"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes."
Data literacy is a popular buzz word lately. Often cited as an organizational goal or an individual professional metric but you might be surprised how blurry the end game might be. How do you define success? When are you considered “literate”? And why are courses delivered in soothing dulcimer tones? Where are the challenges and limits? The solutions are not marketable and should be evolving with the complexity of our data questions.
Morgan Freeman wasn’t necessarily referring to data in the opening quote (in the title) but you can see why I made the leap. Better data, better questions, better insights. We need to curate empathy not the next gizmo for sale.
In my opinion, this is mission critical. You can design, sell, even give-away the alleged “secret sauce” but make no mistake--this is more than what chart to use to display your data or how best to create a visualization.
The decisions you make upstream to tool selection are more important than the tool itself. We don’t have the luxury of mistaking an ideology for an effective solution to complex problems. Tableau is trying to make introductions to data literacy that albeit a little late to the party--might help guide us all in the right direction.
My main criticism is that all roads to literacy appear to be paved with Tableau products but having said that--Tableau Public is free and can certainly launch you on a journey of data discovery. When I teach data literacy--especially since my audience is typically underserved populations or adult learners--I share free resources along with the paid alternatives.
Because if literacy is not equitable, what is the point?
Data literacy requires actionable insights and workflows. Although many of us work with large datasets (especially in healthcare) I spend much of my time in Census data files.
Here are the buckets from the Tableau data literacy initiative. The next few posts will explore how these apply to an actual data set.
For example, when I want to examine poverty or racial inequity I know there is a variable in the Census data that will look at vacancy rates. This is exploratory data analysis but I need to find the data.
I skipped ahead simply to show you how I might do a little front end research to figure out where I might begin to find meaningful variables. I remember a project in Los Angeles where there was an association made between poverty, race/ethnicity, and percentage of multiple family units.
This data is also captured by Federal Government and economic forecasters to gauge the economic environment.
When working with Census data you need to know which tables contain the data you hope to explore. I know that B25004 has the data. I have spent more time with the 2018 data but we do have access to 2019 although with limited geographical files so I rely on acs5 for 5-year data in real life but for purposes of this quick look here is what I am sharing.
Briefly, I share how to find the codes for your state or county level data and how you bring the data into Colab for a rapid Python analysis. From my less than 10 minute query above I know that I might be interested in Block group 4, census tract 126.01 to explore vacancy rates and other attributes in the area.
A quick look in ArcGIS allows me to explore poverty levels in my local county to see if there are any trends. We notice that purple is displaying higher percentages of the population whose income in the past 12 months is below the poverty level. The next step for me would be to redefine poverty as the definitions we work with in government settings were articulated in 1963 and include income and only food expenses. It is out of date but we are able to define a wide variety of other variables better suited to identify contributions to inequity.
Think about overlaying the visualization below and see if you see patterns between vacancy rates in communities and where the poverty levels are highest. The dataset I normally work with has 62 variables all culled from census data. More to come...
Subscribe below for more insights...
Click below to see a story map created in ArcGIS...
On the edge of what we know, in contact with the oceans of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world--Carlo Rovelli
This weather. It seems like a whisper of possibility--of something shinier just around the corner. I queued up a playlist of podcasts covering ultra running, culture, data science, economics, medicine, and literature. You would think these are disparate topics united only by an individual runner’s eclectic preferences but you would be wrong. Edges are where I get my best ideas. Think of your interests. The books you read, the ones you don’t--the music you like or hate. I use these early morning runs to clear my mind--and if it is a good morning, I might learn something new.
After the Fact is a podcast produced by Pew Charitable Trust. Conversations on Science: What Makes Science, Well Science is a brilliant series. Here is the transcript. Theoretical physicist and writer, Carlo Rovelli reminds us that we need to gather many lenses to make sense of our world.
I discover most books from author interviews on podcasts. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics* is the latest. *I get a few shiny nickels if you order the book from the link--full disclosure--but cost to you is the same. It is about as far into advertising as I can lean. It makes sense to me. Its like you are tossing a few nickels out of Jeff Bezo’s pocket into mine. Thanks!
This book is great for many reasons but my favorite is why Carlo decided to write it. I remember college physics, it was many things but brief it was not. He says he doesn’t like details. For example, we can be interested in butterflies for example--without reading a 700 page book on everything there is to know. Maybe some things you are willing to absorb at face value. He shares the beauty of physics without having us calculate which train arrives at the station first.
