A Science for Everyone

The Quality of Data

We live in a world filled with data – but a lot of the presentations are slanted.  Sometimes the slant is political, sometimes the slant is a bizarre sense of humor.  I like Wikipedia – but I don’t rely on it.  I tapped in to look for a bio on George Washington Carver, and I read the damndest story about carving peanuts into busts of our first president.  If I want satire, I’ll go to the Onion or the Babylon Bee.  Wiki is accessible, fast, and I’ll continue to use it – but I check wiki data against other sources.  Using Wiki as a reliable source of data is similar to accepting President Biden as a fact-checker.

If I want information on shootings and murders in Chicago, I start with https://heyjackass.com/  It’s reliable, but not respectable.  They even sell T-shirts.  I’d never use it in a professional article – but whoever puts the data together does a pretty good job.  For example, as I write this, heyjackass shows

Year to Date

Shot & Killed: 586

Shot & Wounded: 2843

Total Shot: 3429

Total Homicides: 619

It’s a fast source of data that usually checks out. It even goes into neighborhoods, cause of death, race and gender – well, I’d say race and sex, since it lists male and female, but I may be a bit old fashioned.  It would be nice if all the violent cities had their own heyjackass, but this one seems unique to Chicago.

Climate data – at least the sort of data that shares first and last frosts, annual precipitation, and other medians gleaned from past records – is much more available.  For years, while some stuck with the Farmers Almanac, we carried with us Climate and Man – a 1941 yearbook of Agriculture that had compilations for most of the US.  Now, I can get online to check snow depth at each snow course, NOAA offers answers to all sorts of questions.  Climate data is vastly improved – though you still need to weed through and select reliable sources.  Personally, I stick with USDA and NOAA.

It is hard to find quality data on illegal immigrants and crime.  Texas’ Department of Public Safety provides data on crimes and convictions in Texas, but other states don’t provide data of similar quality.  I’m not sure we can generalize from Texas – but better data is hard to find.

The quality of data on abortion is impressive – each state provides data in a similar form.  You can sort between states and years – there’s a requirement that data be kept and published.  Unlike crime and illegal immigrants, this data is easy to access and use.

This publication presents itself as quality data: “30 Facts You Need to Know”.

Unfortunately, the folks who put it together didn’t include the links to those 30 facts that make them easy to confirm or reject.  I really don’t know which of the “30 Facts” I should accept and which ones should be rejected.

There is a lot more data available than there was in my younger days.  But a lot of that data is still less than easily confirmed – and a lot of folks are still trying to pass opinion off as fact.

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