The UK’s inflation foot soldiers: how the ONS measures the CPI

 

In a shop stacked to the ceiling with toys, Brenda Cleaver is searching for a very specific car. “I am looking for a modern road vehicle, and I am checking the price. Here it is. It hasn’t changed,” she says, comparing the price sticker on the toy car with the information on her handheld computer. She moves on in search of a snakes and ladders game. Cleaver is one of hundreds of people across the UK who help collect thousands of prices each month to feed into a national basket that keeps track of the country’s inflation rate. These field workers look for the same items in the same stores each month and send their prices to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Newport, Wales.

Read the full story here

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

 

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency. Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics – especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britain’s economy – elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

Read the full story here

Systems Smart Enough to Know When They’re Not Smart Enough

 

So the more Google and other answer machines become the authorities of record, the more their imperfect understanding of the world becomes accepted as fact. Designers of all data-driven systems have a responsibility to ask hard questions about proper thresholds of data confidence—and how to communicate ambiguous or tainted information. How can we make systems that are not only smart enough to know when they’re not smart enough… but smart enough to say so and signal that human judgment has to come into play?

Read the full story here

Google is helping H&M construct a custom dress based on your personal data

 

Google is teaming up with H&M Group’s digital fashion house Ivyrevel in an attempt to make data fashionable. The two companies are working together on an Android app that’ll track wherever users go, the weather where they live, and whether they’re having casual or formal hangs. With that information, Ivyrevel will design an individualized “data dress” users can buy. How exactly will the dress visualize data? It’s not totally clear, but based off images, it seems the dress will be fitted for formal or casual occasions and then details on it will be attributed to certain things. So because it’s cold in Sweden, the dress will be made of black velvet, and because the wearer likes to go out dancing, it’ll have diamond details. I guess this kind of makes sense. You just have to have a liberal interpretation of data and be willing to use your imagination

Read the full story here

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

 

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency. Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics – especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britain’s economy – elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

Read the full story here

Machine logic: our lives are ruled by big tech’s ‘decisions by data’

 

Crawford says there are very practical reasons why tech companies have become so powerful. “We’re trying to put so much responsibility on to individuals to step away from the ‘evil platforms’, whereas in reality, there are so many reasons why people can’t. The opportunity costs to employment, to their friends, to their families, are so high” she says. But there’s now an additional and deeply pernicious dimension. Even if you did manage to avoid using Facebook, Gmail or an iPhone, we are all part of a “broader tracking universe”, she says.

Read the full story here

Hyde Park visitors “covertly tracked” via mobile phone data

Hyde Park

 The Guardian reports that:

Visitors to Hyde Park, one of London’s most famous tourist spots, were covertly tracked via their mobile phone signals in a trial undertaken by the Royal Parks to analyse footfall amid drastic funding cuts. Officials were able to retrospectively locate park-goers for 12 months using anonymised mobile phone data provided by the network operator EE via a third party.

Oddly, the article doesn’t take quite the negative approach suggested by the headline (I inserted the quote marks around “covertly tracked” – they’re not there in the original headline), and the stuff about privacy appears to be inserted to make this less about an interesting way of understanding behaviour and more about an invasion of privacy.

But as the story says, the data was anonymised. It’s not exactly snooping – this type of data has been used in different forms for decades by advertisers, planners, supermarket merchandisers…

If the aim is to ensure that the world’s most frequently visited public park attracts people from all backgrounds, it sounds like an interesting use of anonymised data we could apply in many other scenarios, and a useful counter to the far less anonymous collection of data that goes on not just by government but by some of our most popular companies. Google and Facebook, I’m looking at you.

What Killed The Infographic?

 

Years ago, the hardest part of a data visualization designer’s job was explaining what he did and why it was worthwhile. Today, organizations ranging from the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to the World Bank seek out data visualization specialists. Business is good. Most design studios I talked to had recently turned down work. A few years ago, they said, companies engaged in complex financial negotiations to get a visualization done; now it’s a standard, budgeted line item. GE counts among the companies that have made major investments in data visualization.

The upshot is that some of the best data visualization work is going unseen, as Fortune 500 companies hire data visualization designers for NDA work or snatch them up for full-time work. Before we spoke, the Portland-based firm Periscopic had just met with Nike to help the company assemble an internal data visualization team, while Jer Thorp—whose work has been featured everywhere from the New York Times to New York’s Museum of Modern Art—lamented to me that one of his interns had recently left for Apple. “We’re never going to see anything he makes, and he’s one of my most talented students over the last decade,” Thorp says. “It’s interesting to think, maybe he’s making crazy, revolutionary things, but we don’t see them.”

Read the full story here

The scientists with reasons to be cheerful

“I just came back from the US, where I met this guy with a start-up. He was from a poor background but is now worth millions of dollars,” Roser says. “He was telling me how awesome the USA is compared with other places in the world because you have high social mobility and people can rise through the ranks. But that’s not right. He was very enthusiastic, but one of his core beliefs was just wrong. I told him that if you want the American dream then you’d better move to Sweden. He was really surprised.”

Read the full story here

Mapping the United Swears of America – Strong Language

Hell, damn and bitch are especially popular in the south and southeast. Douche is relatively common in northern states. Bastard is beloved in Maine and New Hampshire, and those states – together with a band across southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas – are the areas of particular motherfucker favour. Crap is more popular inland, fuck along the coasts. Fuckboy – a rising star* – is also mainly a coastal thing, so far.

Read the full story here