Helluva deal on ArcView for IRE members
Oct 19th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

GIS software discount for IRE members

Return to IRE Training

Members of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., qualify for
discounts on geographic information system (GIS) software from ESRI,
the publisher of ArcView.
ESRI is offering ArcView GIS single use licenses at no charge to IRE
who agree to attend a GIS training event conducted by IRE and
NICAR or ESRI. Purchasers must sign a three-year maintenance agreement
with ESRI at a cost of $ 400 a year, with the first year's fee waived.
ArcView, the GIS program most widely used by journalists, lists for
$1,500. During the maintenance agreement period, purchasers will
receive software upgrades and technical support.

IRE members must attend a qualifying training session within one
year of entering the agreement with ESRI, which is based in Redlands
Calif., and has been a regular exhibitor at the annual IRE and CAR
Qualifying sessions are IRE and NICAR's Mapping Data for News Stories
mini-boot camp, offered two times a year with the next scheduled for
Jan. 6-8, 2006; an online ESRI Virtual Campus course, and ESRI
classroom training.

For more information about IRE and NICAR training visit IRE Training . For more information about ESRI training see
IRE members can also purchase discounted extension programs, which
expand the analytical capabilities of ArcView. The single-license cost
for Spatial Analyst, 3D Analyst and Geostatistical Analyst is $1,500
each. That is a 40 percent discount off the list price of $2,500 each.
To obtain an order form, please contact John Green, membership services
coordinator for IRE, at or 573-882-2772.

War and Power Laws and Journalism
Oct 15th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

The concept of Power Law distributions
is attracting growing interest, especially among folks in the
Complexity and Complex Adaptive Systems communities.  For
journalists, some of the math involved is somewhat more complex than
the elementary descriptive statistics we deal with, but it's not that
tough to grasp the implications of research probing Power Laws as they
apply to various phenomena.

Here's a perspective on global warfare that might prompt some deep contemplation for journalists.

Original source:


technology, particularly in information based systems, advances can
occur almost overnight. This likely applies to warfare as it becomes
more information-based. As in technology, patterns and methods of
warfare tend to stay within bounded equilibria depending on the type of
war being fought. When an improvement arrives, the equilibrium point
changes and warfare undergoes a rapid shift.

One of the ways to measure a equilibrium point was first demonstrated
by Lewis Richardson over 50 years ago. He calculated that the
distribution of casualties in conventional wars follow a power law
distribution. Updates to his work show that this pattern of
distribution continues to hold.

In a new paper by Johnson, Spagat, and others called “From Old Wars to New Wars and Global Terrorism,” (
) — — the authors demonstrate that a new pattern of war is emerging. To do
this, they analyzed the frequency-intensity distributions of wars
(including terrorism) and examined their power law curves. They found
that conventional wars had a power law exponent of 1.8. An analysis of
terrorism since 1968 found that the exponents were 1.71 (for G7
countries) and 2.5 (for non-G7 countries). This makes sense,
conventional wars and G7 terrorism are both characterized by periods of
relative non-activity followed by high casualty events (highly
orchestrated battles). Non-G7 terrorism is a more decentralized and ad
hoc type of warfare characterized by numerous small engagements and
fewer large casualty events.


where the analysis gets interesting. When the author's examined the
data from Colombia and Iraq, they found that both wars evolved towards
the coefficient for non-G7 terrorism (although from different
directions). This finding doesn't fit the prevailing theories of
warfare. A conventional understanding of fourth generation warfare
, such the one posited by Thomas Hammes in the Sling and the Stone
posit that 4th generation warfare began in earnest with Mao. However, within
Mao's formulation

(and Ho Chi Minh's variant), guerrilla wars are but a prelude to
conventional war to seize control of the state. The power law for these
wars should, based on this theory, tend towards the coefficient we see
for conventional wars. In fact, we see the opposite. Guerrilla wars in
both Colombia and Iraq have stabilized at a coefficient far from
conventional warfare.

This has broad implications for 4th
generation warfare theory — which clearly dominated the types of wars
we saw in the latter half of the twentieth century. The patterns of
conflict we see today in Colombia and Iraq are a break from the
previous framework (which may be an example of punctuated equilibrium).
Unlike the previous models of guerrilla wars which sought to replace
the state, these new wars have moved to a level of decentralization
that makes them both unable to replace the state and extremely hard to
eliminate. Is this new evolutionary equilibrium a fifth generation of
warfare? It is extremely likely. This new form of warfare, or what I
call open source warfare, is what this site (and my book) is dedicated
to understanding.”

Be careful believing what you read
Aug 31st, 2005 by Tom Johnson

Originally found on

On Negative Results

Posted by
David Appell at August 30, 2005 08:48 AM in Biotechnology and Health Care.

“There's a very interesting article by John Ioannidis in PLoS Medicine,
the free online journal. Most current published research findings might
well be false, he says. There are several factors, and I think it's
worth presenting them in detail:

1. Many research studies are small, with only a few dozen participants.

2. In many scientific fields, the “effect sizes” (a measure of how
much a risk factor such as smoking increases a person’s risk of
disease, or how much a treatment is likely to improve a disease) are
small. Research findings are more likely true in scientific fields with
large effects, such as the impact of smoking on cancer, than in
scientific fields where postulated effects are small, such as genetic
risk factors for diseases where many different genes are involved in
causation. If the effect sizes are very small in a particular field,
says Ioannidis, it is “likely to be plagued by almost ubiquitous false
positive claims.

