Watch your step on the data ladder

Climbing the data ladder can be dangerous.

That was one of the messages delivered Thursday June 5 at the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors in Miami.
David Donald of IRE/NICAR and Jennifer LaFleur of the Dallas Morning News took a captivated audience on a metaphorical journey through different types of data and statistical analysis. They showed how the amount of risk increases as one moves from analyzing simple, “categorial data” such as a yes/no field or a table of the number of people of different races,  to more complex “continuous data” such as all of the individual incomes of people who applied for a mortgage.

Donald and LaFleur offered strategies for mitigating the risks and maximizing the story using statistics. We’ll post the handout from the session here soon.

The session was one of more than 20 panels and presentations on CAR on day 1 of the conference Thursday. Friday will see hundreds more delegates arrive for the main conference sessions, including a keynote by syndicated columnist Dave Barry.

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Be ready when the next quake hits

Reporters looking for the Canadian context for events such as the devastating Sichuan earthquake can turn to the Natural Resources earthquake database for basic details on every known earthquake in Canada since the 1600s. You can contact NRCCan to obtain the entire dataset, but data going back to 1985 is now available for download.
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Citizen investigation finds faulty gas pumps

An Ottawa Citiizen investigation has found about 1 in 20 gas pumps in Canada was pumping less gas than indicated on the readout when inspected. Citizen reporter Glen McGregor obtained Measurement Canada inspection data under the Access to Information Act. His stories led to promises of a crackdown by Ottawa.
You can read the series and look at pump results for your area by clicking on the link below.
Continue Reading Citizen investigation finds faulty gas pumps

Helping Canadian journalists dig deeper

Practising reporters and students of journalism have a new guide through the complexities of investigative reporting in Canada. Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide is the work of Robert Cribb, Dean Jobb, David McKrie and Fred Vallance-Jones, each an investigative reporter and professor of journalism. Digging Deeper offers practical, effective ways to access information on the public record, such as criminal records, court reports, tax returns and government reports. The authors shed light on the use of computer-assisted reporting and get into the use of spreadsheets and databases to organize and manipulate data.
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Privacy veil slapped on Dot CA WHOIS searches

WHOIS searches on .ca domain names are about to get a whole lot less informative.

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority is slapping on new privacy restrictions. The name of the registrant, plus the contact information for sites registered to individuals will no longer be available via WHOIS. That means journalists researching who is behind a site will hit a dead end.  Searches for information on corporate sites will not be affected. Neither will searches of sites not in the dot CA domain.

CIRA says the restrictions are required by federal privacy law and come after a long period of consultation and review. The policy goes into effect June 10.

Information to be suppressed includes (from the website):

  • The name, address, phone number, email, and fax number (if provided) of the Administrative Contact and Technical Contact;
  • The Registrant’s CIRA assigned Registrant number;
  • The name of the Registrant;
  • The CIRA assigned domain number for each domain name registration held by the Registrant;
  • The description field which the Registrant or the Registrant’s Registrar filled out during the registration process describing the Registrant or the Registrant’s business.

    More at 

    More on the policy at

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    Nova Scotia to post restaurant inspections online

    The Nova Scotia government says it will begin to post restaurant health inspections online this summer. The announcement came in the provincial legislature in response to an opposition private members bill to make such postings mandatory. Agriculture Minister Brooke Taylor says the system will post results going back three years, starting from the date the system goes into effect, according to the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
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    Much Ado about CAIRS

    The decision by Ottawa to scrap its CAIRS system for tracking access to information requests has caused one of those passing flaps on the Hill. But is the move a real threat to openness? I’m not sure, because it doesn’t appear there’s been much openness to threaten lately. 
    Continue Reading Much Ado about CAIRS

    Citizen analysis shows Liberals fail to vote a third of the time

    Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor once again showed why he’s one of the best CAR reporters in the country with his analysis of House of Commons votes by the Liberal opposition.

    McGregor downloaded electronic copies of the house journals, which record such matters as votes. He then extracted the vote information into a database to discover that Liberal MPs, on average, had participated in just 64 per cent of votes.

    Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion participated in just a third of votes, the Citizen reported.

    The Liberals have been finding every way possible to avoid defeating the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, and thus forcing an election.

    More than 60 per cent of Liberal votes backed the government. “They are giving Mr. Harper the capacity to take the country down the wrong path, not just on high-profile items like Afghanistan, but just in general, they are there to support the government,” the Citizen quoted NDP leader Jack Layton as saying.

    Read the rest of the story here.

    Continue Reading Citizen analysis shows Liberals fail to vote a third of the time

    CBC loses key data access case

    CBC has lost an important case about access to electronic data. The decision provides important backing for a position advanced by federal bureaucrats that data requested under the Access to Information Act should be withheld if there is a chance someone could be identified by linking anonymous details in the data to other information that is already public.
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    Sun completes takeover of MySQL

    Sun Microsystems has announced the completion of its $1 billion takeover of MySQL.

    Continue Reading Sun completes takeover of MySQL