Traffic deaths increased in 2016

Explaining the rise in traffic deaths in the last two years may be difficult to explain:

Cars may be safer than ever, but 37,461 people died on American roads that year, a 5.6 percent hike over 2015. While fatalities have dramatically declined in recent decades, this is the second straight year the number has risen. It’s too early to say why, exactly, this is happening. Researchers will need much more time with the data to figure that out. But here’s a hypothesis: It’s the economy, (crash) dummy.

“People drive more in a good economy,” says Chuck Farmer, who oversees research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “They drive to different places and for different reasons. There’s a difference between going out to a party in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar area and driving to work—that nighttime driving to a party is more risky.”…

Researchers have long known that driving deaths rise and dive with the economy and income growth. People with jobs have more reason to be on the road than the unemployed. But this increase can’t be pinned on the fact of more driving, the stats indicate. Even adjusted for miles traveled, fatalities have ticked up by 2.6 percent over 2015. You can still blame the economy, because people aren’t just driving more. They’re driving differently. Better economic condition give them the flexibility to drive for social reasons. There might be more bar visits (and drinking) and trips along unfamiliar roads (with extra time spent looking at a map on a phone).

The DOT numbers seem to confirm that drivers involved in traffic deaths were doing different things behind the wheel last year. The feds say the number people who died while not wearing seat belts climbed 4.6 percent, and that drunk driving fatalities rose 1.7 percent. Contrary to what you might expect, the numbers show distracted driving deaths dropped slightly, but experts caution against putting too much faith in such info. The numbers are based on police reports. They’re reflections of what cops are seeing at crash sites, but also of what’s in the zeitgeist at the time. It could be that first responders weren’t, for example, looking out for distracted driving last year because it wasn’t in the news as often.

Official statistics do not provide all the information we might want. In this case, the figure of interest to many will simply be the total number of deaths. Is an increase over two years enough to prompt rapid action? If so, I would imagine the regulatory structures regarding driverless cars might attract some attention. Or, do car deaths continue to be the costs we pay for having lifestyles built around driving?

Summarizing data visualization errors

Check out this good quick overview of visualization errors – here are a few good moments:

Everything is relative. You can’t say a town is more dangerous than another because the first one had two robberies and the other only had one. What if the first town has 1,000 times the population that of the first? It is often more useful to think in terms of percentages and rates rather than absolutes and totals…

It’s easy to cherrypick dates and timeframes to fit a specific narrative. So consider history, what usually happens, and proper baselines to compare against…

When you see a three-dimensional chart that is three dimensions for no good reason, question the data, the chart, the maker, and everything based on the chart.

In summary: data visualizations can be very useful for highlighting a particular pattern but they can also be altered to advance an incorrect point. I always wonder with these examples of misleading visualizations whether the maker intentionally made the change to advance their point or whether there was a lack of knowledge about how to do good data analysis. Of course, this issue could arise with any data analysis as there are right and wrong ways to interpret and present data.

A need to better understand why more education doesn’t lead to less religiosity among American Christians

A new Pew report looks at the relationship between education and religiosity:

On one hand, among U.S. adults overall, higher levels of education are linked with lower levels of religious commitment by some measures, such as belief in God, how often people pray and how important they say religion is to them. On the other
hand, Americans with college degrees report attending religious services as often as Americans with less education.
Moreover, the majority of American adults (71%) identify as Christians. And among Christians, those with higher levels of education appear to be just as religious as those with less schooling, on average. In fact, highly educated Christians are more likely than less-educated Christians to say they are weekly churchgoers.
There is a two part process with this data. First, it has to be collected, analyzed, and reported. On the face, it seems to contradict some long-held ideas within sociology and other fields that increasing levels of education would reduce religiosity. Second, however, is perhaps the tougher task of interpretation. Why is this the case among Christians and not other groups? What about the differences between Christian traditions? How exactly is religion linked to education – does the education reinforce religiosity or are they separate spheres for Christians (among other possibilities)? Data is indeed helpful but proper explanation can often take much longer.

