Randall Bolten Blog

May 27, 2012
The law firm of Fenwick & West publishes an excellent quarterly report on venture capital financing activity. Their most recent report provides an opportunity to ponder how even modest changes in how information is presented graphically can make a big difference in how meaningful the information is to the audience.

May 09, 2012
In last week’s post, we discussed using metrics to help understand past and forecast spending on Social Security (SS). These metrics are important because it’s hard for anyone to grasp raw numbers this large — annual SS benefits are expected to top $1 trillion (yes, trillion!) around 2018, for example. So metrics like spending as a percentage of GDP help to put raw numbers in some context.

April 30, 2012
In recent weeks, I’ve promised that some future posts will discuss both Social Security and general U.S. government spending. In this post we’ll do both, as we take a look at trends in Social Security payments. First, let’s look at total dollars of Social Security payments historically from 1970 and projected through the year 2022.

April 25, 2012
This post will not have a single number in it. Yesterday morning’s edition of The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “Social Security’s financial forecast gets a bit darker.” The sub-headline adds that Medicare is not looking much better. The story reviewed the annual forecast of the trustees overseeing the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, a forecast that looks ahead to the funds’ solvency as far out as the end of this century.

April 15, 2012
It’s tax-filing time again, and that means many of us are going to get refunds. Is that a good thing? Well, it’s always nice to get a check from the government, but let’s face it: all it really means is that you’ve already paid Uncle Sam more than you ended up owing him. In other words, you’ve given the government an interest-free loan for several months.

April 10, 2012
As I said I would do last week, I now offer the first of a few posts that I hope will provide insight into the U.S. federal government’s fiscal situation, from the perspective of clear quantation. Consider the following graph (in which I break my own rule and use a pie chart) showing the distribution of federal government outlays projected for fiscal 2012 (the 12 months ending 9/30/12).

April 02, 2012
Sometimes a clear presentation of numbers can really put things in perspective, and the absence of such a clear presentation can cause us to lose sight of what’s important. Put another way, good quantation can not only enlighten us, but first it simply makes us more aware.

March 26, 2012
Few public policy issues have generated as much verbal hysteria, irrational claims, and downright incorrect information as Social Security. And that’s saying a lot. This is a great topic for “Painting with Numbers,” because it’s just not that complicated to understand, provided the numbers are presented clearly and coherently, and that is what this site is most interested in.

February 28, 2012
In today’s broadcast of Marketplace on NPR, David Brancaccio led a great discussion about using statistical indicators to predict presidential elections. Which works best? GDP? Disposable income? American war casualties? Unemployment? Gas prices? Durable goods spending?

September 16, 2011
This morning’s “Daily ‘Dog,” a website devoted to information and discussions about the public relations profession, introduced a “Best Practices Guide for Use of Statistics in Public Relations,” prepared jointly by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the American Statistical Association (ASA). This short document is excellent guidance not just for PR professionals, but for anyone presenting survey results and other statistical information.

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