Category Archives: statistics

Annals of dubious research, 401(k) loan-default edition

Bob Litan, formerly of the Kauffman Foundation and the Brookings Institution, has recently taken up a new job as director of research for Bloomberg Government, where he’s going to have to be transparent and impartial. But one of his last gigs before moving to Bloomberg — a paper on the subject of people borrowing money from their 401(k) accounts — was neither of those things.

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Low-Probability Disaster of the Day, Exosphere Edition

From Andy Pazstor: Pentagon brass, satellite industry executives and NASA leaders for years have publicly expressed concern about the dangers of orbital debris. But the odds of a direct hit between satellites were considered so small as to be basically … Continue reading

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Can We Trust Statistics?

The Numbers Game, which was something of a surprise bestseller in England, has finally made it stateside. It’s probably the clearest book I’ve yet seen on all the different ways in which numbers can lie or mislead, and as such … Continue reading

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More Counterfeit Drug Scaremongering

Are you worried about counterfeit drugs? According to the American Council on Science and Health, you certainly should be: Counterfeit drugs, including fake, substandard, adulterated or falsely labeled (“misbranded”) medicines, have become a real and growing threat to global health… … Continue reading

Posted in intellectual property, statistics | 1 Comment

Dubious Statistics of the Day, Toxic Mortgage Edition

Interest and pressure groups put out garbage masquerading as useful research on a daily basis; it’s the job of the press to recongnise it as such and ignore it. Most of the time, the press does a very good job … Continue reading

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Department of Dubious Statistics, Oil Imports Edition

The $700 billion the US pays each year to nasty oil-exporting countries — the $700 billion that both Barack Obama and John McCain have cited in their paeans to energy independence — doesn’t exist: According to government agencies that track … Continue reading

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Intellectual Property Statistics

Welcome, Julian Sanchez, to the Alice-in-Wonderland world of trying to track down widely-cited statistics to their original source! I tried and failed with counterfeiting statistics; Julian has now tried and failed with estimates of lost jobs and money due to … Continue reading

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Tourism Statistics

In 1995, the owner of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad sued Warner Brothers. The movie studio had used the railroad as a location for the train crash scene in The Fugitive, and the railroad had asked in return for an … Continue reading

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House Price Datapoint of the Day

The National Association of Realtors has a hard time this month spinning their own data release: The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $203,100 in August, down 9.5 percent from a year ago when the median was … Continue reading

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Credit Cards: Not Dead Yet

Dan Gross has a piece in Slate entitled "The Death of the Credit Card Economy". It tells a plausible and compelling story: as credit-card companies slash credit lines, so are consumers cutting back on their spending. Gross quotes Dan Ariely … Continue reading

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GDP and the Decline of National Statistics

Zubin has a good roundup of reactions to the latest GDP numbers, which basically amount to a lot of economists caught wrong-footed and desperately trying to explain why a 3.3% growth rate isn’t anything like as healthy as one might … Continue reading

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GDP Statistics and the 2008 Election

Is it weird to link to Dean Baker three times over the course of three successive blog entries? Not when he comes out with stuff like this: It is very likely that the third quarter GDP number will be negative. … Continue reading

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SUV Inventories: Up, or Down?

When the NYT decides to run a major article on demand for SUVs on the front page of its business section, would it be too much to ask for some actual numbers, rather than one far-from-clear ratio and a handful … Continue reading

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Four Billion

The NYT brings out the big numbers for its Olympic coverage today: At 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month in the year 2008 — eight being a lucky number in China — the world looked toward … Continue reading

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Blog Rankings

I’m not a fan of lists, and I’m especially not a fan of top-blogs lists. But I’m kinda tickled by Wikio’s August blog ranking: Hey look, Market Movers is higher up than really great blogs like Wooster Collective and Stuff … Continue reading

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Q2 GDP: Looking at the GDP Deflator

Edward Harrison makes a good point about the unreliability of GDP numbers: the headline GDP number is equal to nominal GDP growth minus the GDP deflator — a measure of broad inflation. When the Q4 2007 GDP growth was revised … Continue reading

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The Limits of GDP Statistics

Zubin has the quarter-by-quarter GDP chart; he, like many others, is particularly taken that in the fourth quarter of 2007, the GDP figure fell below zero. But while the Q4 revision from +0.6% to -0.2% was big, the Q2 revision … Continue reading

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Error, Randomness, and Payrolls Statistics

Just how error-prone are the monthly payrolls statistics? I’ve been reading Len Mlodinow’s very good new book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, and one of his statements really stood out for me: if you have a data … Continue reading

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Median House Prices

A commenter named "Unsympathetic" makes a good point in my blog entry on Berkeley vs Oakland house prices. Yes, median Berkeley house prices are rising. But it’s entirely possible for that to happen even if every single house in Berkeley … Continue reading

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Wikipedia: A Perfectly Acceptable Data Source

Bess Levin is taken aback by the fact that Morgan Stanley is now citing Wikipedia as a source in its research reports. Why? We’re talking here about a pretty simple chart, showing the price of gasoline in different countries around … Continue reading

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Judging GDP

Justin Fox defends GDP as a useful indicator: Over the years, GNP and GDP have proved spectacularly useful in tracking economic change–both short-term fluctuations and long-run growth… The issue with alternative benchmarks is not whether they have merit (most do) … Continue reading

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Meme of the Week: Food Stamps

See here, of course, but also here. Then there’s this, as well as all the commentary on top, in places like this and this and this – all of which apparently has given food stamps Top Buzz. Over/under on the … Continue reading

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The Price-to-Book Lag Table

Last Thursday, I printed a price-to-book league table; I thought it would be interesting to see how it has changed, two full trading days later. But as I click around the internet from to Reuters to Yahoo, they all … Continue reading

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Deteriorating Statistics

Mike Mandel asks what statistics I would like to see improved. Answer: all of them. Back in the post-war years, some of the smartest economists in the world set up statistical agencies in the leading industrialized nations. If they can’t … Continue reading

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The Limits of Unemployment Statistics

The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate: to promote maximum employment and low inflation. Note that it’s maximum employment, not minimum unemployment: that’s a very good thing, as any readers of today’s column from David Leonhardt will know. The average … Continue reading

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