New homes shrink 40 sq ft; industry not sure what it means

The median size of new American homes shrunk during the second quarter – but barely:

Of the 206,000 homes that went under construction in the second quarter, the median size was 2,479 square feet, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday. That was 40 square feet smaller—or about the size of a walk-in closet—than the high set in the first quarter.

What exactly this means is unclear.

Entry-level buyers tend to purchase smaller homes. In recent years, many younger people who otherwise would buy a home have opted to rent due to stringent mortgage-qualification standards, relatively sluggish job and wage growth, mounting student debt and preferences for living near city centers, where land and homes are more pricey…

Several economists and builders foresee a gradual leveling off or decline of the median size of newly built homes. Builders such as D.R. Horton Inc., KB Home, Meritage Homes Corp., PulteGroup Inc. and Century Communities Inc. have reported early signs of first-time buyers returning to the housing market in the past year…

David Crowe, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, foresees a “moderation” of the median size of newly built homes as more first-time buyers come into the market. But he added that it will take a long time for the shift to be reflected in the national median-size figure, because the factors buoying first-time buyers—a loosening of mortgage-qualification standards and growth in jobs and wages—are progressing slowly…

“If anything, we’re seeing people trying to get into the largest home they can afford,” said Marcie DePlaza, a division president at GL Homes, a Florida builder that anticipates selling 1,000 homes this year at prices ranging from about $200,000 to $2 million. “With interest rates as low as they are, people can push to buy the biggest [home] in the group” that they are considering.

In other words, the data could be taken as pointing in multiple directions. A number of builders and others are at least preparing themselves for the possibility that more Americans, particularly entry-level buyers, want smaller homes. Yet, the big homes make a lot of money and wealthier buyers are a known quantity.

In situations like this, I imagine the housing industry would try to hedge its bets both ways. Playing it conservatively might work better in the long run though it might mean that some opportunities are lost. Some of these trends – such as Americans eventually wanting smaller homes – have been discussed for decades. Still, it takes time for some of these factors to work themselves out such as the behavior of younger homebuyers or the overall state of the economy or whether homeownership is promoted by politicians.

Sociologists help Catholic Church understand itself but the data is not always welcome

Here is an interesting look at the reactions to the findings of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate:

Sociology wasn’t always viewed kindly when applied to church matters. Cardinal Roger Mahony (now retired) of Los Angeles once assessed as “nonsense” research done in the early 1990s by Richard Schoenherr of the University of Wisconsin predicting an impending priest shortage. Mahony said the work did the church a “disservice and “presumes that the only factors at work are sociology and statistical research. … We live by God’s grace, and our future is shaped by God’s design for his church — not by sociologists.” The predictions of the priest shortage, by the way, were remarkably accurate and decades ahead of the reality.

Not all church leaders feel that way, of course, and it was a prominent archbishop, Boston Cardinal Richard Cushing, who gathered other bishops and superiors of religious communities and donated $50,000 to start CARA…

Even the most convincing data can be upsetting when it gets in the way of a favorite narrative. Gaunt cautions that CARA’s inquiries can lead to rather pedestrian conclusions. For instance, he said, the center began to notice a drop in baptisms. The major theories being advanced in some quarters to explain the phenomenon blamed secularization and an anti-religious U.S. culture.

What didn’t fit, however, was CARA’s understanding that the decline was occurring in areas with lots of new Catholics. “This is in Dallas or Houston or Phoenix,” said Gaunt. “There are no parishes you can walk to. They all drive. And they’re overwhelmed. And this is where we’re beginning to find the drop in the number of baptisms. The data would suggest it’s not secularization — it’s parking. If you’re there with a baby, and you’re going to have to show up an hour early to try to get a parking spot and get in,” he said, that could cut into attendance and those early sacraments.

