Illustrating the importance of data visualization

June 12, 2009 in Data,Math

Andrew Gelman discusses research on attitudes toward gay marriage, by state, and notes this graph in particular, which shows the change in opinion over the last 15 years:

Critically, he points out that the states which experienced the greatest change in attitude were the ones that already were most receptive. A naive analysis of the data would have missed this effect, which is an important one (Andrew proposes a few testable hypotheses for it). Once a statistician knew the effect existed, however, it would be relatively simple to incorporate it into a model.

The effect stresses the importance of properly exploring data (visually, not necessarily quantitatively) rather than simply chucking it into a regression. Even a simple analysis like this one can reveal features that would take a specially chosen model to identify otherwise.

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