Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dummies for Dummies

The Devil made me do it! It just had to happen sooner or later, and no one else seemed to be willing to bite the bullet. So, I figured it was up to me. I've written the definitive addition to the Dummies series:

O.K., I'm (uncharacteristically) exaggerating just a tad. I think the cover looks good, though; and I've even started to assemble some of the core material, as you'll see below. So what brought on this fit of enthusiasm for what at first blush might be misinterpreted as the neuronically challenged?

Monday, March 21, 2011

From C to Shining C

In each episode of that wonderful long-running public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keilor always ends his monologue about the good burghers of the mythical town of Lake Wobegon, and the local Norwegian bachelor farmers, with the words:
"That's all of the news from Lake Wobegon - the town where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."
Well, Garrison, do I have news for you! There really is a Lake Wobegon - and we live there! I'm not entirely sure about that bit to do with the men and women, but  apparently the younger folk definitely think that they're all above average - mainly because we've (collectively) told them they are. We have only ourselves to blame.

I'm referring to the horrendous "grade inflation" that's taken in place in our secondary and tertitary education systems, at least in North America. I'm sure we're not alone in the world in this respect, and for all I know the problem may be equally bad in the elementary schools. For whatever reason - and I'm not pointing the finger here (Hmmm) - we've let the students con us into letting them con themselves into believing that every one of them is above average. Worse than that, they firmly believe that a perfectly respectable C, or even a B, grade amounts to what we used to call a FAIL: the dreaded F-word that the PCP (Political Correctness Police) tell us not to use in polite company!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Modelling Flowers on the Wall

It probably wasn't what the Statler Brothers actually had in mind as they soared to Number 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Number 1 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles charts in 1965, but around this time of year the good citizens of our town engage in what its organisers descibe as a "light-hearted" week-long activity known as The Victoria Flower Count. In short, this event involves its devotees, and multitudes of coerced school children, in "counting" (we'd call it "estimating") the number of flowers already in bloom in the gardens and parks of the region. Flowering daffodils, snowdrops, heather, and the like are carefully counted as each local municipality in the Greater Victoria region vies to be top dog in their contribution to the grand total count - amounting to 260,457,579 colourful blooms this year.

The 2011 Flower Count  (FC from here on) was held from 1 to 7 March, though historically it's often been held at times ranging from late February to late March. We feel that it's O.K. to bend the rules (sorry - vary the dates) just a little if it helps in making a point - something that you may have noticed already in this blog. Apparently, the idea of the FC is to celebrate the impending demise of our long, dark and bitter three weeks, or so, of winter. Much more importantly, it gives us another chance to annoy the heck out of our friends and relatives who live elsewhere in Canada where they are still checking their calendars and looking forward to half-time in the snow-shovelling game to which they claim to be devoted.

I thought that this FC might provide some interesting data that I could sift through. It probably does, but getting hold of the numbers for past years is not as easy as you might think. I Googled everything under the sun, and eventually came up with what seem to reliable (and disturbingly exact) numbers for 1996 and 2001 to 2011.  At that point I decided to get serious because the clock was ticking, so on Sunday 6 March I emailed the contact person at The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce  - the primary organizing body for the FC - as follows:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Second-Longest Word in the Econometrics Dictionary

The other day I paid a surprise visit to my University's library - it was an honest-to-goodness physical visit that involved putting one foot in front of the other, and straining those remaining neurons that deal with my long-term memory - not one of the virtual on-line visits that now pass for the real thing. Back in the day, when all the world and most of you were young and beautiful, an occasional visit to the library was actually quite therapeutic - a nice break from all of those interruptions in the office. It was great to be back, even though I had to focus hard to avoid tripping over old rabbit burrows while en route, and I was somewhat confused by the fact that my favourite large red book had apparently been moved from the very end of the 3rd shelf in the 4th row from the left on Level 2, sometime since September of 2002.

So, what drove me out into the bitter wasteland of Gordon Head in the dead of March? Well, I wanted to take a look at a dictionary that (shame on me) I thought I didn't own. Did you know that there really is A Dictionary of  Econometrics (Darnell, 1994)? It's a very nice volume, and - for the record - the longest word in this dictionary is "heteroskedasticity", with 18 letters. Yes, this word should indeed be spelled with a "k", and not another "c" (see McCulloch, 1985). The second-longest word in that dictionary, with 17 letters is - you guessed it - "multicollinearity". Quite a mouthful, I know, but if you've read this far then I assume that I don't need to bore you by explaining what this blockbuster of a word means.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Less is More (Sometimes)

 Less is More - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Some of the most influential academic journals have very short (one-word) titles. To wit, Science, Nature, Physica, Biometrika, Geology, Circulation, Polyhedron, Endoscopy, Neuron, and Econometrica. Is there anything in particular that we should conclude from this observation? Well, recently, Schreuder and Oosterveld (2008) took a close look at the relationship between the rankings of 6,033 journals in a wide range of scientific disciplines, and the length of those journals’ titles. For their sample as a whole, and for journals in only five of the individual disciplinary groupings that they considered, they found that there is a significant negative correlation between the journals’ so-called “impact factors” and the number of characters in their title. The opposite result was obtained for the “Pediatrics” and “Urology and Nephrology” fields. It’s actually quite important to analyze data from different disciplines separately from one another, because we’re looking at figs and bananas here. By way of an example, in 2006 the average (highest) impact factor for economics journals was 0.8 (4.7), compared with 4.8 (47.4) in molecular and cell biology (Althouse et al., 2009).

So, what do we find when we look at economics journals in this way?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Origin of Our Species

"Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?" (Marcus Tullius Cicero, 46 B.C.)
For those of you whose Latin is a little rusty (or maybe you missed the benefits of a classical education), this translates to:
"Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?"
In other words, it's worth knowing where you came from - and this includes econometricians!

The Econometric Society was founded following a meeting of  a group of eminent empirically-oriented economists at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, OH, on 29 December 1930. The names of the members of that founding group can be found in the various histories of the Society, such as those written by Christ (1983), Bjerkholt (1995), and Gordon (1997). More general treatments of the birth and development of Econometrics as a discipline in its own right are provided by Morgan (1990), and other authors.

Economists and statisticians from the Scandinavian countries played a major role in the emergence of Econometrics. Some of their names are very well known, including the Nobel laureates Ragnar Frisch and Trygve Haavelmo, both from Norway. Less widely known is the Danish economist and statistician, Edvard Mackeprang, whose doctoral thesis (Mackeprang, 1906) translates to Price Theories. K√¶rgaard (1984) provides a fascinating account of this early Danish influence on our profession.