Chance News 51

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Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.

Gregory Benford, Timescape, 1980

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

Re remark about the “attitudes and prejudices of the famous philosophers” in Chance News 49, a 1924 Virginia sterilization law (not repealed until 1976) was upheld by the Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell in 1927, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. writing the majority opinion.

“This woman [Carrie Bell] got railroaded. And one of the giants of the Supreme Court was driving the train.”

Paul Lombardo, quoted in “Terrible legacy of U.S. eugenics”
USA TODAY, June 24, 2009

Submitted by Margaret Cibes


…. Let’s look at basketball …. The 1993 college basketball playoffs started with 64 teams. Of these, 15 were from schools with accredited library education programs.

That’s an amazing statistic by itself, when you consider that there are only slightly more than three times that many library education programs in the United States, and that some of these don’t compete athletically in Division I. However, those 15 schools also went on to win 28 of the 63 games played, while losing only 14. The reason that there were only 14 losses is that the championship school has a library education program. So does the runnerup. Indeed, what sportswriters call the Final Four included three schools with accredited library education programs.

…. Do I believe a single word of what I have just written? Of course not, although I have seen “research” studies … for which the hypotheses were no more credible.

Herbert S. White
"Is There a Correlation Between Library Education Programs and Athletic Success?
Library Journal, August 1993

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

During The Daily Show on June 30, TV’s Jon Stewart gave out RIPPY (Rest-In-Peace) Awards [1] to television commentators for various aspects of their coverage of Michael Jackson’s death.

It’s the award for attempts at mind-blowing analysis, and the winner is Extra’s Carlos Diaz [who stated on June 25]:
People don’t realize the proximity of this whole thing. Farrah Fawcett passed away 5 hours, almost to the minute that Michael Jackson passed away 5 miles away. Ed McMahon passed away 48 hours previous [sic] at the same hospital that Michael Jackson passed away.

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

Credit utilization ratio

“Is Your Credit Too Good? Why lenders are punishing those who borrow too little and always pay on time”
by Cybele Weisser, TIME, June 22, 2009

[T]he formula for determining credit scores … looks at something called your “utilization ratio,” the total amount of credit you use vs. the amount you have available. If you have $25,000 worth of available credit and you put $5,000 on your cards every month, your utilization ratio is a healthy … 20%. But cut down that credit line to $10,000 and suddenly your ratio jumps to 50%, making you look pretty overextended.

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

Student-loan repayment for congressional staffers

“Scrutiny Grows as U.S. Pays Staffers’ Student Loans”
by Elizabeth Williamson, The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2009

The House and Senate will spend $18 million this year repaying staffers' student loans. Last year, ... House lawmakers nearly doubled what the government can pay for their staffers' college bills. The yearly maximum repayment is $10,000 in fiscal 2009, which ends Sept. 30, up from $6,000 in fiscal 2008, with a lifetime maximum of $60,000, the same as in the executive branch. The House appropriated $13 million in 2009 for the program; as of last month, more than 2,200 House employees were getting the money.

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

Measuring excess risk

“EPA study: 2.2M live in areas where air poses cancer risk”
by Brad Heath and Blake Morrison, USA TODAY, June 24, 2009

This article gives a brief report about the National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment for 2002 , an EPA study of excess cancer risks from breathing 181 air toxics over an assumed lifetime of 70 years. The EPA updates information about air toxics emissions every three years, after which it conducts an analysis which is reviewed by the states, evaluated for accuracy, and released - apparently a long process.
According to the EPA, the study found 2 million people with an increased cancer risk of greater than 100 in 1 million.
According to the article, the study found air pollution to be a health threat “around major cities … although some of the counties where the air was even worse were in rural areas ….” The worst neighborhood was outside Los Angeles, where the estimated excess cancer risk was “more than 1,200 in 1 million, 34 times the national average.” The article provided no information about rural areas; however, the EPA provides a map of most affected counties.

1. How might one measure cancer risk?
2. What does it mean to measure excess, or increased, cancer risk?
3. Why does the EPA measure excess risk over a lifetime? How do you think they identified people who had lived in a region over a lifetime? Would the fact that air pollution levels might change over a lifetime affect any aspect of the study?
4. Estimate the national average excess cancer risk. Is it higher or lower than the EPA’s ceiling of 100 in 1 million? Do you think it makes sense to refer to a national average of excess cancer risk?
5. Referring to the map, are you surprised about any of the locales with the highest excess cancer risk? If so, can you find any potential reason for high excess cancer risks in those locales?

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

Too many cable TV channels?

“Time to Screen Out Unloved Channels”
by Martin Peers, The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2009
(Full text may only be available to subscribers.)

The author suggests that there are too many TV channels available and that this situation is driving subscriber costs up. He reports that "the average household tuned into only 16 channels of the 118 channels available.” He feels that charging fees in proportion to the sizes of viewing audiences would lower the cost of cable TV.
He says that there is currently the “absence of correlation between the size of the fees paid to individual cable channels and their audiences.” Among non-premium channels, Nickelodeon was the most-watched cable channel in 2008, but its fees were not the highest (10th from the highest). Nickelodeon, with about 1.7 million daily household viewers, also had an annual affiliate revenue of about $300 per household, while Discovery Kids, with only 20,000 daily household viewers, had an annual affiliate revenue of about $1,900 per household.

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

True or false?

One hundred sleuthing statisticians running 100 different tests are about 100 times more likely than a lone investigator to find something fishy.

Carl Bialik, "Rise and Flaw of Internet's Election-Fraud Hunters"
The Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2009

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

New lottery study

“Want False Hope With That Lottery Ticket?”
by Rick Green, The Hartford Courant, July 3, 2009

A taxpayer-funded study by Spectrum Gaming Group [2] is said to have found “no correlation between lottery sales and poverty.” The study claims that “because most successful lottery retailers were not located in higher poverty neighborhoods, there is no connection between income and ticket sales.”

The Spectrum study contradicts many other studies, including one at Cornell University, where investigators “found ’a strong and positive relationship’ between lottery ticket sales and poverty rates after examining data from 39 states over 10 years.”

The Spectrum study also contradicts a 2002 analysis done by the column’s author, Rick Green, and a colleague. They identified, by zip codes, the locales in which the highest concentrations of winners resided, not the locales in which the highest-selling retailers were located. Not surprisingly, these areas were in the poorest cities of Connecticut.

Submitted by Margaret Cibes

30% chance for rain?

Stay tuned.