Getting to the Heart of the Matter – Data (Part 1)

heart-disease

February is heart (disease) awareness month and it is important that we realize that there are TONS of data that exist where we can find out about heart disease and the consequences that it has on our lives and the lives of others.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) (www.cdc.gov) has data on how many deaths result from heart related illness (the total has not changed all that much from year to year, approximately 610,000 deaths per year according to https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_disease.htm).  The amount of deaths from heart disease is more than those from suicides, unintentional accidents, influenza, diabetes, and chronic lower respiratory diseases (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_06.pdf).  What this means is that heart disease is something that not only needs attention, but is in some ways preventable.  According to the CDC website, almost 50% of Americans have AT LEAST ONE of THREE risk factors that are associated with heart disease.  These three are elevated blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol, or smoking (https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_disease.htm).  This is not only troubling, but I felt necessary of further “data diving” to see the association between heart disease and areas where I personally have knowledge, like diabetes or high blood pressure.

The CDC has so much data on the subject that I started at this site to look for some data and found a survey called the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) (https://www.cdc.gov/brfss/).  This data is available to anyone and has a great amount of data that is available for download, or for data analysis using CDC web-based analysis tools.  I  went to the “Surveys and Documents” link and found “BRFSS Prevalence and Trends Data” which gave the user the ability to put in risk factors and find the data according to US State, gender, and a number of other characteristics.  This is much better than downloading the data and having to do the analysis yourself, and also gives you an idea of the areas of the country where people are at more risk of heart disease than others.  It is a great resource for those that want to look at the numbers behind the heart disease issue. If nothing else, it presents an interesting look at how the country’s regions have populations that are more at risk of some diseases and not at risk for others.

I also looked at the BRFSS Web Enabled Analysis Tool (WEAT) that allows you to look at the data from a cross-tabulation point of view.  Here you can place characteristics in a number of ways to compare several factors against the disease.  The tool is very easy to use and contains so many factors that it is hard to determine which ones to choose.  However, for the budding data analyst, this is a great way to learn about data analysis and the multi-factor approach to the analysis.  A screen shot of the WEAT page is below (https://nccd.cdc.gov/s_broker/WEATSQL.exe/weat/index.hsql).

 

weat-page

You can see the “Cross Tabulation” link where you can click and set the numerous factors that can be associated with any of the various factors that the survey contain.  Please do not get overwhelmed!  There is so much data here that I used this for a project that I was required to do for one of my graduate classes in statistics from Penn State.  The data were provided, already collected, and catalogued.  All I had to do was do the various tests on this data.  It amazes me that more people do not know about this data treasure trove.  I realize that this is a phone-based survey, but from what I can tell it is one of the most extensive and intensive surveys in order to get a read on different maladies that pertain to the United States and give data analysts those tools.

Although this article was about gathering and understanding data pertaining to heart disease, the data takes you far beyond just that one malady.  But by understanding some of the factors that heart disease entails, the knowledge will undoubtedly help you to understand heart disease as composed of factors, rather than just something that happens as a result of “genetics” as proposed by some.

Enjoy the CDC site and the various ways of using data to clarify a disease that will be with us for a lifetime (hopefully a LONG lifetime).  To control it, we MUST understand it.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

President comparing someone to Hitler?! Is this REALLY Presidential? It’s been said before! By a President!

presidential-speechI, as many others watched the recent presidential news conference, was somewhat surprised at some of the language that the President  used in his monologue.  I, at times, could not believe the tone and type of language that he used, but after some research looked for some Presidential language that could be better.  However, I found the following quotes from a past US President.  Can you identify who said this quote…

“He is a Hitler at heart, a demagogue in action and a traitor in fact.  In 1942 he should have been hanged for treason.  In Germany under Hitler, his deal, in Italy under the great castor oil giver, or in Russia now he would have been eliminated.”(1)

…or this one?

