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Steve Ballmer serves up a fascinating data trove
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-04-18 20:16:14

On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.

Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.

This is exactly the kind of thing technology should be used for in a democracy: to provide (relatively) easy insight into otherwise incredibly obtuse and splintered government data. Well done.

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Democracy sounds wonderful
By CaptainN- on 2017-04-18 20:46:21
I wish we had that...
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Well Done, Indeed
By Pro-Competition on 2017-04-18 21:22:02
I never guessed I would be applauding Steve Ballmer for something he did after leaving Microsoft, but it just goes to show you...
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RE: Well Done, Indeed
By Morgan on 2017-04-18 22:11:20
From what I understand, he only became interested after losing an argument with his wife over the issue of government help for the poor. If anything, applaud her not only for the spark that generated this project, but for her other philanthropic endeavors as well.
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Sources
By Alfman on 2017-04-19 02:03:49
It's an interesting resource, but I was glancing through it and I noticed many of the data points appear to disagree with other sources.

Take for example young adults living with parents, USAFacts claims that's 15%, but I've long heard much higher figures in the 30%s with the lowest point on record closer to 20% in the 1960s.

https://www.usafacts.org/metrics/...

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2...


Right now it's difficult to know where their data comes from because they seem to be lacking specific citations, other than a generic list here:
https://www.usafacts.org/sources

They also talk about their methodology and discuss that there are contradictions within their own data sources:

https://www.usafacts.org/methodol...
> We have made judgements about which data to show. Sometimes, different sources of data within the government contradict each other. When this happens, we have selected one to use consistently.


IMHO it would be much better to let us see all the data rather than just selecting it for us. Still, props to them for admitting it.

This could become a useful tool, at least assuming they start providing citations once it's out of development. However it could be even more useful if rather than merely cherry picking the data sources to include on the site, they would actually highlight the differences and biases between them objectively. Also I don't think they're doing researchers any favors prohibiting non-governmental academic research. If the government numbers don't match academic numbers, that in itself is worth knowing.
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RE: Sources
By JLF65 on 2017-04-19 13:56:23
> Take for example young adults living with parents, USAFacts claims that's 15%, but I've long heard much higher figures in the 30%s with the lowest point on record closer to 20% in the 1960s.

It probably has to do with that qualifier - young adults. Their definition doesn't match your own. They really need to show more data about the data.

It could also be the definition of living with that skews the data. Perhaps they're using a tax-based definition where the individual must earn less than ~$4000 per year to qualify as a dependent, and they're using the dependent status to define the person as living with someone else. Again, we need more data than just a plain figure.
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RE[2]: Sources
By Alfman on 2017-04-19 15:08:44
JLF65,

> It probably has to do with that qualifier - young adults. Their definition doesn't match your own. They really need to show more data about the data.

I hope they do because the onus is on them to define the methodology they used and cite their sources, otherwise people using the numbers out of context have to make assumptions and might be misled.


> It could also be the definition of living with that skews the data. Perhaps they're using a tax-based definition where the individual must earn less than ~$4000 per year to qualify as a dependent, and they're using the dependent status to define the person as living with someone else.

Oh gosh, the only reason one would do this is if one had a predetermined figure in mind and needed to maneuver through analytical contortions to get there! Still, there's probably an opening in the current administration for anyone who's good at doing this, haha.


> Again, we need more data than just a plain figure.

Hopefully that's coming.
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Spreadsheet management
By dark2 on 2017-04-19 15:36:34
While this sounds promising, this can only lead to decisions based on spreadsheet management. And we'll probably all have to hear this cited in political arguments for 20 years, even if the data is proven false or horribly outdated.
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RE[2]: Well Done, Indeed
By Pro-Competition on 2017-04-20 19:18:15
I completely agree. But I guess we need to take it however we can get it. ;^)
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