A newsletter from SA Mathieson, analyst, journalist and editor.

Predictably bad

Tutoring a day course on data journalism at City Lit this month, I wanted to convince students not to treat predictions as data. An article in The Times made it easy by republishing various banks' predictions for the FTSE-100 at the end of 2015. They ranged between 6,600 and 7,500.

The straight lines are the predictions, the wiggly one is what actually happened.

The fact that the economists involved didn't foresee the FTSE falling to 6,242 doesn't mean predictions are worthless, just that they need to be treated with caution. This particularly applies to the untestable sort that are vague and lack either a confidence level or a time-limit.

I predict I will do at least one more day of data journalism training in 2016 with 98% confidence. But then, I already have the purchase order.

I wrote

Lovelace at 200: Celebrating the High Priestess to Babbage’s machines
Coverage of an Oxford University symposium on Ada Lovelace, The Register. "Our age’s Ada Lovelace wisecracks with Babbage while smoking a pipe, if the rock-star reception given to Sydney Padua was anything to go by." Response @sydneypadua: "Lovelace symposium is def the sole place I'd ever get a 'rock star reception'."

Art in Amsterdam
Article for Railbookers' All Aboard magazine, also on its blog. Everyone knows to visit the Rijksmuseum, but how about the private but free to visit Six Collection? There's a link to its online application page on my website.

How software drives safety in aerospace, healthcare, oil and gas
For These industries could learn a lot from each other, and there are signs this is starting to happen.
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I read

NHS comes 14th in Europe-wide survey on health systems (out of 35 covered), Denis Campbell, Guardian. The Swedish consumer-focused research says the UK suffers from "an autocratic top-down management culture" and that 'Beveridge' systems where the government pays tend to be average. The report is here.

Debunking myths about the Snoopers Charter: big data in counter-terrorism, David Wells (formerly of GCHQ and ASO). "Those questioning the privacy impacts of bulk collection should be wary of relying too heavily on Binney’s claim that big data is 99% ineffective and actively harms counter-terrorism work. Because unfortunately, it just isn’t true."

You would never know I'm crying after I answer your 999 call, Anonymous, Guardian Public Services Network. "The best calls are straightforward childbirths, where you get the joy of hearing a baby’s first cry. That’s magical."

Trust in journalists at 30-year high, Press Gazette. Lovely spin, but still only 25% of those surveyed trust journalists, same as trust estate agents. Hairdressers are trusted by 69%.

Map of the month: going up, north

While in Manchester for the Civica Expo last week, it was striking how many new buildings are going up on both sides of the Irwell (which divides Salford on the west from Manchester on  the east). I've mapped six of the largest developments, all due to be completed this year or next. To view the interactive version on Mapbox, click on it.
Sources: Deloitte Manchester Crane Survey 2016 and specific websites.

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  • I am working on an article on how increasing interest rates will affect IT for The Register; I'd be grateful to hear about experts who can comment. I'd be grateful for pitches by next Tuesday, although interviews can take place over the next week or so.
  • I am always interested in case studies on smart uses of IT and other innovative work in the public sector, particularly in healthcare and local government, both UK and international
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