3. Financial and other interests and prejudices can also lead to untrue results.

4. “The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams
involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true,” which
may explain why we sometimes see “major excitement followed rapidly by
severe disappointments in fields that draw wide attention.”

ought to be an eye-opener…. The solution? More publication of
preliminary findings, negative studies (which often suffer that fate of
file-drawer effect),
confirmations, and refutations. PLoS says, “the editors encourage
authors to discuss biases, study limitations, and potential confounding
factors. We acknowledge that most studies published should be viewed as
hypothesis-generating, rather than conclusive.” And maybe this will
temper journalists' tendency to offer every new study as the Next Big

Alleged Land Clearing by Arizona Land Developer Revealed with IKONOS Satellite Imagery
Aug 29th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

From Directions Magazine

Alleged Land Clearing by Arizona Land Developer Revealed with IKONOS Satellite Imagery

August 25, 2005

Company: Space Imaging
Industry: Satellite Image Data
Location: Denver, CO, United States of America

State of Arizona to Use Satellite Images
as Evidence in Lawsuit

DENVER,CO-– IKONOS satellite imagery has revealed alleged land
clearing by a developer in Arizona. The State of Arizona is suing the
Scottsdale developer for allegedly illegally bulldozing state and
private land known as La Osa Ranch located northwest of the town of
Marana, Arizona. Before-and-after satellite images of the area captured
by Space Imaging’s IKONOS satellite show certain changes to the
environment and will be used as evidence in the case. From a
423-mile-high orbit the satellite can see objects on the ground as
small as one meter in size.

Marana’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) department has been
collecting imagery for the last three years to map its expanding
boundaries, chart the town's recreational trail system and produce
three-dimensional views of proposed developments to provide citizens a
glimpse of what their neighborhoods will look like in the future. In
mid-2004, Chris Mack, Marana’s senior geographic information systems
specialist, discovered the imagery showed that the terrain had been
altered at La Osa Ranch. The satellite images captured the alleged land
clearing which included 700 acres over four miles from north to south. <more>

"Strikingly" good work
Aug 24th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

The Dallas Morning News crew started publishing last weekend a terrific study of jury selection — or de-selection — in Dallas.  Check it out at

Striking Differences

discrimination in jury selection was a scourge on the Dallas
County district attorney's office for decades and was cited
recently by the U.S. Supreme Court as it overturned a 1986
death penalty case. The
Dallas Morning News
spent two years gathering and analyzing
jury data from felony court trials to see what had changed.

Key Findings:
• Dallas County prosecutors excluded black jurors at more than twice the rate they rejected whites.
• Defense attorneys excluded whites at more than three times the rate they rejected blacks.
• Even
when blacks and whites gave similar answers to key questions asked by
prosecutors, blacks were excluded at higher rates.
• Blacks ultimately served on juries in numbers that mirror their
population primarily because of the dueling prosecution and defense

Maybe "Performance Measurement" Isn't the Answer? At least if you are the one being measured.
Aug 2nd, 2005 by JTJ

We recently enjoyed meeting Stuart Kasdin at a Netlogo workshop
Stuart spent some years in the Peace Corps, then a decade with the OMB
(Office of Budget Management).  Currently he's working on his
doctorate in Poly Sci at UC-Santa Barbara.

Stuart has also been thinking about “performance measurement,” the
term-of-art used by auditors and managers of government agencies. 
(In the private sector, the term often used is “forensic
accounting.”)  We have generally thought well of performance
measurement, especially as a vocabulary and tool journalists should
know about to better understand and evalutate the performance of
government.  Stuart, however, has thought about this in greater
depth, and from the perspective of someone inside the government. 
His paper, “When Do Results Matter?  Using Budget Systems to
Enhance Program Performance and Agency Management” is worthwhile

: “Managing by results” is a widely used public
budgeting approach based on developing performance measures that display the
progress of a program toward its stated objectives.  This paper considers the complex environment of government
budgeting and how to establish budget systems that can successfully encourage
improved performance by managers.  The
paper assesses the limitations in how governments currently apply performance
budgeting and suggests ways that it might be made more effective.  First, performance measures must be individually
tractable and simple, as well as be coherent and revealing in the context of
other program performance targets. 
In addition, performance budgeting must distinguish between
program needs based on environmental changes and those based on management
related decisions.  Finally,
paper argues that
multi-task, complex-goal programs
will typically result in low-powered incentives for program managers.  This outcome results because, even apart
from information obstacles, program managers will be rewarded or punished on only
a component of the program, representing a small fraction of the total program
performance when performance measures as increase.  A partial solution is to ensure that the number of policy
instruments is not smaller than the number of targets.”   

Click here to read the Kasdin paper.

