The Economist has published a model which estimates that Kenyans are only detecting 4-25% of the true deaths which can be attributed to Covid. I think this is a good opportunity to learn about why many machine learning models are problematic. I’m going to talk about this particular model, but I should note that I’ve only spent about ten hours looking at this problem and I’m sure the authors of this model are smart thoughtful people who don’t mean to mislead.

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People often make a categorical distinction between randomized clinical trial data and other forms of data. Under this view the only information that can ground medical decision making is a large, multicenter, randomized clinical trial, and other study designs can only prove correlation, not causation. People who hold this view treat clinical trials as determinative of causation. Without a clinical trial you can’t make a causal claim, and once you have one, you no longer need to think that hard about causation.

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Why I Use R

They said the war was over… Over the last couple of years prominent members of both the R and Python communities have tried to move past the language wars and support both R and Python workflows. This makes sense intellectually; after all, R and Python are not all that different in the scheme of things, and so we should let people use whichever language they find more productive. This conversation manifests very differently in the workplace, however.

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Technical debt is the process of avoiding work today by promising to do work tomorrow. A team might identify that there’s a small time window for a particular change to be implemented and the only way they can hit that window is to take shortcuts in the development process. They might soberly calculate that the benefits of getting something done now are worth the costs of fixing it later.

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Automated testing is a huge part of software development. Once a project reaches a certain level of complexity, the only way that it can be maintained is if it has a set of tests that identify the main functionality and allow you to verify that functionality is intact. Without tests, it’s difficult or impossible to identify where errors are occurring, and to fix those errors without causing further problems.

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I have a pretty strange background for a data scientist. In my career I’ve sold electric razors, worked on credit derivatives during the 2008 financial crash, written market reports on orthopaedic biomaterials, and practiced law. I started programming in R during law school, partly as a way to learn more about data visualization and partly to help analyze youth criminal justice data. Over time I came to enjoy programming more than law and decided to make the switch to data work about three years ago.

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Like most people, I first learned to work with numbers through an Excel spreadsheet. After graduating with an undergraduate philosophy degree, I somehow convinced a medical device marketing firm to give me a job writing Excel reports on the orthopedic biomaterials market. When I first started, I remember not knowing how to anything, but after a few months I became fairly proficient with the tool, and was able to build all sorts of useful models.

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Author's picture

Gordon Shotwell


Lead Data Scientist at Socure

Canada