Something that has stuck with me is how he defines science or better yet provides context.
"Science is a tool that we have. And we should not mistake a tool with our ideology or our objective."
Boom. This reminded me of professionals teaching data skills or data visualization. I lead my workshops with a bit of context. I approach data problems as a tool agnostic professional. Yes, I spend a lot of time working with Tableau but the more tools you have--not restrained by ideology--the better you will navigate the alluvial framework of our new remote work lives. Think about Python, R, ArcGIS, and SQL.
I am finishing up this post listening and watching the Tableau Conference-ish, reimagined for virtual hijinks, knowledge, and networking. I was at Tableau conference in 2016 when election results were announced and I attended the Tableau conference held at Mandalay Bay days after the massacre at an outdoor crowd of 22,000 attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Conference has been a time post of the last 7 years.
Here we are again, now ravaged by a pandemic and struggling with racial inequity. I hope we can look to data. I hope we can ask better questions. I would like to see more folks at the table. Many of us have been standing at this table for a long time.
I hope we are ready to add more chairs.
A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy—Albert Einstein
More and more, journalism seems to have hopped out of Truth’s pocket and crept into another--Henry Rollins
There are things I simply can’t explain--my fascination with Henry Rollins being one of them. Or perhaps my persistent curiosity to find the original “thing”.
Let me explain. When I hear or read a story I want to know where it was seeded.
Who created the idea that germinated into this shiny product I am consuming.
Nature has it wired. Cancer, plague, viruses, parasites and other grotesque, microscopic killers are there to thin the herd. Of course we fight back. This being the case — along with other factors such as our inability to always play well with others — not everyone is going to have a long, healthy life.
The raw truth is what I crave. Perhaps I never get there but the telling is in the journey. It might be why I needed to create this platform. A place where I can toss up some ideas or better yet--run them up a flag pole and see if anyone salutes.
Maybe that’s why I retired from medical writing. Medical writing is about telling a narrowly defined truth based on limited data and polished to a shiny hue illuminated with profit and false narratives. Okay. It sounds a bit harsh but if we poke a little deeper there is something crumbled and stale in the pocket of truth. We aren’t talking about health care. We are talking about disease care.
Conversations about health should address structural determinants of health. How do we alleviate the unequal distribution of power and resources in our communities? Instead we wring our hands and lose the focus. We label the buckshot and start dismantling the assault in a piecemeal manner. The best intentions are littered with discussions of race, gender expression, and class. Divide and conquer strategies might explain why we are still having the same conversations. If we address the cause instead of the symptoms, perhaps effective policy will follow.
Whether with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, class, or other markers of human difference, the prevailing American narrative often draws a sharp line between the United States' “past” and its “present,” with the 1960s and 1970s marking a crucial before-and-after moment in that narrative. This narrative asserts that until the 1950s, U.S. history was shaped by the impacts of past slavery, Indian removal, lack of rights for women, Jim Crow segregation, periods of nativist restrictions on immigration and waves of mass deportation of Hispanic immigrants, eugenics, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Chinese exclusion policies, the criminalization of “homosexual acts,” and more (Gee and Ford, 2011; Gee et al., 2009). White women and people of color were effectively barred from many occupations and could not vote, serve on juries, or run for office. People with disabilities suffered widespread discrimination, institutionalization, and social exclusion.--Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity
There is hard work to do when you want actionable answers. The history of our country is shameful, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Reading about James Madison we realize that although we celebrate him as a founder of our country, he also argued that white land-owning men were best suited to lead our nation or to have a vote in how our nation was to be led. They represented only 6% of the population at the signing of the founding documents.
It seems coincidental to have discovered a book that changed my thoughts and awareness on such a cellular level in a book shop on his former plantation. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.
This has been a meandering way of introducing The Atlantic Festival. Earlier this week the historical Atlantic Monthly hosted a virtual version of their lively festival.
Here is how they won. They won on the content of diverse conversations and inclusion.
First, it was free. Subscribers had a few extra sessions and the ability to network but the important discussions were available for everyone. That decision alone has made me a subscriber for life. Go to YouTube and hunt down the videos. You are welcome.
The journalists are the best in the world. I say that as a subscriber to Washington Post and The New York Times. It is our job, not just as colleagues but as readers to challenge and be informed. Not all journalism is created equal. I am haunted by a story by Barton Gellman.
Here is a link to the video.
