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Bureau of Justice Statistics \ Justice Research and Statistics Association

2009 National Conference - Conference Seminar

Just Plain Data Analysis: Using Social Indicator Data to Make Sound Policy

Fary M. Klass, Ph. D., Associate Profesor
Department of Politics and Government
Illinois State University

Saturday, Octovber 24, 9:00am - 11:30am

Seminar Description: This seminar addresses three practical skills: finding the good data, effectively presenting those data, and making sound interpretations. Good data presentation skills are to data-based analysis what good writing is to literature, and some of the same principles apply to both. Poor tabular and graphical presentations often obscure critical facts and lead both readers and writers to draw erroneous conclusions from their data. Data interpretation entails drawing valid conclusions from numerical comparisons and recognizing and avoiding common statistical fallacies in data-based arguments. The seminar will also address how some statistical agencies hide data in plain sight, provide examples of bad graphical design from criminal justice research, and offer tips on using the Excel 2007 charting software.

Course Materials:

Excel Chart Add-ins

  • Excel Chart Labeler ($49)
    • J-Walk Power Utility Pack
    • Note: the power utility pack contains an entire ribbon-menu of Excel functions, including Excel bookmarks. There are several freeware chart labelers available on-line. The chart labeler is used not only for Excel charts, but to label datapoints on other charts as well. Using a hidden horizontal variable, it can also be used to create labels for uneven X-axis tick marks.
  • Boxplots ($49)
    • Peltier Box and Whisker Plots
    • Note: Boxplots (without outliers) can be constructed by “hand” using variations on the Excel “stock” charts.
  • Sparklines (freeware)
    • Fabrice Rimlinger [sourceforge]
    • Sparklines will be available in the next Office (2010) release

Recommended Readings on Chart and Graphic Design:

Cleveland, William S. The Elements of Graphing Data (NJ: Hobart Press, 1994)

Few, Stephen. Show Me the Number (Analytics Press, 2004).

Jones, Gerald E. How to Lie With Charts (, 2000).

Kosslyn, Stephen M. Elements of Graph Design (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1994).

Miller, Jane E. “Creating Effective Tables”, “Creating Effective Charts,” The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers, (University of Chicago Press, 2004). Chapters 6& 7.

Tufte, Edward R. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Cheshire: Connecticut: Graphics Press, 1983).

___________. Visual Explanations—Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (Cheshire: Connecticut: Graphics Press, 1997).

Wainer, Howard. Visual Revelations: Graphical Tales of Fate and Deception from Napoleon Bonaparte to Ross Perot. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997).

___________. Graphic Discovery (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Wallgren, Anders, et. al. Graphing Statistics & Data (Sage Publications, 1996).

Statistical Fallacies:

Campbell, Donald T. and H. L. Ross. "The Connecticut Crackdown on Speeding: Time Series Data in Quasi-Experimental Analysis." Law and Society Review 2: 33-53. (1968)

Campbell, Stephen K. Flaws and Fallacies in Statistical Thinking (Prentice-Hall, 2004)

Gorard, Stephen. “Keeping a Sense of Proportion: The ‘Politician’s Error’ In Analysing School Outcomes,” British Journal of Educational Studies, 47, no. 3, (September 1999): 235–46.

Ross, H.L., Campbell, D.T., Glass, G.V. “Determining the social effects of a legal reform: The British "breathalyser" crackdown of 1967”. American Behavioral Scientist, 13(4), 493-509 (March, 1970)

Wainer, Howard. Picturing the Uncertain World (Princeton University Press, 2009)

Key Websites:

  • Gary Klass, Just Plain Data Analysis: Companion Website
  • Kelley O’Day, Data Visualization & Excel Charts
    • The website describes many bad charts and how they might be made better and also covers the R (freeware) charting software.
  • Jon Peltier, Peltier Technical Services Charting in Microsoft Excel
    • Peltier’s website provides instructions for constructing large number of combination charts, charts with text Y-axes, “broken axis” charts, variations on area charts that color specific plot area ranges. The BoxPlotter is among his several Excel add-ins.
  • Milo Schield, StatLit.Org
    • This is the headquarters for the movement for teaching statistical literacy skills in high school and college.
  • John Walkenbach, The Spreadsheet Page
    • Walkenbach has published many Excel books. His “Tips” page contains many very useful Excel tips and tricks, both for charting and managing the Excel spreadsheet. His Power Utility Pak ($49) is an Excel add-in that adds dozens of new features and functions to Excel including Excel bookmarks and an excellent chart-labeller.
  • Excel Charting Newsgroup: microsoft.public.excel.charting Browser access to the newsgroup
    • Whenever you discover that something is impossible has happened in Excel, send a help request to this newsgroup. They often provide a solution within minutes.