Nate Silver And The Age of Data Journalism

538_intro4

A few days ago, the new version of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight went live, backed by ESPN.

According to Silver’s observations, explained in his site’s manifesto, the market is ripe for a data-oriented journalism.

I totally agree. A day doesn’t go by in which I hear or read an argument that painfully drags along because of its lack of data. Facebook, Twitter and the traditional media are full of these poorly documented ideas and debates.

I don’t know how it is in other countries, but where I come from, us engineers chose our career because we were socially awkward and/or bad with words, whereas others chose mass communications because they were poor at math. Turns out that basic math and the arithmetic rule of three are insufficient tools for explaining complex phenomena in the real world.

One of the first posts in FiveThirtyEight was precisely about my home country and it coldly and matter-of-factly explains the current political crisis just using numbers.

I think that you either believe in science (and the importance of science) or you don’t. And it’s a dogma. People from one camp just cannot have arguments with the other because they live in different realities. “Do you believe in science? Do you know how to spot a tainted poll?” should be the starting questions for any debate.

And if you believe in science and want to have intelligent discussions or want to report the issues, then you better take a look at the numbers and take the time to understand them. We are living in a world with a fantastic overabundance of data, in which public databases are just a click away, tools like Excel and R allows you to do statistical analysis and sites like FiveThirtyEight digest and explain what the data says in (somewhat) easier terms. There’s no excuse –besides trolling– for being an ill-prepared journalist or discussing well-documented issues using false premises.

 

Moneyballing criminal justice

One of the problems of justice systems everywhere is that they depend on subjectivity and have near zero data-mining expertise. Because of that, tons of money are wasted in keeping low-risk offenders in jail.

As the attorney general for New Jersey, Anne Milgram changed the panorama of her state’s criminal justice system. By applying statistics to create projections, she devised a dashboard to single out the worst offenders and make sure that they were prosecuted. By applying Moneyball concepts, her methods minimized subjetive decisions, lowered costs and optimized the justice system.

Full of Interesting Strangers | Michael Loop

IMG_6948

@rands writes a wonderful recap of what’s right and what’s wrong with conference badges and gives some insightful advise on proper conference badge design:

A Badge Connects You to the People.

The badge achieves this by providing as much social connection with as little social friction as possible.

A well-designed badge provides useful at-a-glance information.

When you walk up to an interesting stranger, you don’t really want to spend more than a half a second staring at their badge.

What’s their title? What do they do? This and other important information doesn’t belong on the badge: it belongs in the conversation facilitated by the badge. This is the point of the badge: to create a great many first conversations.

If you’re somehow connected to conference services, keep reading.

 

 

Who touched base in my thought shower? | Steven Poole

Who touched base in my thought shower

Who touched base in my thought shower is a book by Steven Poole (who writes the on

Reading it, I was often reminded of the Bill Lumbergh character in Office Space:

Only after working in very politicized organizations, I realized that there were people who constantly spoke like that. All day long. Saying things like:

Sunset
This is an imagistic verbing – “We’re going to sunset that project/service/version” – that sounds more humane and poetic than “cancel” or “kill” or “stop supporting”. When faced with the choice between calling a spade a spade or using a cloying euphemism, you know which the bosses will choose. Happily, sunsetting also sounds less smelly than the venerable old mothballing.

And

Issues
To call something a “problem” is utterly verboten in the office: it’s bound to a) scare the horses and b), even worse, focus responsibility on the bosses. So let us instead deploy the compassionate counselling-speak of “issues”. The critic (and manager) Robert Potts translates “There are some issues around X” as: “There is a problem so big that we are scared to even talk about it directly.”

Actually, I’m guilty on that one 😉

Poole also writes the On Words series at The Guardian and is the author of Unspeak, a brilliant book on how words become weapons.

Doublespeak is not only the annoying source for some office humor. Using these words and not calling things by their name is a recipe for misunderstanding, uncertainty and fear. It’s the reason why some environments become toxic. Like Poole says, the only way to fight the effects of these words is to become aware of their use and try to investigate and contest their meaning.

 

Pencil

This is magical.

In case you’re wondering, the app they’re using is Paper.