The Interregnum comprises 79 days, carefully bounded by law. Among them are “the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December,” this year December 14, when the electors meet in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to cast their ballots for president; “the 3d day of January,” when the newly elected Congress is seated; and “the sixth day of January,” when the House and Senate meet jointly for a formal count of the electoral vote. In most modern elections these have been pro forma milestones, irrelevant to the outcome. This year, they may not be.--The Election That Could Break America
I am invigorated. I have stories to tell and I will pursue my work examining poverty and relying on CENSUS data to tell the narrative of our communities. The ability to connect during these times of social isolation, and to gather synergistically in support of the principles of The Atlantic.
Its befitting that I can hear the ceremony for Ruth Bader Ginsburg broadcasting from the United States Capitol playing on NPR in the background. The words remind me of what we are now responsible for pursuing. The ideals and grace of one who served and achieved so much for all of us.
“tzedek, tzedek tirdof” meaning “justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deut. 16:20)
And we should be reminded that it takes all of us to contribute to the ongoing promise of the First Amendment.
Continuing our theme of old is new again or “there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)” creates the perfect segue to describe the main themes of a thought provoking documentary on Netflix. The Social Dilemma.
...The collective lack of understanding about how these platforms actually operate has led to hidden and often harmful consequences to society—consequences that are becoming more and more evident over time, and consequences that, the subjects in The Social Dilemma suggest, are an existential threat to humanity.--Netflix
After watching this movie you have to let it set in. How much of your behaviors are you willing to change? What curse has the ease of connectivity rained upon o' house? I doubt that any of us don’t know that we are the product being sold on these “free” platforms. But I’ll be darned if they aren’t entrenched into our lives in a seemingly intractable manner.
I am proud to say that I haven’t allowed notifications on my phone almost ever. I do get my texts because my family prefers them and there is an added bonus when I go on long runs. Siri whispers my texts into my ears. What could go wrong, right?
I also have disabled every modifiable opt-in, ad notifier, or tracker humanely possible. The list of apps requesting microphone or location permission is simultaneously funny and terrifying. I am talking to you Dropbox.
Here is another final push. Work more often on your platforms. Your website, your blog. I think I came to Instagram too late to see it as a business need. I post mostly when I travel but that has morphed into what I see along the trail or what I ate.
In my experience, LinkedIn works as a conduit for messages to reach you. Many new clients simply reach out by message so that is the biggest advantage I can see there. Not much more.
Do you host webinars or synchronous/asynchronous meetings? The evolution of virtual commerce allows many of us to adapt and customize how we bring value. We have become Zoombies but maybe Loom can do some of that heavy lifting? I have been using it more and more when creating instructional asynchronous learning--check it out here.
Are there any lessons about connecting in a remote world to be learned from the past?
Well it just so happens...
A Medieval Mother Tries Distance Learning
This amused me. I am not sure why my mind has been wandering back so far--to times of pestilence, depravity, and demise of civilization--oh. wait.
That is what the duchess, Dhuoda of Uzés, decided to gift her son. The Liber Manualis is a handbook of her wisdom, one that he should read, internalize, and apply to his own young life to navigate the complicated feudal politics of the age...He eschewed all her good advice on being a good vassal to his lord and got himself killed during a rebellion against Charles seven years after receiving her book. So Dhuoda’s curriculum didn’t help William much, in the end. But maybe it helped me understand, here in 2020, with schools shuttered for the fall semester, that advice given at a great distance can only ever go so far.
We can choose to heed warnings about our reliance on technology. I can’t remember the source of the advice but a conversation about AI and healthcare that seems so simple--if more folks would listen. Be cautious of AI that increases the distance between the patient and the provider. This is a metric I use when exploring biased algorithms and “shortcuts” in diagnostic pathways.
It is you, whose fate is grievous, who have chosen this; this fortune has not come to you from one more powerful; for when it was possible to show good sense, you chose to approve the worse, rather than the better fate.
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The Ginsu knife commercials may have launched the current sh*tstorm of gimmicky selling techniques. Although I could argue that most of the current media darlings were all but a twinkle in somebody’s eye when this thing was first launched.
You might make an argument for jealousy directed towards these multimillionaire course creators or YouTube stars--okay true, true. But mostly I am mystified. I’ll step you though my 'n of 1' experience. Because I just didn’t see the “there” there.
Or to quote Jerry Saltz “Learn the difference between subject matter and content”.
