Empiricism •

The New American FactFinder

American FactFinder is moving to a new platform offering greatly improved functionality and a snazzy design refresh. The move won’t be complete until Fall 2011, so, in the meantime, use…

Once the move is complete, Legacy American FactFinder will be discontinued.

More about the New American FactFinder.

Empirical Services

Do you need help with Stata? Or are you working on an empirical paper and need some help? I’m available for research consultations concerning any empirical projects. To set up an appointment, please email Parina Patel at: papatel@law.harvard.edu

Movies by the Gross

Looking for weekend box office estimates? Top grossing movies of all time? best picture Oscar winner with the lowest gross? highest?

Box Office Mojo provides daily, weekend, weekly, yearly, all time and international box office data. Box Office Mojo presents box office data by such indices as movie, studio, people, genre, franchise and Oscar nomination. Free registration required for some features. Subscription required for advanced features.

Just in time for the tax season…

“The IRS turns away from auditing big business.” How do we know? TRACfed! Associated with Syracuse University, this service provides comprehensive information about federal enforcement activities, as well as detailed information about federal staffing, federal funds, and the diverse characteristics of counties, federal districts, and states. It also generates free reports based on its data which are highlighted at http://tracfed.syr.edu/notices/whatsnew.html and has an About the Law tool (link to http://trac.syr.edu/laws/) which allows users to get data about specific statutes used in federal prosecutions and convictions. Off-campus access is controlled by HLS Account username and password.

For even more information about the IRS, see TRACFed’s recently released annual report on IRS operations.

Empirical Research Services

The HLS Library now offers Empirical Research Services to support faculty and students working on quantitative research. These services include providing ongoing guidance in executing data analysis, offering suggestions of appropriate methods to use when testing various hypotheses, and providing research assistants with tutorials on statistical topics and software such as Stata and SPSS. For more information about these services please visit: http://www.law.harvard.edu/library/faculty/empirical.html

CSI: Washington

In stark contrast to their portrayal in TV shows like CSI, the National Academy of Sciences, in a recent report, describes the nation’s crime laboratories as “a system plagued by a paucity of good research, fragmentation, inconsistent practices, and weak governance.”

The report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, provides a detailed analysis of the challenges facing the forensic science community and makes numerous findings and recommendations for improving the practice of forensic sciences in the United States. Most notably, the report calls on Congress to create a new, independent federal entity: the National Institute of Forensic Science, which would provide a “strong, independent, strategic, coherent, and well-funded federal program to support and oversee the forensic science discipline.” The report was prepared by the Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community at the National Academy of Sciences. Judge Harry T. Edwards, co-chair of the committee, last week, presented the report’s findings in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. See his prepared statement as well as the report’s executive summary for more information.

World Report on Child Injury Prevention

The World Health Organization and UNICEF today released their World Report on Child Injury Prevention.

As stated in the WHO press release, “More than 2000 children die every day as a result of unintentional or accidental injuries. Every year tens of millions more worldwide are taken to hospitals with injuries that often leave them with lifelong disabilities.” The report documents the five leading causes of unintentional injury worldwide (road traffic injuries, drowning, burns, falls and poisoning) and makes recommendations for prevention strategies and programs.

If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns…

Not true. Turns out outlaws get their guns from states with lax or no gun control laws.

The Movement of Illegal Guns in America, a study released today by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, documents the link between gun laws and interstate gun trafficking. The study finds that the 10 states with the least control of sales supply 57% of the handguns recovered in crimes in other states. West Virginia supplies the most; the District of Columbia none. The study also finds that the less a state regulates handguns, the greater the incidence of death by handgun in that state. The coalition’s Trace Data Center collects, analyzes and distributes gun trace data and related reports released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). See the Washington Post (registration required) for more coverage.

Psst…need a cheap credit card for the holidays?

In the thriving internet underground economy, a credit card with CVV2 number will cost you between 10¢ and $25, even cheaper if you buy in bulk.

As detailed in Symantec’s Report on the Underground Economy released today, credit card information is the most advertised category of goods and services. Symantec calculates the potential worth of all credit cards advertised during the reporting period, July 2007 through June 2008, to be $5.3 billion based on an average observed credit limit of more than $4,000 per stolen credit card. The report notes, “The underground economy has matured into a global market with the same supply and demand pressures and responses of any other economy. There are a great many servers and channels available to advertisers to market their wares, which they do, and often.” For more information see C|Net News and the Symantec Press Release.

Does Spam Work?

Sometimes during my morning spam deletion ritual, in which I remove dozens of emails, mostly for products that I am not biologically able to benefit from, I wonder (as perhaps you do, too): does spam actually work for the spammer? Do people actually buy these misspelled drugs and dubious “enhancement devices”?
imagePhoto credit:Benny Yap/Creative Commons

At last, a team of researchers has taken on the question and produced some empirical data in this report: Spamalytics: An Empirical Analysis of Spam Marketing Conversion. (Apparently “conversion” is the term for when spam actually produces a sale or other desired result.) Bottom line – the data collected in this study indicates that, no, it doesn’t work very well. According to the study:

After 26 days, and almost 350 million e-mail messages, only 28 sales resulted — a conversion rate of well under 0.00001%. Of these, all but one were for male-enhancement products and the average purchase price was close to $100. Taken together, these conversions would have resulted in revenues of $2,731.88—a bit over $100 a day for the measurement period or $140 per day for periods when the campaign was active.

And the good news is that spam, while cheaper than mass-mailings, is costly enough that such meagre profits may not sustain the spammers for too long. Now, if we can just get this data out to the spammers. If only there was some way to get a message to thousands of people with a single click…

And, don’t forget that, you, too, can do empirical analysis – with help from our new statistical consulting service!