Police are using software to predict crime. Is it a ‘holy grail’ or biased against minorities?


“Predictive policing” represents a paradigm shift that is sweeping police departments across the country. Law enforcement agencies are increasingly trying to forecast where and when crime will occur, or who might be a perpetrator or a victim, using software that relies on algorithms, the same math Amazon uses to recommend books.

“The hope is the holy grail of law enforcement — preventing crime before it happens,” said Andrew G. Ferguson, a University of District of Columbia law professor preparing a book on big data and policing.

Now used by 20 of the nation’s 50 largest police forces by one count, the technologies are at the center of an increasingly heated debate about their effectiveness, potential impact on poor and minority communities, and implications for civil liberties.

Justin Jouvenal, Washington Post, November 17, 2016

No, don’t buy those ‘best stocks to own in 2017’

Each year around this time, the headlines blare about what you should do with your cash. Click around any of the usual financial media sites, and you will find all manner of experts detailing the “must own” stocks you should be buying right now if you want big returns in the year ahead.

I can show you how you would have done had you put money into recommendations made by these same folks a year ago for 2016.

How did they did do? For the most part, pretty mediocre.

Barry Ritholtz, Washington Post, December 12, 2016

Indian American Prof. wins $100,000 lottery jackpot, makes himself role model in probability class

An Indian American professor of statistics at Fairfield University, Nicholas Kapoor, 26, has made himself a role model teaching probability to students in his class, after winning a $100,000 lottery jackpot.

Kapoor teaches statistics at Fairfield University and had lectured his students about probability just prior to his win. He is now using himself as a real-life example in class. He buys a lottery ticket almost weekly despite what he said his undergraduate probability professor taught him.

“He’d always show us that you shouldn’t play the lottery because the odds of winning are so small,” Kapoor told ABC News. “My counterargument was always, ‘Yeah, but somebody has to win.’ “And he would say, ‘Yeah, but that’s not going to be you.’”

The American Bazaar, November 17, 2016

Life and death in the United States, in two maps

The latest news about preventable deaths in the United States has some encouraging data and one sobering statistic. On the good-news front, fewer people are dying prematurely from three of the five leading causes of death between 2010 and 2014: cancer, stroke and heart disease.

But there was a significant increase in preventable deaths from unintentional injuries, mostly because deaths from opioid overdoses are increasing.

In a report published Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data for the five leading causes of death in 2014 in the United States, which together account for 63 percent of all deaths. In each of the five categories, a substantial proportion of those deaths could have been avoided. The study assessed how the rates of these potentially preventable diseases changed from 2010 to 2014, the latest year for which numbers are available.

For all five causes, states in the Southeast continued to have the highest number of premature deaths that could have been avoided.

Lena H. Sun, Washington Post, November 17, 2016

Divorce in U.S. Plunges to 35-Year Low

The U.S. divorce rate has fallen for the third consecutive year, to its lowest level in more than 35 years, according to data released Thursday.

Meanwhile, marriage is up a bit, at 32.3 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women age 15 or older last year, from 31.9 in 2014. It was the highest since 2009, suggesting that, after a plunge of several decades, matrimony could be stabilizing.

Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, November 17, 2016

Is It Better to Rent or Buy?

The choice between buying a home and renting one is among the biggest financial decisions that many adults make. But the costs of buying are more varied and complicated than for renting, making it hard to tell which is a better deal. To help you answer this question, our calculator takes the most important costs associated with buying a house and computes the equivalent monthly rent.

MGM National Harbor opens amid a perilous casino glut and big shift in gambling culture

MGM Resorts International opens its $1.4 billion ­casino at National Harbor on Thursday night amid jackpot-level excitement and expectations for Maryland’s final and glitziest gambling palace.

Soaring 24 stories over the Potomac River and spanning five city blocks, the gleaming glass complex promises to deliver Las Vegas-style gambling, hundreds of millions in tax revenue and 4,000 new jobs.

But as thousands of people stream into MGM National Harbor for the first time, there is serious concern among industry analysts and fiscal watchdogs that Maryland and other states desperate for tax dollars have oversaturated the East Coast with casinos.

MGM National Harbor, just off the Capital Beltway near the Wilson Bridge, is Maryland’s sixth casino, with two others about an hour’s drive up Interstate 95 in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore. From Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, there are dozens more. At least seven additional casinos are to open by the end of 2018.

The problem, experts say, is that opening more casinos does not necessarily create more gamblers. Gallup surveys dating to 1996 show that the number of U.S. casino-goers has fluctuated between 24 percent and 30 percent of the population even as the number of states with casinos has swelled to 40.

Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post, December 7, 2016

The States That College Graduates Are Most Likely to Leave

But in the 1980s, people started moving less. Internal migration has been in gradual decline ever since across all demographic groups. In the 1980s, 3 percent of men moved across state lines each year; over the last decade that figure has dropped to 1.7 percent. The decline is similar for women. Between 2001 and 2010, the demographic groups with the lowest rate of interstate migration were people with less than a high school diploma (1 percent) or nothing beyond a high school diploma (1.2 percent). Migration rates for college-educated people were roughly twice that.

In the regional competition for the most skilled and most mobile workers in America, many noncoastal states are at a disadvantage. Although they have some large cities, they tend to be farther from other large cities than is the case in the coastal areas. The economists Stuart Rosenthal and William Strange looked at the benefits of density and found that they tend to dissipate over distances greater than five miles.

This advantage provided by clusters of cities is helpful for coastal states, which tend to contain many big metro areas, like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco in California, or the so-called Acela corridor stretching from Washington to Boston. But it can be bad news for inland areas with one or two large cities that are farther apart: Omaha and Kansas City, Mo., say; or Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

, New York Times, November 22, 2016

Reinventing Date Night for Long-Married Couples

Using laboratory studies, real-world experiments and even brain-scan data, scientists can now offer long-married couples a simple prescription for rekindling the romantic love that brought them together in the first place. The solution? Reinventing date night.

Rather than visiting the same familiar haunts and dining with the same old friends, couples need to tailor their date nights around new and different activities that they both enjoy, says Arthur Aron, a professor of social psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The goal is to find ways to keep injecting novelty into the relationship. The activity can be as simple as trying a new restaurant or something a little more unusual or thrilling — like taking an art class or going to an amusement park.

It’s not clear why some couples are able to maintain romantic intensity even after years together. But the scientists believe regular injections of novelty and excitement most likely play a role.

“You don’t have to swing from the chandeliers,” Dr. Fisher said. “Just go to a new part of a town, take a drive in the country or better yet, don’t make plans, and see what happens to you.”

Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, February 12, 2008

Burning less coal isn’t just making air cleaner. It’s making your tuna safer.

Today, his team’s findings are being greeted as some of the most positive news in a while related to the lowering of power-plant emissions. Studies of tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine between 2004 and 2012 revealed that levels of methylmercury in their bodies decreased at a rate of 2 percent per year, or nearly 20 percent over a decade.

The decreases occurred as coal-fired power plants began closing in 2008 — with 300 now shut down, according to the National Mining Association. Four years before that date, the carcasses of bluefin tuna, regardless of age, size and sex, had a lot more mercury than four years after. The research was published this month in Environmental Science and Technology.

Darryl Fears, Washington Post, November 29, 2016