When you look at art, make subject matter the first thing you see--and then stop seeing it. Start seeing into the art; find what needs are being expressed or hidden there, what else is behind the narrative. A work of art is a rich estuary of material, personal, public, and aesthetic ideas. Let its water pass through the banks to reach you.--Jerry Saltz--How to Be An Artist
When I read the quote I think of graphics and data insights but you can see it is applicable to almost anything trying to get your attention. There has to be substance or intrigue to capture interest right?
Full disclosure, I am creating a digital course. It is all content no glitz. I don’t wear a ton of makeup, grin and smile, or make sure my hands are held up as I count the insights you will gain. Someone somewhere said to be certain your hands are visible so now when you look at videos you can’t miss the jazz hands.
I have been doing a little research on platforms, style, all of the under-the-hood preparation. It makes sense that this little course would find its way into my inbox. I am curious.
The woman in the video is a millionaire. She tells us how much money she makes and how she does it all with minimal effort, mentions her hunky husband, and also shares that she used to work for Tony Robbins. I can be a little critical because why would she care and let's face it--she laughs all the way to the bank.
The part that had me gobsmacked? There were almost 4000 people on this live “free” instructional video. I am not even sure what she sells but it seems like she is selling the idea of selling. If that was all, I would have simply thanked whomever forwarded the link perhaps muttering that it just isn’t for me. But...I was bored and started glancing at the chat comments.
For reference, my average class fees for learning technical and actionable skills in analytics run between $75 and $199. This entrepreneur was giving a bargain deal of close to $2000 dollars--to 4000 people--after telling them all directly how easy it all was for her and what a killing she makes.
The audience was eating it up. Signing up left and right. Many were asking if they could split it between two credit cards, others were going to start driving for Uber or meal delivery services in their area. It was a little heart breaking if I am going to be honest.
I need to write about the experience because it has been occupying space in my brain. And even if it wasn’t, this little video arrived in my inbox this morning:
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.--Brian O'Driscoll
Back in the days of too many conference invitations to accept I would often walk the conference hotel entering into unstructured but important conversations with policy makers, distinguished keynotes and leaders in their field and I always had a similar feeling. The people that need to hear this are not in our audience.
Health insurance executives were not talking to the healthcare provider making decisions at the point of care, policy makers used terms like “we” and “us” to a room full of “them”, and often large parts of the discussion were muted. Without complete outreach to solve seemingly intractable problems we are either grasping at low hanging fruit, preaching to the choir, or intentionally poking out our own eye.
It was moments like these that moved me to work in healthcare data literacy and to start this blog over 5 or 6 years ago. Yes, from time to time you might have to use a new tool to be able to access large datasets but more important than the latest "Tableau How To" video--is a workflow of how to ask better questions. There is such complexity in how government, government policy, health economics, and clinical medicine intersect I found that with my press credentials I had access to conversations not openly available to my colleagues.
A vital part of my understanding of the complexity of health law and policy is derived from The Week in Health Law--an important podcast always but perhaps even more so in the current era. A recent report Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19 has been published by the George Consortium and is discussed and available for download. I attempted to discuss insights with a few colleagues but was disappointed that not many were even aware of its existence.
This collection of 36 expert assessments shows that the COVID-19 failure is, in important ways, also a legal failure:
I have challenged well-meaning data visualizations attempting to provide clarity and information by providing access to data and access to a smart software platform. My fear was and is that we are missing the contextual arguments that provide relevance and meaning to our analytics. I think this report is a good place to begin.
Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19--link to full report
How reliable is the data? Why isn't the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an independent agency? You know, like the authors suggest, akin to the Federal Reserve? Politics shouldn’t influence data collection and statistical rigor during a pandemic--think back to AIDS research during the AIDs crisis and to current COVID-19 or research into firearm prevention and deaths...
As Patricia Williams points out in her powerful closing reflections on this Report, these disparities do not arise from bad individual choices or biological differences between races but the social factors that shape people’s lives every day “in the ghettoized geographies that have become such petri dishes of contagion.” These disparities are not inevitable. We as a society have created them. Centuries of oppression through policies, norms, and institutional practices shape individual experience and over time have created the inequitable society we inhabit.
This report contains over 220 pages arranged into 35 chapters across multiple domains relevant to the discussions around race and equity during the COVID crisis. My hope is that you will read every word but here is a quick synopsis of what I reviewed before listening to a panel discussion Coronavirus Conversations: Racial Bias in the Healthcare System & COVID Outcomes presented by Duke Science and Society.
