Monday, October 18, 2010

Standard-Examiner Editorial: OUR VIEW: UTA's Secrecy Bug

Final calculations are useless unless the initial assumptions built into such calculations can be independently reviewed and validated

Just to get the conversation rolling this morning, we'll cast the spotlight upon yesterday's strong Standard-Examiner editorial, hammering the UTA's stonewalling of raw data which ostensibly support a consultant's findings that a proposed mass transit route -- along Washington Boulevard, 36th Street and Harrison Boulevard -- to Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital makes the most economic sense":
OUR VIEW: UTA's secrecy bug
And whatever you do, don't miss Cal Grondahl's most excellent companion cartoon:
Grondahl 10/17/10 Cartoon
Here's the key principle, as earlier set forth in Dan Schroeder's 9/20/10 letter: is clear that we cannot trust the bottom-line results when the consultant is unable to show how it obtained them. It is also clear that UTA was negligent in not asking to see the detailed calculation itself, months ago. It is unprofessional and inexcusable for UTA to ask stakeholders to make a $150 million decision on the basis of data that has not been carefully scrutinized by its own professionals. (However, it is human nature to accept results without scrutiny when they tell us what we already wanted to hear.)
As an added bonus we'll refer to an article posted 10/10/10 on Dan Schroeder's blog, Dan's Diary, in which he emphasises the importance of "[u]nderstanding uncertainties, and learning to live with uncertainties, and stubbornly insisting on knowing the uncertainties when making predictions" based on mathematical data:
Uncertainties in Science and Politics
Here are Dan's money paragraphs:

I’ll end (once again) with a local political example. A respected economic consultant recently predicted that the middle segment of Ogden’s proposed streetcar system will stimulate $8.5 million of investment if it follows one proposed alignment, but only $1.5 million if it follows an alternate alignment. Ten days ago I asked her what the uncertainty range is on those numbers, and she replied, “Well, you can see that we rounded them to the nearest half million.” I’m afraid I laughed at that point, and tried unsuccessfully to convince her that the uncertainties were many times larger. I knew the numbers had been calculated from property value assessments, and that these assessments can be systematically off by 50% or even more. Worse, I knew that the lists of properties to be included in the calculations had been compiled through a subjective, undocumented process. After our conversation I looked up some of the property assessments and quickly saw that you could increase the $1.5 million prediction to over $9 million by excluding just two properties (out of several dozen) from the list. A fair estimate of the uncertainty would be much higher still.

But economic consultants apparently aren’t in the habit of thinking about uncertainty. Undoubtedly this is because their clients don’t want to hear about it; they just want simple answers. In this case the client was the Utah Transit Authority—a government agency that supposedly represents the people. Ultimately, it is the citizens at large who need to learn to think like scientists.
Remember back in math class when your instructor insisted that you "show your work" as you performed mathematical calculations? Same basic concept. The results of final calculations are useless unless the initial assumptions built into such calculations can be independently reviewed and validated.

A Weber County Tip O' The Hat to the Standard-Examiner editorial board for keeping the UTA's highly unprofessional conduct in the public limelight... and a well deserved Hat Tip to Dan Schroeder too, for keeping everybody on their toes in re this matter.


Worker said...

There is an appalling disparity between workers and management as regards income.
No one in this economy is worth 200 k, unless you are either a strong reliable back with advanced technical skills, or someone who risks life and limb to save others.
Firefighters, and deep sea welders come to mind.
People who go to meetings for a living, shuffle desk paper, lunch in fancy restaurants, and "manage", should make the same or less than those who they oversee.
If you know how to underwater weld, and now manage the welders because of your long tenure, perhaps you deserve a small bonus for your service, but for you o bring down 5 or ten times that of those who are on the job site: no way.

googlegirl said...

UTA executive John Inglish's salary is top among public transportation executives

Curmudgeon said...

Seems to me the key question at the moment is not what Mr. Inglish is paid, nor is it whether he's worth the money. The key question is this: is the secret economic analysis which the UTA bought worth the paper it's written on? That's the question. And since UTA and the consultant it hired to, some apparently suspect, produce the recommendation it made plain it favored, are keeping the data on which the analysis was presumably based secret, that's not an easy question to answer.

