Monthly Archive for May, 2013

Lessons from North of the Border

Why a Voluntary ACS Could Wipe Some States off of the Map
Terri Ann Lowenthal | The Census Project Blog
May 17, 2013

This is a great re-cap of the disaster Canada has on its hands with its voluntary National Household Survey. And, it is relevant for the US, because Congressional Republicans want to allow people to ‘just say no’ to all or part of the American Community Survey. She also reminds readers of the history of the marriage question in the US Census, including the possible deletion of the “times married” question.

The PSC-Info blog has several links to recent ACS/Census funding news:

ACS to drop “Number of Times Married” question

“it’s an Alice in Wonderland moment” or “GOP Census Bill would Eliminate America’s Economic Indicators”

The Census Reform Act of 2013

The ACS Faces More Battles

SENATE: The Census Bureau has already written the reports; read them.

Why is Science Behind a Paywall?

This is one of the more thorough pieces on the open data/open access issue. And, it is a timely piece as Pamela Smock takes over the editorship of Demography, which is a Springer product. Springer is mentioned in the piece.

Why is Science Behind a Paywall?
Alex Mayyasi | The priceonomics blog
May 10, 2013

Nerd Alert: Dictionary of Numbers

For those of you who try to incorporate quantitative reasoning in your teaching, here’s a nice resource:

Dictionary of numbers: putting numbers in human terms
This is a Google Chrome extension that tries to make sense of numbers you encounter on the web by giving you a description of that number in human terms. Because “8 million people” means nothing, but “population of New York City” means everything.

And, here’s a blog post about it from the nerd-friendly xkcd site – a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language:

Dictionary of Numbers
May 15, 2013
Opening paragraph:

I don’t like large numbers without context. Phrases like “they called for a $21 billion budget cut” or “the probe will travel 60 billion miles” or “a 150,000-ton ship ran aground” don’t mean very much to me on their own. Is that a large ship? Does 60 billion miles take you outside the Solar System? How much is $21 billion compared to the overall budget?

International Migration Statistics for the US

Here are several links related to international migration in the US from the Census Burea.

International Migration is Projected to become Primary Driver of U.S. Population Growth for the first time in Nearly Two Centuries
Census Bureau
May 15, 2013
This link goes to an overview page. To the right are links to detailed tables and graphs showing migration and natural increase and population by age group.

Estimating Net International Migration for 2010 Demographic Analysis: An Overview of Methods and Results
Renuka Bhaskar, | Census Bureau
February 2013
This working paper is relevant for Demographic Analysis – technique used to understand the age, sex, and racial composition of a population and how it has changed over time via births, deaths, and migration. Here is a link to the Demographic Analysis site at the Census Bureau.

The Foreign Born [Census Bureau website]
This includes links to an infographic – part of which is included below on America’s foreign born in the last 50 years, data from the American Community Survey on home ownership, STEM degrees, newly arrived, and region-specific reports. There is also a 2010 tables package from the Current Population Survey.

graph of foreign born over time

[Link to complete infographic]

Sex Selection: When Technology and Tradition Collide

When Technology and Tradition Collide: From Gender Bias to Sex Selection
Kate Gilles and Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs | Population Reference Bureau
September 2012

Bullet points from this policy brief are:

Normal sex ratios at birth range from 102 to 107 male babies born for every 100 female babies born

1.5 millions girls around the world are missing at birth every year.

In at least nine countries, the sex ratio at birth of boy babies to girl babies is at 110 or higher.

