D is for Deliberate data distortion

As a librarian, I count on access to data that are undistorted by political agendas.

I received a notice about a workshop in Washington, DC on March 8, from The Association of Public Data Users (APDU), Building the Case for Public Statistics: Workshop for Stakeholders.

The opening sentences of the description I firmly believe:

“In uncertain times, we need evidence. Federal statistics are vital sources. Researchers, businesses, governments, and nonprofits rely on this data, and we need to do a better job of telling policymakers that investment in data is important.”

This resonated with me because recent events from the current regime have suggested a blatant disregard for data. Most notably, officials of the Centers for Disease Control have been banned from using certain words, those being Vulnerable, Entitlement, Diversity, Transgender, Fetus, Evidence-based and Science-based. Later, the Department overseeing the CDC, Health and Human Services denied actually banning the words, saying that they are “recommendations.”

Nevertheless, this newspeak has been widely, and understandably, mocked, with folks on social media finding ways to include all the words as often as possible. Jim Reisner wrote, “The science-based study on diversity showed that a vulnerable, transgender fetus was not eligible for any entitlements generated by an evidence-based analysis of Republican compassion.” I thought it was brilliant.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s head, Scott Pruitt, has called for the elimination of the term “global warming.” He has cited the Bible to justify removing scientists from advisory boards. When EPA employees spoke out against the anti-science policies, then came scrutiny of their email.

Also, the regime has reversed the inclusion of climate as a threat to national security.

Meanwhile, as the Federal Communications Commission ended net neutrality – bad enough – it has refused to take action to remove fraudulent comments or to prevent them from being filed.

As a librarian, I count on access to data that are undistorted by political agendas. I need, to quote Joe Friday, “Just the facts.”

For ABC Wednesday

The BIG DATA on me

Financially Support Community Causes: Donate to Charitable Causes, Animal Welfare, Environment or Wildlife, Health, Political – Liberal, Religious (all true)

I noted in another blog that companies have a lot of data on you, at least in the US, and that some are willing to share with you what they think they know.

Plugging in my name, address, date of birth, and the last four digits of my Social Security number:

Ethnicity Based on Surname: American (well, I suppose)
Education: Completed Graduate School (true)
Marital Status: Married (true)
Presence of Children: No Children Present (false)
Political Party: Voter – Democratic (true)
Occupation: Professional/Technical (true)

Home Owner / Renter: Home Owner (true)
Dwelling Type: Single Family Dwelling Unit (true)
Length of Residence by Year: 13 Years (true)
Year Home Built: 1900 – 1940 (true)
Estimated Home Market Value: $100,000 – $149,999 (true)
Home Purchase Date: 05/2000 (I was there at the closing, true)
Primary Home Loan Type: Conventional (true)

Household Vehicle
Primary Vehicle Make: Toyota (got the year and model right, too)
Intent to Purchase a Vehicle: True (I suppose so)

Household Economic Data

Estimated Household Income Ranges (a little low)
Presence of Credit Card: Bank Card Holder (true) , Gas/Department/Retail Card Holder (false), Credit Card Holder (true)
Credit Card Use – Discover (true)

Value-Priced General Merchandise
Apparently, I buy as Mail Order Responder (true)

Children’s Toys
Home Furnishings Accessories
Other Merchandise/Services
Total Dollars Spent: 200 (I imagine it’s more)
Total Number of Purchases: 2 (definitely more)

Average Dollars Spent Per Offline Purchase: 77 (I have no idea – seems high)
Total Offline Dollars Spent: 77 (seems very low)

Average Dollars Spent Per Online Purchase: 100 (definitely seems high)
Total Online Dollars Spent: 200 (definitely low)