Some good discussion of how data can be used used by religious organizations: sometimes it goes well and sometimes the data is not welcome. I would think large organizations would want as much information as they could get but there are several issues when social scientists get involved. One, data doesn’t interpret itself – it simply provides more information that has to be acted upon. Second, interpretations of the data data can contradict folk theories and threaten those who hold such ideas.  Third, sociology can be viewed as antithetical to God’s work, either through its emphasis on society and humans or its tendencies toward liberal theories. Yet, hopefully good things can come from this marriage of sociological findings and church work.

Record 5 homes over $100 million sold in the world last year. Is this really a trend?

The luxury housing market is booming and a new record was set last year for sales of $100 million+ homes:

Demand for mega-mansions and penthouses has accelerated as wealthy buyers seek havens for their cash and search for alternative investments such as art and collectible real estate, according to a report Thursday by Christie’s International Real Estate, owned by auction house Christie’s. Five homes sold for more than $100 million last year, with at least 20 more on the market with nine-figure asking prices, the brokerage said…

Just one home sale exceeded the $100 million mark in 2013, following four such transactions in 2012 and three in 2011, Christie’s reported.

While I have seen other corroborating evidence that this segment of the market is indeed doing well, how much of a trend or record is this went the number of transactions throughout the world increased to five? Here is the trend from the last four years: 3, 4, 1, 5. So if 2014 was a record year, was 2013 a big plunge in the market? The number of cases is so small and the timeline is so short that it is difficult to draw any substantial conclusions. Yet, suggesting a record occurred makes for a better headline or story…

Hillary Clinton’s biggest urban Facebook fan base is Baghdad?

Melding political, social media, and urban analysis, a look at Hillary Clinton’s Facebook fans has an interesting geographic dimension:

Hillary Clinton’s Facebook pages have an unexpected fan base. At least 7 percent of Clinton’s Facebook fans list their hometown as Baghdad, way more than any other city in the world, including in the United States.

Vocativ’s exclusive analysis of Clinton’s Facebook fan statistics yielded a number of surprises. Despite her reputation as an urban Democrat favored by liberal elites, Iraqis and southerners are more likely to be a Facebook fan of Hillary than people living on America’s coasts. And the Democratic candidate for president has one of her largest followings in the great red-state of Texas.

While Chicago and New York City, both with 4 per cent of fans, round out the top three cities for Hillary’s Facebook base, Texas’ four major centers—Houston (3 percent), Dallas (3 percent), Austin (2 percent) and San Antonio (2 percent)—contain more of her Facebook supporters. Los Angeles with 3 percent of her fans, and Philadelphia and Atlanta, each with 2 percent, round out the Top 10 cities for Facebook fans of Hillary.

On a per capita basis, in which Vocativ compared a town’s population to percentage of Hillary’s likes, people living in cities and towns in Texas, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin were the most likely to be her fans on Facebook than any other American residents.

This hints at the broader knowledge we might gain from social media and should beg the question of how this information could be well used. I imagine this information could be used for political ends. Is this a curiosity? Is this something the Clinton campaign would want to change? Would this influence the behavior of other voters? The article itself is fairly agnostic about what this means.

This sounds like data mining and here is how the company behind this – Vocativ – describes its mission:

Vocativ is a media and technology venture that explores the deep web to discover original stories, hidden perspectives, emerging trends, and unheard voices from around the world. Our audience is the young, diverse, social generation that wants to share what’s interesting and what’s valuable. We reach them with a visual language, wherever they are naturally gathering…

Our proprietary technology, Verne, allows us to search and monitor the deep web to spot breaking news quickly, and discover stories that otherwise might not be told. Often we know what we’re looking for, such as witnesses near the front lines of a conflict or data related to an emerging political movement. We also uncover unexpected information, like pro-gun publications giving away assault rifles to fans of their Facebook pages.

Is this the Freakonomicization of journalism?