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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Election

Rumor has it that canvassing will be completed today in Wisconsin's Supreme Court election which will allow the declaration of an official winner.

From a data perspective, it's been interesting. By midnight on elective day the incumbent held about a 700 vote lead with 99% of precincts reported. Although the AP wouldn't call the race, pundits said that it was very unlikely that the lead would change based on past voting patterns in the last 1%.

Did you ever hear the phrase "Past performance is no indication of future returns"? I guess someone should have reminded the pundits. By morning, the challenger turned things around and climbed to a 200+ vote lead with just a single precinct left to report.

Again, the pundits said that, based on past patterns in that precinct, the challenger's lead would be cut by about 100 votes  leaving her with slightly more than a 100 vote lead and guaranteeing a recount.   The last precinct didn't change the lead by more than a few votes.

In spite of the "Past performance is no indication of future returns" disclaimer, this was a statistically interesting result. Any time there is a major change in patterns, it should stand out to statisticians. That's not a statement or accusation about vote fraud. Just a statistical statement that it's a new pattern.

But then things got even more interesting.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

More Ordinal Scales

On an unexpected trip to the ER last week I was again asked the universal "rate your pain" medical question. It's the first time in my life I've ever answered "at least 8", but this comic still makes me laugh today:

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/pain_rating.png

Friday, April 1, 2011

Increase in Adoption Demand. Cleaner Babies?

The April 2011 Reader's Digest has an article on inventors and their inventions. One featured invention is a combination of a baby onesie and a dust mop. Dress your baby in this outfit, let them crawl around the floor, and cleaning takes care of itself.

Not only has the product been wildly popular with parents, it's also inspired a significant increase in applications to adoption agencies. There's been more demand than supply of adoptable babies for many years, but this new wave of applications is swamping adoption agency staffs across the nation.

We should always be wary of causality claims based on statistical association, but this one looks real. Once the Kolt Agency in Chicago noticed the increase in applications they added a survey to their adoption applications asking the applicants about their motivation to pursue adoption.

Although the entire data set has not yet been released, the response from Bill and Betty Hathaway certainly supports a causal link between baby clothing/dust mops and adoption interest: "We never wanted kids because pregnancy seemed like a hassle and we thought babies would mess up our house. But with these new baby dust mops, having a couple of kids around could actually make our house cleaner. If they won't let us adopt, maybe we'll just volunteer to babysit for some of our friends."