Quantitative journalism with open data

This is the best news article I’ve seen in a while:

It’s the political cure-all for high gas prices: Drill here, drill now. But more U.S. drilling has not changed how deeply the gas pump drills into your wallet, math and history show.
A statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production by The Associated Press shows no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.

Emphasis added. It’s a great example of quantitative journalism. They took the simple and oft-repeated statement that increased US oil production reduces domestic gas prices (known colloquially as “drill baby drill”), and they subjected it to a few simple statistical tests for correlation and causality. The result is that there is no correlation, or at least not one that is statistically significant. They tested for causality using the notion of Granger causality, and they found that if anything, higher prices Granger-causes more drilling, not the other way around!
And here’s the very best part of this article. They published the data and the analysis so that you can check the numbers yourself or reach your own conclusion. From the data, here is a scatter plot between relative change in price per gallon (inflation adjusted) and the relative change in production:

What’s more, they asked several independent experts, namely three statistics professors and a statistician at an energy consulting firm, and they all backed and corroborated the analysis.
Kudos to Jack Gillum and Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press for this wonderful article. I hope we can see more examples of quantitative journalism like this in the future, especially with open data.

A Federal Mandate for Open Science

Witness the birth of the Federal Research Public Access Act:

“The Federal Research Public Access Act will encourage broader collaboration among scholars in the scientific community by permitting widespread dissemination of research findings.  Promoting greater collaboration will inevitably lead to more innovative research outcomes and more effective solutions in the fields of biomedicine, energy, education, quantum information theory and health care.”

[Correction: it didn’t really mention quantum information theory—SF.]

You can read the full text of FRPAA here.
The bill states that any federal agency which budgets more than $100 million per year for funding external research must make that research available in a public online repository for free download now later than 6 months after the research has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
This looks to me like a big step in the right direction for open science. Of course, it’s still just a bill, and needs to successfully navigate the Straights of the Republican-controlled House, through the Labyrinth of Committees and the Forest of Filibuster, and run the Gauntlet of Presidential Vetos. How can you help it survive this harrowing journey? Write your senators and your congresscritter today, and tell them that you support FRPAA and open science!
Hat tip to Robin Blume-Kohout.


In a move that will undoubtedly bring the US Senate to its knees, the Quantum Pontiff is going dark from 8am to 8pm EST on Jan 18 to protest SOPA, PIPA, the Research Works Act and other proposed acts of censorship.
We suggest you use this time to contact your representatives, read a book (or 1201.3387), or go outside.

Correcting Untruths

We here at the Quantum Pontiff value truth in all its forms: theorems, lemmas, statistical inference, and hard experimental data, to name just a few. So I feel compelled to highlight the following.
In his column on the New York Times website, Author S. Brisbane states,

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.    …
[An] example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected…
As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

What are we teaching journalism students that would lead them to ask this question in ernest? After double checking my calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1st, I continued reading:

If [reporters should call out lies], then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:
“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

I’m not sure which is worse… that Mr. Brisbane feels he, a professional journalist, needs to ask his readers for their opinion on how to be a journalist, or that he doesn’t know the answer to this question which looks (to any scientist at least) to be completely obvious.
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” as a fellow once said. If you don’t know the answer to your question, Mr. Brisbane, then you are a stenographer, not a journalist, and you need to ask yourself why you would bother giving column inches in your newspaper to misinformation and distortions without bothering to correct them. Some things are true; you are not “biasing” anything by printing true statements.

Missed This: New John Baez Blog

Hmm, I’m totally out of it as I missed that John Baez, who “blogged” before blogging was the incredibly hip thing to do (which lasted for exactly 2 seconds in 2006?) has a new blog, a new two year visiting position in Singapore, and a new focus.  From his first post:

I hope we talk about many things here: from math to physics to earth science, biology, computer science, economics, and the technologies of today and tomorrow – but in general, centered around the theme of what scientists can do to help save the planet.

Quick, to the RSS feeder!

Nobel Peace Prize

Barack Obama has been awarded an honorary degree from Arizona State University the Nobel Prize in Peace for “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
I recommend a bag of popcorn, a big soda, and a nice recliner to watch the consternation and just plain craziness that will surely follow this announcement 🙂

Apple Pie From Scratch

Via physicsandcake, on some days I wish I was as dorky and as elegant as Carl Sagan:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known

Netflix Prize Awarded

The Netflix prize for movie rankings has been awarded with the winner being BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos. This is very cool, but since it’s Monday I think we need a good dose of reality. So here is the first comment on the New York Times Bit blog:

This sounds like an interesting project, but they ought to emphasize acquiring more movies for their online streaming than telling people what to watch. – kt

Good work, BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, but could you work on that tube that delivers my potato chips without me having to get up to go to the kitchen?