Household Interests Data

Parenting: Interested
Children’s Items: Interested
Financially Support Community Causes: Donate to Charitable Causes, Animal Welfare, Environment or Wildlife, Health, Political – Liberal, Religious (all true)
Community / Charities: Interested
Environmental Concerns: Interested
Wireless Product Buyer: Interested
Computers: Interested
PC Internet / Online Service User: Interested
Wireless – Cellular Phone Owner: Interested
Consumer Electronics: Interested
PC DSL/High-Speed User: PC Broadband User
PC Software Buyer (not so much)
Text Messaging: Interested (no)
Home Stereo: Interested
Avid Music Listener: Interested (now THAT’S right)
Movie Collector: Interested
Movies at Home: Interested
Sweepstakes / Contests: Interested (I was at one point, but haven’t done those in years)
Cooking: Interested (not particularly)
Low-Fat Cooking: Interested (ditto)
Natural Foods: Interested
Cholesterol-Related Products: Interested
Health/Medical: Interested
Dieting / Weight-loss: Interested
Celebrities: Interested (not so much anymore, but that probably was true at some point)
Current Affairs / Politics: Interested (absolutely)
Music Players: Interested
Home Furnishings / Decorating: I don’t much care, but I probably bought some stuff
Religious / Inspirational: Interested
Self Improvement: Interested
Personal Investment: Interested (not really)
Real Estate Investment: Interested (no, I’m not)
Education Online: Interested
Reading: Interested
Reading Religious / Inspirational: Interested
Reading Magazines: Interested
Reading Financial Newsletters: Interested (but my eyes glaze over)
Spectator Football: Interested
Spectator Baseball: Interested
Spectator Basketball: Interested (not in years)

Then I checked my wife’s record. She is clerical/white collar(?) – she’s a teacher – with similar interests. Ah, it’s the unit’s interests.

But the real kicker is that while the profile got HER age correctly, they had me born in 1978! Since I entered my age in the first place, I found that hysterically funny. Finally younger than my wife…

The poli sci guy hates this story, but the librarian loves it

The librarian sees it as a lesson learned for people who expect data ALWAYS to be available


In New York State today, we’re having the primary elections. For me, there are three Democratic races.

The District Attorney contest is between the incumbent, who some think overreached by indicting some Florida folks over steroids, a case that was largely undone by other courts, and a guy, son of a prominent defense attorney whose wife was so visible on the first piece of campaign literature I received, I’d think SHE was the candidate; I also got an AWFUL, as in amateurish, robocall from her. Does anyone for someone because their spouse, or worse, their kids, tells you how wonderful the candidate is? If anything, I’m LESS inclined to vote for that potential officeholder.

Then there’s the incumbent state senator running against a guy, and there’s almost no difference in their positions on the major issues.

But the one that is REALLY bizarre is the state assembly race with SIX, count ’em 6, candidates running for an open seat. One candidate is a disgraced former county executive named Jim Coyne who was convicted back in 1992 on federal charges of bribery, conspiracy, extortion, and mail-fraud charges for taking $30,000 from the architect of the Knickerbocker Arena while the 15,000-seat indoor arena was under construction in downtown Albany. Just this week, the retired county DA said Coyne should never have been indicted and is supporting his candidacy. There’s a woman named Margarita Perez who has been all but invisible, plus a couple of guys, William McCarthy and Christopher Higgins, who ran credible campaigns, especially the latter.

But the general consensus is that the real race is between a guy named Frank Commisso and a woman named Pat Fahy. For reasons that mystify me, Commisso decides to attack Fahy regarding some possibly substantive issues, but also about whether or not she had been registered and voted in Cook County, Illinois in the 1970s into the 1990s. The Cook County Board of Elections couldn’t find records under her name. Aha! Commisso says. But here’s where the great big caveat comes in.

From here:

In 1997, the [Cook County] clerk’s office switched to a new system of tracking its voter registrations… At the time of the switch, any voters who were still active in the old system were simply carried over to the new one.

But…”If you were registered in the ’70s and then your registration was canceled because you moved or you died…those registrations were not carried over to the new system.”

…[T]he clerk’s office, because of constraints on storage space, no longer has the hard copies of voter registration cards from that far back. And that means there’s essentially no way to know for sure.

The search that yielded the records produced by the Commisso campaign… went no further than the current computer system.

It is a massive non-story politically, as far as I am concerned.

