Tags : Statistics

Delving into crime data and finding flaws

By Zachary Matson and Meredith Turk

Steve Thompson, from The Dallas Morning News, speaks during the panel "Juking the stats? Delve into your police department's FBI crime data to find flaws" on Thursday. Photo: Travis Hartman.

When it comes to FBI crime statistics, "I can't think of a number that means more to a community and is less scrutinized," said Ben Poston of the Los Angeles Times. Each city and state might have different ways to track crime, and digging deeper into how they do it and the results they tout can be ripe for investigative stories.

While ...

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Fraud in the classroom: Cooking the books to make grades better

Test scores rocketed and plunged over several years at Annette Officer Elementary School in East St. Louis, Ill., often a telltale sign of tampering. The school district determined that cheating was “accepted practice. Photo: Hyosub Shin, AJC

In Atlanta, 35 educators were indicted in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, all but three of whom had surrendered at the Fulton County jail by Wednesday morning. The cheating scandal was first reported by Atlanta Journal Constitution reporters, who used statistical tests to document test score irregularities. John Perry, who did the statistical analysis for the stories, explains in the latest IRE ...

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A case for why journalists should learn statistics

Last weekend I flew to Phoenix for the IRE boot camp in statistics hosted at Arizona State University.  Three days and 52 cups of coffee later, I can spot statistical significance. I can run a linear regression on a dependent and independent variable, and I might even be able to tell you what an R-Square value actually means – not only to a statistician, but to a journalist.

Statistics is not one of those things you master in three days of training, but here are the three most valuable takeaways from the weekend: A sense of what can be done, an ...

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Grave Mistakes in SSA Master Death File

Scripps Howard News Service's "Grave Mistakes" project was born out of a failed voter-fraud investigation in 2008 and some offhand remarks by data-savvy colleagues at the NICAR conference in Raleigh, N.C., this year.

What we ended up with was a fascinating story of how simple typographical errors by a huge federal bureaucracy can have a frightening impact upon the lives of everyday Americans. Members of Congress have begun inquiries as a result of this project.

Journalists for many years have used the Social Security Administration's ominously titled "Death Master File" database since it is supposed to list ...

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Stats analysis shows school opportunity gap

ProPublica’s recent Opportunity Gap project brought together reporting on an important education issue – whether low-income students in public schools have equal access to advanced classes - statistical analysis and way-cool interactive tools.

The project used a new set of Department of Education data that tracked enrollment in advanced classes and special programs in public schools. This data is known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, which is compiled by DOE’s Office of Civil Rights.

The idea came from ProPublica education reporter Sharona Coutts, who got an early copy of the OCR data and wanted to see if there was ...

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Tapping into FTC identity theft files

The statistics did not make sense.

Identity theft complaints to the federal government had been declining for the last four years. With almost daily reports of major information breaches, phishing attacks and other forms of cyber-crime, how could this be?

I answered this question by turning to a federal database that I obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request. I reviewed five year’s worth of identity theft complaints to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the consumer watchdog agency that collects ID theft information.

After a year’s wait for the records and extensive work scrubbing and assembling ...

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PUMS data tells immigrant labor story

Immigration is one of the hottest of hot-button issues. I wanted to inject some facts into the debate.

To do that, I decided to analyze nearly four decades of census microdata for California. It was a ridiculous idea, like slipping into the Pacific Ocean one morning for a quick swim to Hawaii.

But it worked – barely – because of two things: the extraordinarily rich microdata and my statistical software, SPSS.

Among my findings:

  • California is more dependent on immigrant workers than any other state and almost any developed economy on the planet.
  • Immigrants have filled most of the new jobs created ...
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Survey takes snapshot of Ohio youth sports

In the unregulated world of youth sports, about 40 million young athletes are competing outside of school contests. But little data exists about the risks to children.

No one exclusively tracks injuries suffered outside school sports, use of supplements among young athletes or bad influences on the game.

While there are data about the number of college athletic scholarships available, there is little information about the number of young athletes chasing the dream.

Last fall, reporters Todd Jones, Mike Wagner and I set out to explore the world of youth sports. As parents of young athletes, we each had witnessed ...

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Race gaps in Ohio loans uncovered by stats analysis

Fred Steed has a six-figure income as a top official with the Montgomery County health district. The 66-year-old African-American director of community health has a wife with a good job at a local hospital. He has an 820 credit score. He owns the 1,344-square-foot home in West Dayton where he grew up.

What he doesn't have and can't get: a $35,000 refinance loan.

Steed is one of hundreds of upper-income blacks to be denied loans in the Dayton, Ohio region. A statistical analysis by the Dayton Daily News found that in 2008, upper-income blacks in the ...

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New Jersey's Tax Crush

New Jersey residents have long lived under a broken property tax system that has more in common with feudal states than the United States. Nearly half of our $47 billion in tax revenue comes from property taxes — which are based on the government's perceived value of a person's home rather than what he or she actually earns.

The average property tax in 2008: $7,045, or about 11 percent of the median household income. It's about four times higher than the national average, and higher than what the average worker pays in Social Security and Medicare taxes ...

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