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Uncertainty is a funny thing: musings on wildfire and COVID

It’s a cliché at this point for news articles to compare COVID spread to a wildfire. But the start of meteorological summer in the northern hemisphere this past week coincides with the start of the north American wildfire season, and COVID still rages across the planet, so bear with me a moment for another take on this metaphor. 

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Uncertainty is a funny thing: musings on wildfire and COVID
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One country’s problem, nobody’s problem, everybody’s problem

When we think about massive migrations and humanitarian crises in the last five to ten years, we probably first picture the migrant waves caused by the conflict in Syria that started in 2011. After 10 years of civil war, 6.6 million people have been forced out of that country, and, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 6.7 million more remain internally displaced. More than 90% of Syrian migrants have found refuge in the neighboring countries of Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Migrants also flee to European countries like Greece, Germany, and Sweden. This unfortunate and sad episode of human suffering might eclipse the second largest migratory movement and humanitarian crisis of recent years: the Venezuelan diaspora.

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One country’s problem, nobody’s problem, everybody’s problem
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Found in translation

We were songbirds, we were Greek Gods

We were singled out by fate

We were quoted out of context – it was great.

Prefab Sprout, “Electric guitars”
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Found in translation
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Where will the rocket land?

“No, you are almost certainly not going to be hit by a 10-story, 23-ton piece of a rocket hurtling back to Earth. That said, the chances are not zero.”  Thus The New York Times on May 6 writing about the impending reentry of the first stage of the Chinese CZ-5B rocket, which had been launched the day before to test a spacecraft prototype.  Unlike most rockets sent into orbit these days, which are designed to either burn up in the atmosphere or land in the ocean, this rocket stage would experience an “uncontrolled re-entry” and crash in an unknown location.

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Where will the rocket land?
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Peanut butter, anyone?

There is a lot of talk about how this ghastly pandemic is affecting the economy. The other day, I came across an article in the The New York Times which focused on one facet of this topic: inflation in the UK. Forecasting inflation right now is difficult because of the pandemic: sudden changes in consumer spending, disruptions in supply chains, and government interventions ameliorate its effects.

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Peanut butter, anyone?
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Did Hamlet wish for better data?

To open or not to open? that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Did Hamlet wish for better data? 

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Did Hamlet wish for better data?
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Numbers and their baggage

Numbers often get the spotlight in news stories.  Sometimes they deserve the front stage as valuable information describing a situation that would be hard, if not impossible, to adequately capture without them.  But, they can also easily mislead.  All numbers in the news come with baggage. For some numbers, the baggage is out in the open like a carry on, but for many it is of unknown form, size, and weight – and hidden deep in the baggage compartment.

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Numbers and their baggage
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How data privacy methods can hide the real data story

When state governments within the United States issued stay-at-home orders in 2020, companies started providing interactive data visualizations and dashboards to show how well or not so well certain regions of the United States were social distancing. Unacast, a technology company out of New York state, was one of them. They gathered smartphone data from up to 15 percent of people in every county of the United States, and then assigned grades to each state based on how much smartphone users traveled after COVID-19 related closures, compared to before.

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How data privacy methods can hide the real data story
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Nuclear power and whale-hunting: The power of irrational thinking

Greenland holds parliamentary elections these days. Ample opportunities for a statistical mind to wonder if the world has gone mad. Being on the cusp of retiring from about 10 years in the political circus I do know well that the object of desire is not truth, but votes. I know that if a large enough segment of potential voters has a firm belief, it is risky to estrange them with facts.

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Nuclear power and whale-hunting: The power of irrational thinking
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Data Engineers and Data Scientists in Statistics Education: University programs and teamwork

Are “data scientist” and “data engineer” different titles for someone doing the same type of work?  Or do they present two different attitudes toward solving the same problems? Since data science has become a buzzword, internet discussions like this one have not stopped.  Recently, several bloggers used “Data Engineers versus Data Scientists” as titles for their articles to express their views on these “terminologies” or “professions.”  

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Data Engineers and Data Scientists in Statistics Education: University programs and teamwork