Australian Open tennis; grunting update

Lots of chatter among Australian Open commentators about the noise tennis players make while they play, and two shriekers have made it to the women's final. The noise has got to be a distraction, making a player unable to hear the sound the grunting player's racquet makes striking the ball, something that can tell you a lot. But the players seem not to mind so much, as the NY Times reports. The story says:
Asked about the issue of grunting in women’s tennis, the retired five-time major champion Martina Hingis said in a news conference: “If you keep winning, you don’t think about it. The moment you’re losing, it’s probably more distracting.”
Here's an earlier post raising the issue. No new studies, but I will watch for them. And there's lots of information out there about tennis match statistics; I'll be exploring that in a later post.


Who really "won" in Iowa?

Update, February 3: The New Times reports today that Iowans, and others, are questioning the reliability of caucus results. They should.

Update, Feb. 1: The NY Times reports today that the Iowa GOP chairman has resigned.

News reports over the past few days have told us that, after a recount, Mitt Romney did not win the Iowa Republican caucuses by 8 votes, Rick Santorum won them by 23. Or maybe by 34.

The early reports were a tipoff, confirmed by subsequent events, that neither man "won." I think they probably tied. As I reported a year ago in a post about Charles Seife's book "Proofiness," numbers of that exactitude - a win by so few votes out of more than 120,000 cast - suggest a certainty that may not exist. According to the results certified by the Iowa Republican party, the exact number is 121,503. The Iowa Republicans worked very hard to develop this data. You can download the spreadsheet, with its 1767 lines of data yourself, and see it all (along with the potential for error). Eight precincts did not report certified vote totals. For a good discussion of the outcome see, as usual, Nate Silver's analysis. (He thinks it is fair to say that Santorum won.)

The issue of who won isn't all that important any more, though the question of whether those Iowa voters are in any way representative of the general electorate remains. So let's consider the outcome a tie, and move on. The Republican primary season is turning into an interesting time.


NY Times on the decision to fire Paterno

If you haven't already read it, yesterday's New York Times article by Pete Thamel and Mark Viera on the Penn State governing board's decision to fire football coach Joe Paterno provides a useful and thoughtful glimpse into the board's decision-making process. Besides the train wreck aspects (there are a couple of good lessons to be drawn in what not to do during a crisis) it reports in fairly thorough detail what the board members were thinking. If you read between the lines, there are some places where the board could have responded more effectively as well.

I'm on a deadline and don't have time for more analysis, but will come back to this issue in the future. The article is worth reading even if it puts you over your 20 free articles limit the New York Times imposes.


Text analytics and campaigns

Here's a link to an interesting article by Sasha Issenberg of Slate, describing how the Obama campaign might be data-mining the statements provided by readers of the campaign website. (The Slate story is refers to the campaign's Pennsylvania page, but if you google "share your story" and obama there are lots of opportunities to share.) Slate speculates, based on the analytic expertise of the campaign's "chief scientist" Rayid Ghani, that the campaign will be analyzing statements to develop more nuanced understanding of the positions of voters on various issues. This suggests that voters will be targeted for mailings in ever more tightly segmented interest groups, and should make for an interesting campaign . . . just remember, when you provide information, you may be hearing from the campaign again.


Greenhouse Gas Emitters

Maybe you saw the article in yesterday's New York Times about the clickable map identifying greenhouse gas emitters in the US? I looked up the map, and it's even better than the article made it sound. The map is searchable by state, and you can click in for more detail. The site also has preset graphs and charts allowing you to look at contributors by sector, and geography. Here's a screenshot of a bar chart showing Greenhouse Gas emitters by sector.
Note the line of caution at the bottom. But the EPA includes a link to the page explaining the different data sources. The data are self-reported emissions data from large facilities, and the EPA is admirably clear about what the data source is.


NYC Health Data on Google Public Data Explorer

Nearly a year ago I wrote a post about Google's Public Data Explorer. Today I noticed (OK, it's dated March 2011, so perhaps I'm coming to it late) that some New York City data is included. There's not much, just obesity, diabetes, and vital statistics data, but it's still fun to play with. Here's a screenshot of a chart illustrating the percent of the population that's overweight or obese, by borough.

Pretty interesting, no? I wonder what accounts for the fluctuations in Staten Island.


College Applications in the United States – The background

This is the first in a series of posts that will appear over the next few months about the college application process in the US, and in particular the numbers aspect of that process. But first, some background.

Applying to college in the United States is a head-spinning, gut-churning merry-go-round for high school seniors and their parents. The process starts as early as ninth grade, when students have to decide about taking SAT IIs. (There’s a school of thought that it’s a good idea to take, say the biology SAT II right after you’ve taken the course in ninth grade. There’s another that says it’s better to wait, and take it during the year the student is taking AP Biology.) Everything accelerates as the student advances through school, taking PSATs, SATs, and Advanced Placement tests. (And that description doesn’t begin to touch how the parent feels as she watches her child’s progress.)

Many things have changed in the college admissions landscape over the past 25-30 years, since the parents of today’s high school students applied to college. The Common Application has made applying easier, at least in some ways. The US News and World Report and other college ranking systems have made some schools appear more desirable. Web sites like College Confidential help students pick schools they are likely to be accepted to. The entire college application process has become the subject of academic study. It can be overwhelming.

And with vast amounts of information available, it’s hard to get a sense of the big picture. Today I describe the general landscape. Later posts will cover what colleges are looking for in their applicants, the substantial amounts of information available to colleges and applicants, the Common Application, the ranking system and some critiques of it, tuition and financial aid, the impact on students, and some recommendations for the future.

According to the US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, there are more than 2200 four-year degree-granting public or private not-for-profit colleges and universities in the United States, and additional two year public and private colleges and for-profit two and four year programs. Nearly 20 million students are enrolled in post-secondary education. According to the National Association for College Admission Counselors, colleges accept 67% of their applicants.

But for students seeking admission to the handful of selective or highly selective colleges, these numbers provide no comfort. (What makes a college “selective” will be the topic of a later post.) The number of slots available in these approximately 75 colleges has stayed more or less the same over the last 30 years, while the number of students applying to them has increased. (At least one study suggests that this is true regardless of the size of the cohort graduating from high school.) Fewer than 40% (or, in some cases, fewer than 10 or 15%) of applicants will get into those colleges.

So – overall acceptance rates of 67%, with hysteria over a few thousand spots. What happened? A lot of things, as the succeeding posts will show. One big change, as one academic study points out, is that over the last 30 years, the college market has changed from a local or regional one to a national market. High school graduates once went to a local or regional school, and only a few went to a faraway college. Now, colleges try to attract students from far away, and many students travel across the country to attend college. A number of factors have contributed to the change. The author singles out new ease in travel and communications (cell phones, Skype, Facebook, and nationwide calling plans) as two main factors making students more willing to travel further from home to attend college. The Internet has allowed colleges to market themselves directly to student in-boxes. And the rise of the Common Application, particularly the electronic version, has meant that students can apply as easily to distant colleges as to nearby ones. (And to more colleges, but that too will be the subject of a later post.)

This is the first in a series of posts about the college application process based on work done in collaboration with Michelle Slatalla.

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