Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kids nowadays, and data viz

There's much handwringing about the demise of reading and writing. Clive Thompson has a different take:
Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment... Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos -- assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
Changing subjects completely, here's some great data visualizations (I think you can see Tufte's influence):
Have you ever rushed to the airport only to find that your flight was delayed or canceled? In the most recent Data Expo at the annual Joint Statistical Meetings, data heads explored 120 million departures and arrivals in the United States, with the goal of finding "important features" such as:
  • When is the best time of day/day of week/time of year to fly to minimise delays?
  • Do older planes suffer more delays?
  • How does the number of people flying between different locations change over time?
  • How well does weather predict plane delays?
More data visualization: although this is over a month old, Umair Haque at the Harvard Business Review shows data about US healthcare.
There's a yawning gap between left and right in America today: the healthcare debate has grown so convoluted that both sides are talking past each other. Why? I think much has to do with the fact that one side is talking apples, and the other side is talking oranges. The right is focused on benefits foregone, while the left is focused on costs incurred.

A more productive debate must compare the two, to look at returns. So I thought I'd spend an hour or so trying to come up with a number that might help focus a more productive debate about authentic value: a measure of just how effective the American healthcare system is.