Open Data Executive Order

This news was quite exciting for the data community and it should be for researchers as well. See the tweets in reaction to this:

The Reaction on Twitter

Here’s the Executive Order:

Open Data Policy – Managing Information as An Asset
May 9, 2013

And a White House blog post about it:

Landmark Steps to Liberate Open Data
Todd Park and Steve VanRoekel | White House Blog
May 9, 2013

And here’s the Project Open Data website:

Project Open Data

This event also got some coverage in the popular news. Here’s the pros and cons via the Wall Street Journal:

‘Open Data’ Brings Potential And Perils for Government
Ben Rooney | Wall Street Journal
May 9, 2013

Here’s the rest of the coverage in the popular press:

Measuring Marriage & Divorce among Same-Sex Couples

For Gays, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do – or Measure
Carl Bialik | Wall Street Journal [print column]
May 3, 2013
This article touches on the personal and on the aggregate. The personal stories are couples being unable to get a divorce because they live in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages. On the other hand, states have not modified divorce forms to collect data on same-sex couples.

Same-Sex Divorce Stats Lag
Carl Bialik | Wall Street Journal [blog]
May 3, 2013
This version provides links to sources of marriage and divorce statistics. European countries do collect data on these events, but so far do not have enough dissolutions to calculate robust rates. An NIH-funded study is following a cohort of couples who were married in Vermont.

Decennial Census Data on Same Sex Couples
Census Bureau
May 2013
The Census Bureau has a website with links to technical papers, data, etc. on same-sex couples from 1990+ as measured by this agency.

Census Bureau: Flaws in Same-Sex Couple Data
D’Vera Cohn | Pew: Social and Demographic Trends
September 27, 2011
The Census Bureau announced today that more than one-in-four same-sex couples counted in the 2010 Census was likely an opposite-sex couple, and identified a confusing questionnaire as a likely culprit. The bureau released a new set of “preferred” same-sex counts, including its first tally ever of same-sex spouses counted in the census.

How Accurate Are Counts of Same-Sex Couples?
D’Vera Cohn | Pew: Social and Demographic Trends
August 25, 2011
This is a nice brief on the obstacles to accuracy in measuring same-sex couples in census data. And, it illustrates the efforts that the Census Bureau makes in measuring concepts in an era of rapid social change.

Canada’s “NSF” Problem

House Republicans are trying to implement serious changes to the evaluation and funding of NSF science [here and here].

Canada is perhaps a bit further down this road. Here’s the latest on the decision to fund research that has industry applications rather than basic science.

When science goes silent
Jonathan Gatehouse | MacLean’s
May 3, 2013
This article touches on the shift in funding from basic science to applied science, but it is more in-line with an earlier post on the muzzling of environmental scientists.

National Research Council move shifts feds’ science role
Canadian Press | CBC News
May 7, 2013
‘Job-neutral’ restructuring to make agency streamlined, efficient and functional, president says

The Harper government is telling the National Research Council to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science that may not have obvious business applications.

The government says the council traditionally was a supporter of business, but has wandered from that in recent years — and will now get back to working on practical applications for industries.

Some folks disagree with this shift:

In a statement, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers said the government is “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”

“By transforming the NRC into a “business-driven, industry-relevant” organization, you are denying its ability to support basic research,” said Jim Turk.

“At the same time, you are cutting support to basic research in the universities.”

And is this part of the Tory ‘war on science’? [more coverage on this]

NDP science critic Kennedy Stewart called the shift in direction for the NRC “short-sighted” and said it could actually hurt economic growth in the long run, because it scales back the kind of fundamental research that can lead to scientific breakthroughs.

Research Council to focus on commercially viable projects, rather than science for science’s sake
Jessica Hume | Sun News
May 7, 2013
Two quotes say it all:

The government of Canada believes there is a place for curiosity-driven, fundamental scientific research, but the National Research Council is not that place.

“Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value,” John McDougall, president of the NRC, said in announcing the shift in the NRC’s research focus away from discovery science solely to research the government deems “commercially viable”.

Cell phone data for research

The following conference was based on the use of cell phone data for research – mostly involving mobility, but also group differences in work/residential location. Demographers are starting to use this data source. We link below to a paper in the social media session at PAA 2013.

Net Mobility Conference 2013

Conference Program (pdf)

Submissions to D4D challange (122 MB). This book contains copies of all the submissions to the D4D challenge that have been selected for NetMob. It is a large file (850 pages).