One thing I note from my experience either participating in or observing these discussions is our keen focus on the symptoms of racial disparities in health instead of the structural elements that allow them to continue. Our nation rarely gives voice to our 400 year (and counting) origin story which I would argue may not just be part of the problem--but the whole problem.
The report dares to state unequivocally--here is the cause, the remedy, and implementation steps to address these gaps in equity painfully revealed during this latest pandemic.
Congress should also amend the Public Health Services Act to add transparency and accountability mechanisms that require the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and CDC Director to provide scientific support for guidance and orders responding to the pandemic. In the face of executive failure or deliberate suppression of information, it is urgent for Congress to mandate and fund efforts to assure the collection and dissemination of accurate data. Disease surveillance reports should require enhanced demographic data collection that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability status.
I have taught several data workshops to bring tools like ArcGIS, Tableau, and simple coding to journalists and professionals attempting to either gather or access timely datasets. But here is the problem. Much of what we would need to illuminate and share data insights--isn’t being collected. Or even if it is collected--in the absence of harmonization or consensus on variables--how clear are the insights we can gather?
In particular, because most states have constitutional limitations on deficit spending, only the federal government can supply the resources needed to ensure adequate testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), and research in and distribution of countermeasures. Likewise, only the federal government can soften the pandemic’s economic impact and prevent it from exacerbating pre-existing inequities. The federal government needs to take more steps in each of these areas.
A recent COVID-19 dataset had captured “recovered”. Already confused by muddy definitions of “confirmed” cases I explored how determination was made in marking cases as recovered. What I was able to gather was crudely, a patient confirmed with covid but also non-dead.
The graphic below is surprisingly useful at noticing adoption of mitigation measures in the absence of a national response. I will leave you to make your own conclusions.
“We can divide ourselves up into races and castes and neighborhoods and nations all we like, but to the virus-if not, alas, to us-we are one glorious, shimmering, and singular species.”--Patricia Williams, JD
So far, reviews are favorable. The net is intentionally wide for you to gain the most amount of information in the shortest time. Additional classes are being built around specific topics so if you want that deeper dive--there you go.
My objective is not to trick you into learning how to code in Python. I might share useful code tidbits here and there for quick free alternatives to software that might require an investment. As I discover new tools and platforms like Loom, Descript, or ArcGIS they will be in the background in courses I build using them but if you want to learn how to use them--I will have your back.
Two more things:
1. I built a new lesson into an existing course when a student had a specific need. The courses will be fluid and responsive like that--the platforms are all new to me too. If you don’t see it, ask for it.
2. Here is the big finish. I built these courses because skill development is one thing. What to do with the skill once you return to your desk is quite another. Maybe it was just me but all of the accolades in a Columbia School of Engineering Executive Online course in Applied Analytics wasn’t much help when I needed a work flow to create a sentiment analysis. I had a bunch of Python training but not much around the application side. Same thing with data visualization software or analyzing giant datasets--where to start.
Well, I humbly suggest you start here.
True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information--Winston Churchill
Are stupid people smug? Is your "excessive pride" allowed to stand in the shadow of an uninformed perspective?
My son says I am manipulative. "Yes, mom you are manipulative. Everyone knows it. Dad knows it. Your friends know it."
How do I capture this little gem of a tirade and insert it next to the "nature" photos and forced home-cooked meals on social media.
"Hey, I ran this morning. Over 8 miles and I saw a large turtle and a beautiful Heron." Take a look here!
I know how to catalog my singular experiences but the noise that interrupts what I want to do and what I seemingly am expected to do by others often gets left on the cutting room floor.
Aren't all parents manipulative? You get the vegetables into their digestive tracks by hiding them in smoothies and soups. You introduce social discourse and intellectual curiosity to seed compassion and knowledge. You certainly can't leave a stack of Noam Chomsky books scattered throughout your home and anticipate them falling in love with a leading liberal intellectual by chance--can you?
But you can lead by example. Demonstrate the ability to hold a tension while you read the literature or research the topic. Well yes, originally Dr. Fauci did not encourage us to make a run on surgical masks to protect against Covid-19. We did not have data and the concern was he did not want them diverted from the healthcare professionals that required them. See? I can speak a truth without throwing the expert out of the window with the proverbial bathwater.
