Mistaken Data

5 posts
Scientists with bad data

Tim Harford warns against bad data in science: Some frauds seem comical. In the 1970s, a researcher named William Summerlin claimed to have found a way to prevent skin grafts from being rejected by the recipient. He demonstrated his results by showing a white mouse with a dark patch of fur, apparently a graft from a black mouse. It transpired that the dark patch had been coloured with a felt-tip...

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‘Less than 10 percent’ outdoors

The CDC said that “less than 10 percent” of coronavirus cases were from outdoor transmissions. David Leonhardt for The New York Times argues why in all likelihood that number is way too high and leads to public confusion: If you read the academic research that the C.D.C. has cited in defense of the 10 percent benchmark, you will notice something strange. A very large share of supposed cases of outdoor...

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Excel spreadsheet limit leads to 16,000 Covid-19 cases left off daily count

Microsoft Excel is useful for many things, but it has its limitations (like all software), which led to an undercount of 15,841 Covid-19 positive tests recorded by Public Health England. For the Guardian, Alex Hern reports: In this case, the Guardian understands, one lab had sent its daily test report to PHE in the form of a CSV file – the simplest possible database format, just a list of values...

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FDA commissioner corrects his misinterpretation of reduced mortality

Talking about a possible plasma treatment for Covid-19, the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn misinterpreted results from the study. The study from the Mayo Clinic notes a possible 35% reduction in mortality rate, and Hahn said that if 100 people were sick with Covid-19, 35 lives would be saved. For The Washington Post, Aaron Blake discusses why the interpretation is incorrect: The vast majority of people who get...

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Algorithm leads to arrest of the wrong person

Even though there was supposedly a person in the decision-making process and a surveillance photo wasn’t actually Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, he still ended up handcuffed in front of his own home. Kashmir Hill reporting for The New York Times: This is what technology providers and law enforcement always emphasize when defending facial recognition: It is only supposed to be a clue in the case, not a smoking gun. Before arresting...

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Face depixelizer with machine learning, and some assumptions

In crime shows, they often have this amazing tool that turns a low-resolution, pixelated image of a person’s face to a high-resolution, highly accurate picture of the perp. Face Depixelizer is a step towards that with machine learning — except it seems to assume that everyone looks the same. There might still be some limitations. Tags: bias, face, pixels

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Bad bar chart

Welcome to whose bar chart is it anyway: where the geometries are made up and the numbers don’t matter. [via @dannypage] Tags: annotation

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Bad denominator

With coronavirus testing, many governments have used the percentage of tests that came back positive over time to gauge progress and decide whether or not it’s time to reopen. To calculate percentage, they divide confirmed cases by total tests. The denominator — total tests — often comes from the CDC, which apparently hasn’t done a good job calculating that denominator, because not all tests are the same. Alexis C. Madrigal...

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Poor comparison between two bar charts

A chart from Business Insider makes a poor attempt to compare the death rates, by age, for the common flu against Covid-19: The age groups on the horizontal axes are different, so you can’t make a fair side-by-side comparison. For example, the flu chart has a 50-64 age group. The Covid-19 chart has a 50-59 group and a 60-69 group. Ann Coulter’s interpretation of the chart might be worse than...

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Misinterpreted or misleading fire maps

With all of the maps of fire in Australia, be sure to check out this piece by Georgina Rannard for BBC News on how some of the maps can easily be misinterpreted when seen out of context. Tags: BBC, fire

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