What we can learn from bioinformatics
Jul 10th, 2005 by Tom Johnson

A recent profile of mathematician-turned-geneticist Philip Green is a good-read introduction to bio-informatics, and bio-informatics just might produce some methodologies journalists can use to validate public records databases.

The article, “Bioinformatics,” is in the quarterly published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  Some highlights:

* Using a detailed computational model, [researchers] found
that some kinds of [genetic] mutations occur at constant rates, like the
ticking of a clock, which makes them useful for dating evolutionary events.
Other kinds of mutations occur at varying rates de-pending on the generation
times of the organism. This information in turn makes it much easier to identify
parts of the genome that exhibit different patterns of change over time,
indicating that the DNA in those regions is subject to selection and therefore
playing a functional role. The idea, says Green, is to separate the noise of
meaningless changes in DNA so that the signals of consequential changes emerge
clearly from the background
Journalists could look at which elements are changed in a data base and
how often as a clue for the importance of the data base and the
relative importance of various elements.

* “The main issue [in biology and genomics] is how
quantitative we’re going to be able to get,” [Green] says. “Most people will
accept the idea that we will know qualitatively how things are interacting with
each other. But what you really want is a quantitative result, so that you can
change the levels of one component and predict how it will affect the system.”

*  “Back then, [says a colleague of Green’s] we wondered if
there was a need for mathematics in biology. In the mid-1980s, there weren’t a
lot of data. Biology was about analyzing the notes in your lab book.

the last 20 years, biology has become dominated by huge data sets. Now it’s an
exception rather than the rule to publish a paper that does not draw on large
databases of biological information. Mathematical analysis has become a
funda-mental part of biological research. It has turned out to be of equal
importance to experimentation.”

Take a look at the article.  It suggests some parallels of investigation for analytic journalism.

What's behind the curtain? "Private Warriors"
Jul 7th, 2005 by JTJ

We're pleased that the PBS program “Frontline” is keeping up the good fight to produce important journalism.  And thanks to the Librarian's Index to the Internet for pointing us to:

Private Warriors

This Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Frontline program looks “at
private contractors servicing U.S. military supply lines, running U.S.
military bases, and protecting U.S. diplomats and generals” in Kuwait
and Iraq. Website features discussions of the appropriateness of
outsourcing, whether privatization saves taxpayer money, and the role
of contractors. Includes contractor profiles, interviews, a FAQ, video
of the program, and related links.

Subjects: Government contractors — United States | Public contracts — United States | Private security services | United States — Armed Forces — Management | New this week

Created by
je – last updated Jul 6, 2005

Be sure to drill down to the section, “Does Privatization Save Money.”  A nice example of a reporter asking the right questions.

Forensic Accounting 101 on the front page of the NYT
Jul 6th, 2005 by JTJ

of the foundational cross-over disciplines we think are of value to
journalists is Forensic Accounting, at least that's the term used when
applied in business.  (It's “performance measurement” when talking
about government.)

One of
the basic measurements in forensic accounting is to compare the percent
of dollar distribution by type or sector in one instution to the
percent of dollar distribution in a comparable institution.  So it
is that we were please to see Glen Justice dipping into the forensic
accountants toolbox in Wednesday's NYTimes in his story “
For a Lobbyist, Seat of Power Came With a Plate.”  The story is about how lobbyist, and Tom Delay pal, Jack Abramoff apparently used his own restaurant in Washington, Signatures, as a place to meet and greet legislators.  He just forgot to give them a check.

Justice wrote:

…While Signatures was popular, it struggled to make money, according to employees and documents.

'Mr. Abramoff and his companies invested more than $3 million in
Signatures from January 2002 to May 2003, records show. At the same
time, he and his employees gave away tens of thousands of dollars in
food, wine and liquor, the records show. That includes menu prices for
Mr. Abramoff's own food and drink, as well as employee discounts and
free meals given by restaurant managers and staff, according to the
records. Nationwide, the median expense for marketing, including free
meals and drinks, was about 3.5 percent of sales for expensive
restaurants like Signatures that spend the most on such promotions,
according to the National Restaurant Association. One national
restaurant consultant, Clark Wolf, said the figure can go as high as 5

'At Signatures, free meals and drinks for managers and guests alone
were about 7 percent of revenues for the restaurant's first 17 months,
according to former employees and financial records. Mr. Blum, the
spokesman for Mr. Abramoff, disputed that percentage.”

like pretty basic reporting, but more reporters would do well to make
that one more call if they want to establish context in their stories.

Snippets from this week’s IRE convention in Denver….
Jun 3rd, 2005 by Tom Johnson

Paul Walmsley, a programming wiz at IRE, has developed a
neat PERL script for doing a bit of Social Network Analysis online at the IRE

JustLooking” is a members-only tool that has been up for a
year, Walmsley said, but lacking publicity, it’s been pretty much
backstage.  The app is a relatively
basic, yet impressive tool whose results are designed to be integrated/imported
into UCInet, an early SNA tool.

“JustLooking” comes, so far, with two network templates to
save time in common situations.
  * Campaign Finance:
for tracking campaign dollars
  * Rolodex: for
entering basic networks of people and organizations

 Dig out your IRE membership number and check it out.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa