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  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the surprisingly exciting British elections. What will come of them?

  • The LRB Blog considers the question of the underlying motivations of pollsters.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen reshares an old column noting the destabilizing effects of Trump on American alliances.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at India's new heavy-lift rocket, the GSLV-MK3.

  • Torontoist looks at the City of Toronto's response to the overdose crisis.

  • Towleroad notes that the Japanese city of Sapporo has recognized same-sex relationships.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues that the constitutionality of Trump's edicts should not be defined by their being issued by Trump.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russian policy towards Ukraine since 1991 has been marked by consistent disinterest in Ukraine going its own way.

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The Globe and Mail's Mike Hager notes how the lack of official statistics on foreign buyers of real estate in Toronto means, among other things, that less reliable data metrics like search engine hits need to be used. This just proves how modern societies need good data to address real problems.

‘Up! Up! Up!”

That’s where Toronto’s real estate market is heading, according to a Chinese-language promotional article posted last month on Fang.com, a Beijing-based web portal that lists thousands of homes for sale in countries around the world.

“You will really cry if you still don’t buy,” the same posting blares.

Toronto has become the “dark horse” of the Canadian real estate market, asserts Haifangbest.com, another site jammed with Canadian home listings. It contrasts Vancouver’s continuing drop in prices with a prediction that Toronto-area homes will rise 8 per cent in value this year.

In the months since British Columbia began taxing international buyers 15-per-cent extra on homes in and around Vancouver, those marketing Canadian real estate overseas have shifted their focus to Toronto. Last year, Toronto overtook Vancouver to become the most sought-after Canadian city for Chinese home buyers searching the property listing service Juwai.com, peaking in August just after British Columbia announced the tax aimed at curbing the public outrage over skyrocketing prices. Searches for properties in Toronto proper now surpass the total inquiries for Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa combined.

Richard Silver, a Sotheby’s realtor and past president of the Toronto Real Estate Board, estimates close to 20 per cent of his clients are international buyers – from China, India and the Middle East – interested in the luxury condos and houses he sells in and around the downtown core.
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  • blogTO notes an Instagram user from Toronto, @brxson, who takes stunning photos of the city from on high.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper examining the limits of exoplanet J1407b's massive ring system.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes evidence that the primordial Martian atmosphere apparently did not have carbon dioxide.

  • Imageo notes that the California rivers swollen by flooding can be seen from space.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that American intelligence agencies are withholding sensitive information from a White House seen as compromised by Russian intelligence.

  • Language Hat talks about the best ways to learn Latin.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper observing a decline in inter-state migration in the United States.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at the interesting failure of a public sculpture program in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw notes the remarkable heat that has hit Australia in recent days.

  • The Planetary Society Blog reports on the intersection between space technology and high-tech fashion.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at how Argentina gave the Falkland Islands tariff-free access to Mercosur.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog looks at the countries likely to be vulnerable to rapid aging.

  • Transit Toronto notes the Bombardier lawsuit against Metrolinx.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that poor Russian statistical data is leading directly to bad policy.

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At Demography Matters, I have a brief note noting the sad death earlier this week of Gapminder's Hans Rosling. 68 was too young for anyone, certainly too young for someone so dedicated to helping the world know itself through the truth. Scott Gilmore's article in MacLean's is one I recommend.




What can I say but that I wish that his vision be continued?
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  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly describes a week in her life as a freelance writer.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes how the Indus Valley Civilization did, and did not, adapt to climate change.

  • Language Log reshares Benjamin Franklin's writings against German immigration.

  • The NYRB Daily follows one family's quest for justice after the shooting by police of one Ramarley Graham.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog looks at the Pale of Settlement.

  • Torontoist looks at Ontario's food and nutrition strategy.

  • Transit Toronto reports on how PRESTO officials will be making appearances across the TTC in coming weeks to introduce users to the new system.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at how ethnic minorities form a growing share of Russian emigration, looks at the manipulation of statistics by the Russian state, and suggests Putin's actions have killed off the concept of a triune nation of East Slavs.

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Part of me is surprised by the news, as reported by the Toronto Star's Kenyon Wallace and Mary Ormsby, that Toronto was not keeping systematic track of the many hundreds of homeless dead. More of me is unsurprised.

Toronto’s top public health official says the city’s new program to track all homeless deaths will provide invaluable data to better assist and house vulnerable populations.

“The full scope of this problem has been unknown,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, speaking at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

“What we needed was information from the many health and social service agencies which work closely with individuals experiencing homelessness or who are marginally housed.”

The initiative, which began Jan. 1, was officially launched Tuesday with a press conference at the church, the site of the Toronto Homeless Memorial where an unofficial list is kept of more than 800 GTA homeless people who died since the mid-1980s.