A young woman walked towards me in the hall outside of LabCorp in my town. No mask, no hubris--almost no pants. As she approached I mentioned that she would need a mask to enter the waiting area. "What, I need a mask?" she whined. I was in the hall informing my son by phone that yes he indeed had an appointment for the Covid-19 antibody test but he did not as of yet, have the order for the test.
"I don't see it mom. There is nothing on this page" he accused in a manner only available to 18 year olds.
"Keep looking. It is there. Good lord I need to get this woman away from me. I will be right back. Text me if you can't find it."
He ear-witnessed me "manipulating" a young adult into heading back down the hall to procure a mask. Of course, she coughed and made no attempt to cover her mouth or appreciate the irony of her actions.
I rely on the Covid-19 antibody test to periodically assess any potential exposure. We are going to visit my 82 year old mother and even with masks and social distancing I like a little data on my side.
So after a few weeks of begrudgingly writing a clinical manuscript I am heading north for a quick visit to help my mom with a few things. Things that could be done by phone if I was more patient. But I am not. Or more manipulative--which apparently comes and goes.
Full disclosure. I am a recovering medical writer. I cast away the 6 figure income in exchange for becoming reacquainted with my soul but the abrupt financial impact of Covid-19 left me vulnerable and needing to replace reduced income. If you make your money speaking and flying around the country you are definitely picking up what I am putting down.
I did it for the money. I am not a stupid person. Maybe even smug at times when it comes to medical writing--but I hate it. It makes me hate writing. The deadlines and stupid comments like "let's try this word instead of this one" and "don't show this in the graphic, just mention it briefly in the discussion" numbs my brain like too cold ice-cream.
But I could pay my mortgage for almost 6 months with this gigantic pay out. Good-bye soul. See you in a few months.
Are we all doing weird things to get by in these uncertain times? I don't want to complain or whine because we are all so fortunate in comparison to so many. I tell my kids all the time, "No whining on the yacht!"
There seems to be no end in sight. I think David Sedaris has it right. There are 2 choices. You can either pay someone to listen to your problems or write about your problems and let people pay you.
Well, who is smug now?
"An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods."--Wikipedia
The title and quote are from Henry Rollins. He does not suffer the fools and engages in conversations we all need to hear. He once told a story about sitting on the beach eating a day-old sandwich he nicked from the green room at an Ozzie Osborne concert. Sadly I don't remember the rest of the story because it was years and years ago from his column in the LA Times but that detail you might not think was relevant to the story has had me paying attention to his perspective ever since.
Today as an Applied Data Analyst it is always about the details. I am quietly sipping coffee before redirecting my focus. Being grounded from traveling for about a bazillion weeks is starting to change me on a cellular level. I am seeking something new. In fact, I agreed to help launch a Tableau User Group in India (remotely). And I am presenting at SciPy during the Diversity Luncheon.
The biggest change is that I have agreed to write a few manuscripts. I often introduce myself as a recovering medical writer and here is why. I don't want to be a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, continuing medical education, or anyone that tells you what you need to write, how to say it, what to measure, and which lines not to cross.
Several years ago I became a full-time applied data analyst; teaching, speaking, and collaborating with clients in the healthcare and medical space. Applied data analysis isn't about simply crunching some numbers or writing a bunch of code. It requires subject matter expertise, statistical thinking, the ability to evaluate assumptions and to somehow funnel that into real-life applications. I completed an Executive Education degree from Columbia School of Engineering but this is an ongoing trajectory of learning and doing.
But the writing bit is like riding a bike. If that bike is a tiny vespa and it is powered by someone else. I noticed that former writing colleagues are often more secretarial than expertise driven.
But here is something that you gain from being in the ring for a long time. Every now and then someone seeks you out. And better yet, they want you to do your job. Doing my job for me allows the team to step out of the way of the data. You can be aspirational. But once the analyses are done--it is time to yield to the facts.
Here are a few in no particular order:
1. Ecological Fallacy is real. Findings in aggregated data may not hold at different levels of aggregation.
2. Likert surveys are nothing more than glorified and distorted frequency tables. Oh. One more thing. It is pronounced Lick-ert.
3. If you don't understand conjoint analysis stop pretending that you are gathering meaningful insights from your Likert survey.
4. Unipolar and multi-polar constructs require different scales.
5. You need rank or rating data to apply probabilities to your data insights.
6. Here is a bonus from my work this week. Care utilization is not a substitute for disease burden.
Although not entirely planned, this is perfect segue to the graphic below.
