleiman on the subject.

Keith Humphreys takes apart a claim of $120 billion for the total value of the US marijuana market, showing that it can’t be anything near that much.

Current pot smokers report that they use marijuana an average of 60 days a year. Using our current example, 40 ounces/60 days of use means that the average user would have to go through 2/3 of an ounce of marijuana on each day that they used marijuana. That’s .67 X 50 or 33.5 joints per day of use. And there’s a terrific bridge for sale in Brooklyn too.

Even then, the purported $120 billion was the price to the consumer.  That’s not what was used for the legal crops, and it makes a big difference.

Suppose we agree use consumer price rather than farmer revenue because the data are slightly more reliable. I don’t really believe a number above about $12 billion for the US.  The US has about 1/5 of the world GDP. If the US spent $12 billion/year on cannabis, the rest of the world would need to spend almost $300 billion, or more than six times as much as a fraction of their income.  A lot of the world would need to spend more on pot than on basic carbohydrates.

It’s not inconceivable that the number is right — maybe cannabis is really big in, say, Brazil or India and I just don’t know about it — but it’s surprising enough that I’d want a lot more detail to justify it.

November 7, 2014

What overdiagnosis looks like

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine talks about screening for thyroid cancer in South Korea. There has been a massive increase in diagnosis, mostly of very small tumours that are probably harmless — there was been no change in the thyroid cancer deaths.

thyroid

As the authors say:

Thyroid-cancer surgery has substantial consequences for patients. Most must receive lifelong thyroid-replacement therapy, and a few have complications from the procedure. An analysis of insurance claims for more than 15,000 Koreans who underwent surgery showed that 11% had hypoparathyroidism and 2% had vocal-cord paralysis.

 

Graphics: automate, then individualise

From James Cheshire, a lecturer in geography in London

The majority of graphics we produced for London: The Information Capital required R code in some shape or form. This was used to do anything from simplifying millions of GPS tracks, to creating bubble charts or simply drawing a load of straight lines. We had to produce a graphic every three days to hit the publication deadline so without the efficiencies of copying and pasting old R code, or the flexibility to do almost any kind of plot, the book would not have been possible.  So for those of you out there interested in the process of creating great graphics with R, here are 5 graphics shown from the moment they came out of R to the moment they were printed.

That is, good graphics rely on both soulless automation and creative design flair. Graphic designers shouldn’t need to put the data in by hand; they should be starting with the output of well-designed software and working from there.

Measuring what you care about

From the Herald

According to co-founder Jackson Wood, many workplaces today use drug testing as a proxy for impairment testing. However, these are generally arbitrary or ineffective and not always reflective of potential employee impairment at the workplace.

Wood’s startup, Ora, is aiming to build a system that tests reliably for impairment. If it can be done, this would be valuable in NZ industries, and might well also attract interest from the US.  With the increasing number of states legalising cannabis, it is increasingly a problem that there is no simple and reliable proxy for driving impairment.

 

November 6, 2014

State lines

Two very geographical graphics:

From the New York Times (via Alberto Cairo), a map of percentage increases in number of people with health insurance in the US.

insured-map

This is a good example of something that needs to be a map, to demonstrate two facts about the impact of Obamacare. First, state policies matter. That’s most dramatic in this region from the right-hand side, about halfway up:

insured-highlight

Kentucky and West Virginia implemented an expansion in Medicaid, the low-income insurance program, and had a big increase in number of people insured. Neighbouring counties in Tennessee and Virginia, which did not implement the Medicaid expansion, had much smaller increases.  The beige rectangle at the top left is Massachusetts, which already had a universal health care law and so didn’t change much. (Ahem. Geography and orientation apparently not my strong points. Massachusetts didn’t change, but that’s Pennsylvania, which only just started Medicaid expansion)

Second, there was a lot of room for improvement in some places — most dramatically, south Texas. The proportion of people with health insurance increased by 10-15 percentage points, but it’s still below 40%.

 

As a contrast, the Washington Post gives us this,

venn

which is, hands-down, the least readable marriage equality map I’ve ever seen.

 

November 5, 2014

Briefly

Humans-sheesh

US election graphics

Facebook has a live map of who has mentioned on Facebook that they had voted (via Jason Sundram)

facebook-voted

USA Today showed a video including a Twitter live map

twitter-elections

These both have the usual problem with maps of how many people do something: there are more people in some places than others. As usual, XKCD puts it well:

xkcd-elections

Useful statistics is about comparisons, and this comparison basically shows that more people live in New York than in New Underwood.

As usual, the New York Times has informative graphics, including a live set of projections for the interesting seats.

 

November 3, 2014

It’s warmer out there

Following a discussion on Twitter this morning, I thought I’d write again about increasing global temperatures, and also about the types of probability statements.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project is the most straightforward source for conclusions about warming in the recent past. The project was founded by Richard Muller, a physicist who was concerned about the treatment of the raw temperature measurements in some climate projections. At one point, there was a valid concern that the increasing average temperatures could be some sort of statistical artefact based on city growth (‘urban heat island’) or on the different spatial distribution and accuracy of recent and older monitors. This turned out not to be the case. Temperatures are increasing, systematically.  The Berkeley Earth estimate agrees very well with the NASA, NOAA, and Hadley/CRU estimates for recent decades

best

The grey band around the curve is also important. This is the random error. There basically isn’t any.  To be precise, for recent years, the difference between current and average temperatures is 20 to 40 times the uncertainty — compare this to the 5σ used in particle physics.

What there is uncertainty about is the future (where prediction is hard), and the causal processes involved. That’s not to say it’s a complete free-for-all. The broad global trends fit very well to a simple model based on CO2 concentration plus the cooling effects of major volcanic eruptions, but the detail is hard to predict.

Berkeley Earth has a page comparing reconstructions of  temperatures with actual data for many climate models.  The models in the last major IPCC assessment report show a fairly wide band of prediction uncertainty — implying that future temperatures are more uncertain than current temperatures. The lines still all go up, but by varying amounts.

best-gcm

 

The same page has a detailed comparison of the regional accuracy of the models used in the new IPCC report. The overall trend is clear, but none of the models is uniformly accurate. That’s where the uncertainty comes from in the IPCC statements.

The earth has warmed, and as the oceans catch up there will be sea levels rises. That’s current data, without any forecasting.  There’s basically no uncertainty there.

It’s extremely likely that the warming will continue, and very likely that it is predominantly due to human-driven emissions of greenhouses gases.

We don’t know accurately how much warming there will be, or exactly how it will be distributed.  That’s not an argument against acting. The short-term and medium-term harm of climate changes increases faster than linearly with the temperature (4 degrees is much worse than 2 degrees, not twice as bad), which means the expected benefit of doing something to fix it is greater than if we had the same average prediction with zero uncertainty.

Stat of the Week Competition: November 1 – 7 2014

Each week, we would like to invite readers of Stats Chat to submit nominations for our Stat of the Week competition and be in with the chance to win an iTunes voucher.

Here’s how it works:

  • Anyone may add a comment on this post to nominate their Stat of the Week candidate before midday Friday November 7 2014.
  • Statistics can be bad, exemplary or fascinating.
  • The statistic must be in the NZ media during the period of November 1 – 7 2014 inclusive.
  • Quote the statistic, when and where it was published and tell us why it should be our Stat of the Week.

Next Monday at midday we’ll announce the winner of this week’s Stat of the Week competition, and start a new one.

(more…)

October 30, 2014

Cocoa puff

Both Stuff and the Herald have stories about the recent cocoa flavanols research (the Herald got theirs from the Independent).

Stuff’s story starts out

Remember to eat chocolate because it might just save your memory. This is the message of a new study, by Columbia University Medical Centre.

 

Sixteen paragraphs later, though, it turns out this isn’t the message

“The supplement used in this study was specially formulated from cocoa beans, so people shouldn’t take this as a sign to stock up on chocolate bars,” said Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

 

There’s a lot of variation in flavanol concentrations even in dark chocolate, but 900mg of flavanols would be somewhere between 150g and 1kg of dark chocolate per day.  Ordinary cocoa powder is also not going to provide 900mg at any reasonable consumption level.

The Herald story is much less over the top. They also quote in more detail the cautious expert comments and give less space to the positive ones. For example, that the study was very small and very short, and the improvement in memory was just in one measure of speed of very-short-term recall from a visual prompt, or that this measure was chosen because they expected it to be affected by cocoa rather than because of its relevance to everyday life. There was another memory test in the study, arguably a more relevant one, which was not expected to improve and didn’t.

Neither story mentions that the randomised trial also evaluated an exercise program that the researchers expected to be effective but wasn’t. Taking that into account, the statistical evidence for the effect of flavanols is not all that strong.