Sunday, May 29, 2005


I do a lot of calculations in my job. I use Microsoft Excel, MatLab, and Igor to analyze data. To gather the data I use LabView. This sort of thing is something I'm used to associating with being a scientist or engineer. I had never really thought much about it outside this arena, though.

Recently, I found a really neat site recently called Political Calculations, billed as "interactive tools for interactive politics." It's full of interesting data and lots of interactive web apps to calculate interesting stuff. One post I particularly like is one about deciding whether medical tests are worth the costs, based on the cost, the likelihood of doing any good, and how long you are likely to be around to enjoy the benefit.

It's come as a revelation to me just how interesting the work of economists and political scientists can be, especially those with a quantitative bent. Following some of these, I have found some cool data online. I am no economist, but I can follow the data provided at the Bureau of Labor Statistics site well enough to make my points when arguing with my friends about the likely effects of raising minimum wages, for example.

As a physics and chemistry undergrad, I had a pretty condescending attitude toward the social sciences. These days, I realize that being able to measure something to 15 decimal places doesn't make it relevant to society at large. I still think that there is a lot of crap that gets too much play in these fields, but it is clear to me that this is well understood in the fields themselves. There's also a lot of just really neat stuff being done, not all of it quantitative. If I could do it all over again, I'd be torn between being an economist and a physical scientist. Even more so if economics involved explosions and fires.


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