But the librarian sees it as a lesson learned for people who expect data ALWAYS to be available. I was told in my first week in library school that when technology changes, information inevitably gets lost. This is almost always the case. Not every VHS movie has made it to DVD or BluRay. There are LPs that have never been in digital format of any kind. Ever since the cave drawings failed to make it onto papyrus, it has been so.

Blogoversary answers

What about all those OTHER blogs you do?

Let’s milk this seventh blogoversary gig: in response to questions I get about blogging all of the time, both in person and online, I decided to answer some of them.

Why do you blog?

I’ve noted that I was inspired by my friend Fred Hembeck. Beyond that, though, there was stuff happening in the world and in my life that seemed to be worthy of noting, if only because they were important to me.

Some people write letters to the editor. I have, but I’m not very diligent about it. Some people write to members of Congress. Ditto. What I realized that I can do is write something in a blog, then send THAT to a member of Congress. And I have, a few times. Plus the piece stays out there is in the blogoverse.

But mostly, it was so I could maintain a modicum of sanity.

What was your goal in blogging?

Initially, I had only two.

When my daughter was born in March of 2004, I said that I would keep a journal about/for her. But early on, that fell apart. So having the blog would be my public commitment to fulfill my promise. And I have written about her EVERY MONTH without fail, on the 26th, since I started this.

The other was to write the JEOPARDY! story so I didn’t have to repeat it all the time. The folks at J!-ARCHIVE have linked to those.

Why do you blog about THAT?

Because it interests me. I’ve said before that I write the blog, first and foremost, for me.

There’s a noted TV writer named Ken Levine (MASH, Frasier). Some people complain when he blogs about baseball; Ken’s an announcer for the Seattle Mariners and has served in the same capacity for other teams. What he (or his followers) usually say is something snarky such as, “For what you’re paying, you shouldn’t complain.”

I’m not one who does snark well. It’s not that I don’t feel snarky sometimes, but rather it seems to come off as mean-spirited. But my sentiment’s about the same.

If I write about sports or TV or politics or do a quiz, and you’re not interested, that’s fine; almost certainly, tomorrow will be something else. If I altered the eclectic balance and listen to other voices, my self-censoring would probably paralyze me from scribing anything at all. And writing this, as much as anything, is inertia. It is better FOR ME to write a quiz that you don’t like – but I do, because I usually learn something about me – than not to.

Quizzes are also quicker and easier. If I have written a blog post that’s taken two hours to put together, then I need something to cleanse my intellectual palate that I can do in 20 minutes or so.

Why don’t you link to anyone else?

Well, it had something to do with visual clutter. But I kind of do anyway. My old blog, which I stopped posting to when I got this one, is the place where I keep track of all the blogs I follow or want to refer to, and still update occasionally when I have time.

What about all those OTHER blogs you do?

They’ve all, directly or indirectly, evolved from the first. When my then-work colleague came back from a conference and said, “We need to have a blog!”, I was her firmest supporter because I had started my own only three weeks earlier; it became so. Subsequently, everyone was going to do a post once a week each, but that’s devolved to me writing something thrice a week unless I have an intern to do so. The good thing is that it’s become part of the job description.

I’m on the board of the Friends of the Albany Public Library, and since I can’t get to most of the midday events, I started that blog. I’m our office’s representative to the NY State Data Center, and at the spring meeting in 2007, someone suggested a blog, and I began Data Detectives in May of that year, probably the second favorite of my own blogs. Michael Huber of the Times Union, the Albany newspaper, I’d known for years, and he started nagging me to blog there; after blowing him off for about a year, I started Information without the Bun in January 2008.

I also participate in other people’s blogs. ABC Wednesday, which Denise Nesbitt, started about five years ago, I stumbled upon only sometime in 2009; seems longer. Huber invited me to participate in Getting There, about local transportation, in October 2011. Finally, I was doing the Flashmob Fridays comic book thing, but that, alas, is defunct.

How do you keep up with so many blogs?

Forced labor.

So there it is. 2,570 straight days of blogging. I’ve pretty much decided that when I get to 10 years, I’ll back off to thrice a week. But that’ll be 2015, and if all those apocalyptic forecasts come true, I won’t have to worry about that anyway.

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