Which itself raises the question of why UTA and its hired gun are so determined to keep the data secret. What is it, exactly, they don't want the public to know?

And why?

Those are the key questions. Not Mr. Inglish's pay. Not at this point anyway.

worker said...

That is the question you ask, Mr. Curm.
Most of the rest of the planet would disagree.
People who are aware that we consume about 1.6 times our planets living capacity daily, all the while paying people 200,000 times the wage of the honest people who toil in Africa, for these executives to plan "sustainable growth" and "public transportation", seems to be an underlying factor.

As long as Americans do very little work, pollute, have some sort of a "city on a hill" fantasy that excludes 4/5th of the rest of the planet, while waddling to and from a car and "planning transportation projects", we will just see more of the same.

Either everyone gets a living wage, or no one does.
People who live in mansions should not tell people who live in huts to suck it up and accept their studies saying that the hut is what you deserve.
Everything is economics. These false studies are just a symptom of a nation that thinks they deserve more than anyone else.

What a Steamin' Load of Crap said...

Watch out, worker! The last Utahn who openly and successfully advocated anti-corporist political culture in Utah got framed, and then shot fulla holes with rifles by corporate lackeys, until he wuz dead:

Joe Hill

Jason W said...

Anybody know anything about The Chalk Outline facebook page by the Standard-Examiner. Just came across it and not sure what to make of it.

googleboy said...

The Chalk Outline

Moroni McConkie said...

OMG ... is the Great Jason W really back?

Jason Fan said...

We can only hope!

Biker Babe said...

a little off topic ... but ...

hey, anyone notice the little tiny blurb about Alan Franke retiring from City Council Policy Analyst position at age 51?

Lets watch and see where he turns up next with retirement checks in one pocket and new salary checks in another ...


Dan S. said...

Minor update:

After an over-weekend round of phone tag, I finally spoke to UTA's Mick Crandall this afternoon. He said he still intends to fulfill his promise of getting various data to me, to the best of his ability. He did tell me that it was Greg Montgomery from the city who gave input into the decisions on which parcels to include in the economic development analysis. He also said their ridership data for some of the bus routes is not very good (too small a sample), so he's not ready to give me that yet. (He already gave me data for the 603, which is the most important route.) I expect to hear back from him by the end of this week.

RudiZink said...

Greg Montgomery, Godfrey's cousin? Go figure.

Gondolas, anyone?

Danny said...

So once again, the whole thing is a sham - numbers ultimately came from Godfrey.

It just never ends - these guys just can't play straight.

you who said...

Ah yes, Gondolas. It will all pan out in the little pricks favor in the end. He manipulates every thing that happens in Ogden.

Dead Rabbit said...

Over this Ogdenite's dead body.

Gangs of Ogden Theme

Joe Dirt said...

HAY! Here's something interesting! In the Weber County District 18 Senate race, look who's raking in all the corporate special interest money!

I am NOT making this up:

Contributions to REID, STUART C

Since I'm a Weber county GOP loser. who am I gonna vote for?

Stewart Reid, of course!

Maybe if he gets elected, I'll tell him I voted for him, and he'll get me a job once he's elected, of course!

Stuart Reid! One More reason to vote Republican in 2010!

AWM said...

"And a well deserved Hat Tip to Dan Schroeder too, for keeping everybody on their toes in re this matter" Hey! Where is Brad Dee? I thought that was his job...he won't be happy to find out that Dan is moving in on his schtick.

Ozboy said...


I think a pertinent question might be: "Is a highly muzzled Jason better than no Jason at all?"
Hopefully we will find out.

If the "Chalk Outline" thing the Standard is trying out has any credibility at all they will draw a "Chalk Outline" around the Ninth Floor and the Little Big Guy with the office there, as the biggest money crime scene in Ogden's history. Roughly a hundred million ripped from the pocket's of the Ogden Tax payers - so far - and counting.

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