The tracking system will collect information such as age, gender, unofficial cause of death and the location of the death, and whether the deceased is of indigenous heritage, said Yaffe. Names will be kept confidential.
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Over at Demograhy Matters, I talk about Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician who has become something of a celebrity.

***

In January 2011 and June 2013, I linked to two videos by Swedish statistician and popularizer Hans Rosling demonstrating different demographic trends. Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I came across Amy Maxmen's excellent long-format article on Rosling and his accomplishments, "Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world". It does a great job of explaining just what Rosling, and his Gapminder Foundatin, are trying to achieve, and why.

Back in Sweden, Rosling continued to teach global health, moving to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 1996. But he came to realize that neither his students nor his colleagues grasped extreme poverty. They pictured the poor as almost everyone in the ‘developing world’: an arbitrarily defined territory that includes nations as economically diverse as Sierra Leone, Argentina, China and Afghanistan. They thought it was all large family sizes and low life expectancies: only the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries served as their reference point. “They just make it about us and them; the West and the rest,” Rosling says. How could anyone hope to solve problems if they didn’t understand the different challenges faced, for example, by Congolese subsistence farmers far from paved roads and Brazilian street vendors in urban favelas? “Scientists want to do good, but the problem is that they don’t understand the world,” Rosling says.

Ola, his son, offered to help explain the world with graphics, and built his father software that animated data compiled by the UN and the World Bank. Visual aids in hand, the elder Rosling began to script the provocative presentations that have made him famous. In one, a graph shows the distribution of incomes in 1975 — a camel’s back, with rich countries and poor countries forming two humps. Then he presses ‘go’ and China, India, Latin America and the Middle East drift forward over time. Africa moves ahead too, but not nearly as much as the others. Rosling says, “The camel dies and we have a dromedary world with one hump only!” He adds, “The per cent in poverty has decreased — still it’s appalling that so many remain in extreme poverty.”

Rosling’s online presentations grew popular, and the investment bank Goldman Sachs invited him to speak at client events. His message seemed to support advice from the firm’s chief economist, Jim O’Neill. In 2001, O’Neill had coined the acronym BRIC for the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, often considered part of the developing world. He warned that financial experts ignored these rising powers at their peril. “I used to tease my colleagues who thought in a traditional framework,” O’Neill says. “Why are we talking about China as the developing world? Based on the rate of economic growth, China creates another Greece every three months; another UK every two years.”

Rosling welcomed the new audience. “They request my lectures because they want to know the world as it is,” he says. The private sector needs to understand the economic and political conditions of current and potential markets. “To me it was horrific to realize that business leaders had a more fact-based world view than activists and university professors.”

[. . .]

Rosling’s charm appeals to those frustrated by the persistence of myths about the world. Looming large is an idea popularized by Paul Ehrlich, an entomologist at Stanford University in California, who warned in 1968 that the world was heading towards mass starvation owing to overpopulation. Melinda Gates says that after a drink or two, people often tell her that they think the Gates Foundation may be contributing to overpopulation and environmental collapse by saving children’s lives with interventions such as vaccines. She is thrilled when Rosling smoothly uses data to show how the reverse is true: as rates of child survival have increased over time, family size has shrunk. She has joined him as a speaker at several high-level events. “I’ve watched people have this ‘aha’ moment when Hans speaks,” she says. “He breaks these myths in such a gentle way. I adore him.”


Here's another clip, a video taken last year where Rosling explains the reality of a strong convergence of Mexico with the United States.

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At Demography Matters, I linked to Canadian newsmagazine MacLean's, which hosts Jordan Press' Canadian Press article "Census still vulnerable to political meddling, says former chief". Wayne Smith warns that the Canadian census is still vulnerable to political interference, even with new legislation.

The federal government’s bid to protect Statistics Canada from political interference has a significant oversight that exposes the census to the possibility of government meddling, says Canada’s former chief statistician.

Wayne Smith, who resigned abruptly from the agency in September, said newly introduced legislation doesn’t change the parts of the Statistics Act that give cabinet control over the content of the questionnaire.

That leaves the census – used by governments to plan infrastructure and services – vulnerable to the sorts of changes the Conservatives imposed in 2011 by turning the long-form census into a voluntary survey, Smith said.

“That’s a major flaw in this bill,” he said. “The government brought this bill in because of the census, but it’s failing to deal with the census.”

Smith described the bill as a first step towards broadening the agency’s authority over how information on all types of subjects is collected, analyzed and disseminated, shifting that authority away from the minister.


Freedom, including access to public data both accurate and meaningful, is a constant struggle now, as it always has been.
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At Demography Matters, I link to Cade Metz's Wired article "Trump's Win Isn't the Death of Data--It Was Flawed All Along". It makes interesting observations about statistical data collection generally, not just political polling.

The lesson of Trump’s victory is not that data is dead. The lesson is that data is flawed. It has always been flawed—and always will be.

Before Donald Trump won the presidency on Tuesday night, everyone from Nate Silver to The New York Times to CNN predicted a Trump loss—and by sizable margins. “The tools that we would normally use to help us assess what happened failed,” Trump campaign reporter Maggie Haberman said in the Times. As Haberman explained, this happened on both sides of the political divide.

Appearing on MSNBC, Republican strategist Mike Murphy told America that his crystal ball had shattered. “Tonight, data died,” he said.

But this wasn’t so much a failure of the data as it was a failure of the people using the data. It’s a failure of the willingness to believe too blindly in data, not to see it for how flawed it really is. “This is a case study in limits of data science and statistics,” says Anthony Goldbloom, a data scientist who once worked for Australia’s Department of Treasury and now runs a Kaggle, a company dedicated to grooming data scientists. “Statistics and data science gets more credit than it deserves when it’s correct—and more blame than it deserves when it’s incorrect.”

With presidential elections, these limits are myriad. The biggest problem is that so little data exists. The United States only elects a president once every four years, and that’s enough time for the world to change significantly. In the process, data models can easily lose their way. In the months before the election, pollsters can ask people about their intentions, but this is harder than it ever was as Americans move away from old-fashioned landline phones towards cell phones, where laws limit such calls. “We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we have a lot of data,” says Dan Zigmond, who helps oversee data science at Facebook and previously handled data science for YouTube and Google Maps. “But the truth is that there’s just not a lot to build on. There are very small sample sizes, and in some ways, each of these elections is unique.”
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  • blogTO recommends some Toronto-related Vine clips.

  • Centauri Dreams notes a SETI study of Boyajian's Star.

  • Crooked Timber criticizes one author's take in the politics of science fiction.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper examining the auroras of hot Jupiters.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper finding that atmospheric methane did not warm the early Earth.

  • Joe. My. God. reports on how a Scottish hotel owner's homophobic statements led to his inn's delisting.

  • Language Log links to a linguist trying to preserve dying languages.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money takes issue with Nate Silver's polling and prediction methods.

  • The LRB Blog notes the background behind Wallonia's near-veto of Canada-EU free trade.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at how economic issues do not correlate with support for Trump.

  • The Planetary Society Weblog shares photos of the Schiaparelli crash site.

  • pollotenchegg notes the degree to which economic activity in Ukraine is centralized in Kyiv.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes a poll suggesting conservative views are unwelcome at Yale.

  • Both Window on Eurasia and the Russian Demographics Blog note a projection that Chinese will soon become the second-largest nationality in Russia.

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  • Beyond the Beyond quotes a Vladimir Putin statement on geopolitics.

  • blogTO shares photos from Yorkdale's expansion.

  • Centauri Dreams looks at more evidence for Planet Nine.

  • Dead Things notes evidence that right-handedness has been predominant among hominins for some time.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on the discovery of three hot Jupiters.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the Philippines' shift towards China.

  • The Planetary Society Weblog looks at ExoMars' mission and the failure of the Schiaparelli lander.

  • Torontoist notes that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has bought Constellation Wineries, making some Canadian wineries Canadian-owned again.

  • Towleroad reports on a Europe-wide census of LGBT identities.

  • Whatever's John Scalzi notes that Hillary Clinton is winning because she puts work into it.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Putin's changing style of governance.

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The Globe and Mail's Bill Curry reports on the 2016 census' few issues.

The Globe and Mail has learned that 347 letters were sent last month to individuals who had not yet completed the 2016 census (202 for the short form and 145 for the long form). That is about in line with 331 letters that were sent after the 2011 census, when only the short form was mandatory.

Restoring the mandatory long-form census was one of the first official acts of the new Liberal government last year. The quick decision allowed Statistics Canada to shift gears in time for the 2016 survey, which is now complete. The agency has said it received a response rate of 98.4 per cent, including 97.8 per cent for the long-form census, which does not go out to all households.

Statistics Canada’s chief statistician, Wayne Smith, announced his resignation on Sept. 19 as a protest against information technology issues that he said were compromising the agency’s independence. Mr. Smith sent the 347 compliance letters on Aug. 19, and the letters give a deadline of Sept. 9.

“Anyone convicted of an offence under the Statistics Act is liable to punishment as set out in the Statistics Act,” the compliance letters stated.

The act says a person found guilty could face a fine of up to $500, up to three months in jail, or both.

How to manage these files is now an issue for Mr. Smith’s replacement, Anil Arora.
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I've a post up looking at the recent resignation of Statistics Canada's chief statistician Wayne Smith, prompted by the insecure data services offered by the federal government's ill-conceived platform.
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At MacLean's, Colin Horgan finds issue with the statistics provided by Airbnb.

On the surface, Airbnb’s new figures work to downplay the perception that its rentals are swallowing housing stock. The company points out that “out of 5.3 million total housing units in Ontario as of the year 2011, only 500 homes are listed for 270 days or more per year with Airbnb.” And in keeping with its recent marketing push (featuring billboards prominently displayed in downtown Toronto and, now, host testimonial ads in Vancouver), Airbnb states that Ontario hosts “earn modest, but significant, amounts of supplemental income from hosting,” and are “everyday people trying to pay the bills.” Additionally, the report states that “the vast majority of Airbnb’s Ontario hosts share their primary residence.”

Unsurprisingly, the majority of Airbnb’s 15,000 Ontario hosts are in Toronto; the city is home to 8,600 of them. Like Vancouver, Toronto is going through a stiff real estate squeeze, with average house prices hitting a new high in August. Airbnb explains its impact on housing, by stating that “almost 90 per cent of hosts have just one entire home listing,” and that 39 per cent of listings are “operated by hosts renting between one and 30 nights per year.”

However, other figures hint that there are potentially many listings in Toronto operated by a small number of people, but it’s difficult to ascertain what that number may be. For all its talk of transparency, Airbnb’s data report does not make that—or much else—easy to figure it out.

For instance, the report states that two per cent of Airbnb’s 8,600 Toronto hosts—just 172 hosts—had five or more whole home listings, which accounted for 13 per cent of all listings in the city in June 2016. But Airbnb doesn’t make it easy to contextualize that latter figure, because the report doesn’t list the total number of whole home listings available in the city during the same period—it just gives the percentage.

Maclean’s asked Airbnb to provide the total number of listings for June. The company did not. Instead, Alex Dagg, policy lead for Airbnb in Canada provided a statement that the numbers in the report, “in our opinion represent a transparent view of the current market, which is constantly changing.”
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There were a lot of interesting posts made around the web from Sunday evening on.


  • blogTO takes issue with the poor design of the buildings on Bloor Street West east of Dundas West.

  • Crooked Timber notes the tragedy inherent in the life of Phyllis Schlafly.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that two of the worlds in the TRAPPIST-1 system may have Venus-like environments.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks at the fate of Planet Nine at the end of the sun's life.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at good music from the past.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer has two questions about the SpaceX explosion.

  • Savage Minds has its own blog roundup.

  • Strange Maps considers the Icelandic letter that reached its destination with a map of its destination.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy wonders if people of recent immigrant stock are less nativist.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at school crowding in Dagestan, notes the popularity of Arabic in the highlands, worries about changes to Russian census-taking methodology, and suggests the number of Jews in Russia has been underestimated.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell looks at the demographics of the Brexit referendum.

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  • James Bow shares his photos from Airport Road.

  • Centauri Dreams reports on a SETI candi9date signal form a nearby star in Hercules.

  • Far Outliers reports on how the Japanese named ships.

  • Joe. My. God. quotes one Trump backer, Roger Stone, about his desire to move to Costa Rica to escape Muslims if Hillary wins.

  • Noel Maurer debunks the Maine governor's provably false claims about the race and ethnicity of people arrested in his state on drug charges.

  • Otto Pohl considers the relationships of the Kurds to the wider world.

  • Language Hat notes the discovery of a new, different Etruscan-language text.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that the Russian war in Ukraine is setting the stage for a second round of the Russian empire's dissolution, and argues that Muscovy's sack of Novgorod set the stage for Western-Russian suspicions.

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  • blogTO notes the all-gender washrooms of the CNE.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly looks at ways people can preserve themselves.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of homeless people, by themselves and dressed in their childhood dreams.

  • False Steps looks at a proposed Soviet orbital tug.

  • Far Outliers looks at the Navajo, at their pastoralist lifestyle, at their adaptiveness, and at their 1864-1865 deportation east and their 1868 return.

  • Marginal Revolution notes the extreme dependence of Australia on China.

  • The Planetary Society Blog considers the question of scale in a Mars photo.

  • Towleroad notes the impending success of Frank Ocean's album.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia is undercounting Ukrainians, despairs for the future of Russia-Ukraine relations, and notes the Hitler-Stalin alliance's legacies.

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At Demography Matters, I u>report briefly on the apparently wide-spread concerns over privacy and security associated with this year's Australian census.
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At Demography Matters, I react to an io9 article that draws from a Brisbane Times article about how people claiming to follow the Jedi religion in the Australian census can actually worsen the collection of data.

This is funny, but this is also an important example of how modern statistics can be flawed.

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