Winning Paper
African Bus Routes Redrawn Using Cell-Phone Data
David Talbot | MIT Technical Review
April 30,2013

Paper from PAA 2013 Social Media Session
New Approaches to Human Mobility: Using Mobile Phones for Demographic Research
John Palmer, et al.
April 11-13, 2013

Nature: Replication, replication, replication

This issue of Nature is a compilation of replication articles across several issues of Nature. They highlight the importance of replication and open data for science. However, some of the examples might apply more to medicine or biology than population science. Lest, readers think that this issue doesn’t apply to demographers, here’s a tweet from Justin Wolfers, advertising a piece in Bloomberg Business on the importance of replication for the field of economics. His motivation is the recent dust-up due to an error in a famous paper by Reinhart and Rogoff [See PSC-Info], but the discussion is much broader than that example.


[Link to Stevenson/Wolfers Replication article]

No research paper can ever be considered to be the final word, and the replication and corroboration of research results is key to the scientific process. In studying complex entities, especially animals and human beings, the complexity of the system and of the techniques can all too easily lead to results that seem robust in the lab, and valid to editors and referees of journals, but which do not stand the test of further studies. Nature has published a series of articles about the worrying extent to which research results have been found wanting in this respect. The editors of Nature and the Nature life sciences research journals have also taken substantive steps to put our own houses in order, in improving the transparency and robustness of what we publish. Journals, research laboratories and institutions and funders all have an interest in tackling issues of irreproducibility. We hope that the articles contained in this collection will help.

Reducing our irreproducibility
(April 25 , 2013)

Further confirmation needed
A new mechanism for independently replicating research findings is one of several changes required to improve the quality of the biomedical literature.
Nature Biotechnology 30, 806
(September 10, 2012)

Error Prone
Biologists must realize the pitfalls of work on massive amounts of data.
Nature 487, 406
(July 26, 2012)

Must Try Harder
Too many sloppy mistakes are creeping into scientific papers. Lab heads must look more rigorously at the data — and at themselves.
Nature 483, 509 x
(March 29, 2012)


Independent labs to verify high-profile papers
Monya Baker
Nature News
(August 14, 2012)

Power Failure: Why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience
Katherine S. Button, John P. A. Ioannidis et al.
Nature Reviews Neuroscience 14, 365-376
(April 15, 2013)

Replication studies: Bad copy
Ed Yong
Nature 485, 298-300
(May 17, 2012)

Reliability of ‘new drug target’ claims called into question
Asher Mullard
Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 10, 643-644
(September 2011)


If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing twice
Jonathan F. Russell
Nature 496, 7
(April 4, 2013)

Methods: Face up to false positives )
Daniel MacArthur
Nature 487, 427-429 \
(July 26, 2012)

Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research )
C. Glenn Begley & Lee M. Ellis
Nature 483, 531-533
(March 29, 2012

Believe it or not: how much can we rely on published data on potential drug targets? )
Florian Prinz, Thomas Schlange & Khusru Asadullah
Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 10, 712
(September 2011)

Tackling the widespread and critical impact of batch effects in high-throughput data
Jeffrey T. Leek, Robert B. Scharpf et al.
Nature Reviews Genetics 11, 733-739 )
(October 2010)


Research methods: know when your numbers are significant
David L. Vaux
Nature 492, 180-181
(December 13, 2012)

A call for transparent reporting to optimize the predictive value of preclinical research
Story C. Landis, Susan G. Amara et al.
Nature 490, 187-191
(October 11, 2012)

Next-generation sequencing data interpretation: enhancing reproducibility and accessibility
Anton Nekrutenko & James Taylor
Nature Reviews Genetics 13, 667-672
(September 2012)

The case for open computer programs
Darrel C. Ince, Leslie Hatton & John Graham-Cumming
Nature 482, 485-488
(February 23, 2012)

Reuse of public genome-wide gene expression data
ohan Rung & Alvis Brazma
Nature Reviews Genetics 14, 89-99
(February 2013)