“When you are learning a new subject, I think the single most useful thing is a good mind map that lays out all the subject areas so you know where the information you are learning fits in. I can remember so many times, sitting in a lecture, having no idea what the prof was talking about and how it related to other subjects.
The graphic might be specific to Physics but the application to almost any scientific field should be obvious. Most of the webinars circulating about data visualization or literacy are packaged in a vacuum. Let's call it a cinematic fallacy. You are guilty of taking a cinematic mind map and reducing it to a single linear layer.
If you are working in healthcare, the complexity is a necessary element. We need to be loud and bold.
We need to identify the Chasm of Ignorance that resides inside us all.
We need to lace up our boots and do the hard work.
Seth Godin doesn't care about SEO savvy headlines and you shouldn't either. Many of my journalist colleagues disagree and I get it. We are only as clickable as our cleverest headline written to bring more and more eyeballs to the table. I am no Seth Godin but I also prefer headlines that mean something to me not the Google algorithms that bring short term interest. A stray piece of conversation or a snippet from a podcast that catches my attention will also do just nicely.
Look down the list at the last few posts--Go Fund Yourself, A Tabula Rasa in Data Literacy, and Generic but Ambitious--what the hell am I talking about? I don't know. Maybe grab a coffee or tea and take a look. Seth teaches us not to be the thing for everyone--just some people.
If you prefer provocative headlines, I didn't make this for you.
Even if you don't think of yourself as a marketer--you are a marketer. Maybe you are the product or maybe your currency is knowledge or expertise but make no mistake we are all selling something.
Seth teaches us how to be effective. If you are indeed bringing value to the table you need to find your tribe, stand in front and say--here. I made this for you. This particular blog captured my attention. Not because I need something shiny to look at like a buzz worthy headline but because I trust I will learn something.
And when does it get boring? is well worth the quick read. I think Seth and I share short attention spans. In fact, I agree with his method--read along until you get the joke. So why not keep it succinct and to the point?
Almost no one who takes an intro to economics course becomes an economist. One reason might be that within a few days of starting the class, it becomes abstract, formula-based and dull.--Seth Godin
I think I surprise many when they find out I am a data analyst. I have always had a wide scope of general interests and this serves me well. Believe it or not, there aren't that many of us that can work the entire end to end strategic data process. We need to know the language, the challenges, and the opportunities. Not everyone needs to be niche driven or highly specific. If you are reading this as one of my data friends or colleagues, here is the perfect podcast for you, Should I Become More Technical or Business Focused in Data Science Career.
I began this post in response to a question I field pretty regularly. How much statistics do I need to become a data scientist/analyst/professional? I can't answer that question. Textbooks cram information into your head for an exam. She/he/they who passes the most exams wins and can be perhaps a statistician, mathematician, computer scientist. You need to ask yourself what the long road looks like for you. Where do you want to work? What do you want to be doing?
I have completed numerous classes in statistics but I am not a statistician. Weirdly I am also a member of the American Statistical Association. I need to be. I need to keep learning and applying rigor and comprehension to technical topics.
Once you get out in the real world and discover your unique flair and contribution, the trick is to remain curious. To use the tools that give "us a chance to understand and to figure things out."
Because a testing regime is in place, particularly now when so many other tropes in the education-industrial complex are disrupted, the textbook authors and administrators work together to skip the ‘fluff’ and go straight to the stuff that’s easy to test.--Seth Godin
For example, when I think about data modeling and trying figure out the shape of my data, I think about linear, sinusoidal, or quadratic equations. These questions jump from the pages of math books into practical applications when you have variables to consider and relationships to determine.
Am I the only one considering positive first derivatives when looking at the COVID-19 curves? All the curves were getting bigger but we needed to consider the rates. They can stay the same, increase slowly, or represent what actually was occurring--the rate was increasing quite rapidly. All applications of the math concepts we were forced to memorize to a test in the absence of how they are applied in the real world.
When my boys were small occasionally one or both of them would complain about being bored. My response rarely wavered. I would tell them, "That doesn't sound like being bored, that sounds like a lack of imagination."
And off we would go to have an adventure.
Speaking of adventures...
May 15th we are having a free lunch and learn about demographic data. Register at link Getting comfortable with demographic data.
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Thank you for making a donution!
In a world of "evidence-based" medicine I am a bigger fan of practice-based evidence.
Remember the quote by Upton Sinclair...
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
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