“The White House is open to anybody with legitimate business, but not to that son of a bitch.”(2)

Or the fact that, at one point, this US President was just $10 away from being a member of the Ku Klux Klan?!

“At one point, …he enjoyed meeting with the white-sheeted brotherhood of the local Ku Klux Klan.  Coveting its electoral support, he was ready to join it, even depositing his ten-dollar initiation fee.  They demanded, however, that he support no Catholics in patronage positions.  He drew away — and demanded his ten dollars back.” (3)

He changed his mind, letting his better inclinations overcome his political inclinations. Whew!

It is also interesting that people thought of this President as “unfit, unwise, or just plain out of his depth…”(4)

I point these very real historical events and words to reveal that there are presidents that have spoken their opinions, had brushes with the side of society that we would rather not discuss or acknowledge, and yet have been considered some of the best presidents in our country’s history.  In fact, the US President that said (and did) the above is considered by the American Political Science Association’s Presidents & Executive Politics section as being one of the top 10 US Presidents! (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/16/new-ranking-of-u-s-presidents-puts-lincoln-1-obama-18-kennedy-judged-most-over-rated/?utm_term=.acae4803997f)

The US President that did and said the above?  Harry Truman!  That’s right, the man who ordered the bombing of the Empire of Japan and ended WWII in the Pacific.  A diehard Democrat, he at one point would not ride the Dumbo Ride in Disneyland because he did not want to be seen riding an Elephant, the symbol of the Grand Old Party (GOP)!(http://disneyparks.wikia.com/wiki/Dumbo_the_Flying_Elephant_(Disneyland_Park)

What does this mean?  It means that history judges differently than the present.  The idea that a person makes statements (or actions) that are unbelievably harsh, or uncompromising, does not mean that person is a bad President, just someone who fails to consider what they said (or did) when they said (or did) it.  I am not saying the current President is right when he said the things in that news conference.  I just urge people to check history and see the  relationship to others in that same office.  It will at least put historical context to the overall discussion.

It is very difficult being in a leadership position, especially THIS leadership position.  You are in the “fishbowl” at all times with people watching your every move.  Speaking your mind is not taken the same by everyone (or anyone for that matter).  However, the data does not match great Presidents with their speaking ability.  It matches it with their actions in office.  This is going to be an interesting 4 years.  I do not envy ANYONE in that elected position.  You lose in the present, but may win in the future.

(1)Kenneth Weisbrode, The Year of Indecision, 1946, Viking Publishers, 2016, page 145 (Truman was referring to Joe L. Lewis, Union Leader).

(2)Ibid., page 146.

(3)David Pietrusza, Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America, Union Square Publisher, NY, 2011, page 5.

(4)Weisbrode, page 149.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

 

 

Lies, Danged Lies, and…Percentages?!

percentagesAs a person focused on the “truth to data” realm, I find it somewhat frustrating (sometimes amusing, but often frustrating) that there are writers that feel that throwing in a statistic (small “s”) in their articles somehow bring to bear the force of data to make their point.  Such was an article in the Baltimore Sun on 12 February 2017 that started with “An overwhelming 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and that human activity is responsible” (“Fake news may be vulnerable to ‘vaccination'” by Sean Greene).  The irony is that the article was about “fake news.”  Although the writing was excellent, Mr. Greene missed the point entirely with his first sentence.  There are so many questions I have concerning where he got he 97% figure.

  1.  How many is 97%?
  2.  How many are the 3% that are remaining?
  3.  What research is associated with the 97%?  When was their most current research concerning climate change published?

These are just three of the questions that I asked myself while I tracked down the study generally mentioned by Mr. Greene in his article (he cited the study as being from the Pew Research Center report).  I found a study on the Pew Research Center website (http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/) and looked through the article, trying to find the 97% figure mentioned in the quote above anywhere in the article.  I was unsuccessful in finding this figure.  I did find a quote that said “a Pew Research Center survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) found 93% of members with a Ph.D. in Earth sciences (and 87% of all members) say the Earth is warming mostly because of human behavior.”  Again, how many is 93%?  Well I looked at the membership of the AAAS and found that they have no membership figures on their outward facing site, so I had to look at Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Association_for_the_Advancement_of_Science) and found that they have 120,000 members.  What this means is that 8400 members (7%) of the AAAS do not agree with the 111,600 members that say that warming is the result of human behavior.  This is something to consider in the long run, especially since 8400 is not a small number of scientists.  The hilarious (read frustrating) part of the entire newspaper article was that the quote at the beginning of the article was used during a survey conducted to show that people are easily manipulated through something as innocuous as  a pie chart with the above quote.  Why sure people are manipulated through pie charts!  They are also manipulated by percentages given in various articles.  (For instance, I read recently that software attacks of cell phones of a particular brand increased 163% in one month!  Would you buy that brand of cell phone?!)

I think that we ALL need to be careful of where we use data and then try to rationalize that use with a reference that can be “pre-bunked” (using a term from Mr. Greene’s article).  I actually agree with many of the suppositions that Mr. Greene wrote in his article, I just think that using data without the raw numbers is the same as saying that 100% of the writers of this blog do not agree with using percentages without backing it up with raw numbers.  Does that make you want to get more numbers to understand the percentages?  Would you like a pie chart?  I thought not.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

The Job Is not Done Until the Paperwork is Finished!

paperwork

We often look at the cost of a program and see the outward benefits, but fail to see the underlying costs that are associated with said program.  Such is the complexities involved in any new program, especially when it comes to state or federal government programs.

A great example of this is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare.  According to the current data, approximately 20 million people are now on health care that did not have health care in the past (even though there are approximately 6 million that no longer have health care that had it before, giving the NET at 14 million rather than 20 million, but that is another article for another day).  The focus of this article is the associated paperwork that ACA implements as a result of this new program.

Specifically, I would like to mention the 1095-B and 1095-C, Health Care Coverage form and Employer Funded Healthy Care Coverage Form respectively.  Because of various medical coverage, I received a number of these forms and my wife also received a number of these forms.  Now, let’s extrapolate these to the population of people in the US that currently receive these forms.

If the figures are correct that 20 million people get health care coverage, this would mean that there are (at least) 20 million pieces of paper that are generated EACH YEAR to appropriately document that these people have health coverage.  That would mean that there has to be printing devices to print these, mailing costs to mail these, and of course a department to ensure they track the distribution of these forms.

Let’s assume for a moment that it costs 1 dollar to print one of these forms, 30 cents to mail them, and the department in question consists of 20 people each making 50,000 dollars per year.  That would mean that the costs are as follows (per year):

20 million dollars to print

6 million dollars to mail

1 million dollars in salary

TOTAL:  27 million dollars

And this figure does not take into consideration more than the 20 million people who get this form that are currently on health care; in other words the ones that are already on health care coverage.  The costs could be 5 to 10 times what I listed per year.  And this is just for the paperwork!

Now, this is unbelievable low considering the Congressional Budget Office original estimation of the cost of ACA, which was over 700 BILLION DOLLARS for five years between 2014 and 2019 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/44176).  However, it is important to note the “small” costs that are a part of this that will continue long after the large costs are mitigated (or just maintained as is often the case).

In the meantime, if one takes a look at programs like Social Security, we often do not realize the cost of these types of programs, which approach 1 TRILLION DOLLARS per year in benefits!  It is those types of programs that are associated with TONS of paperwork that, even though they are more digital, does not often decrease the costs of those programs since the maintenance of the documentation for these programs can often lead to additional costs against that program.

How do we correct these paperwork nightmares?  One way might be to introduce legislation that institutes a default choice — that everyone has health care unless proven that they do not.  Of course, I am sure there are other ways to reduce or eliminate these paperwork overflows.  Until then, we will be faced with funding the paper that will be a central part of our lives.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)