Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
July 25, 2014

It was a triumphant story that was first published by the Northport Patch back on 5 August 2011. Then, the tiny community web site of the tiny town located on the northwest corner of Long Island, New York announced that then 13-year old Northport Middle School student Aidan Dwyer had applied a mathematical principle found in trees that could improve the performance of solar panels and had been granted a provisional U.S. patent for an invention stemming from his insight:

Aidan Dwyer has accomplished more in his life than most people three times his age. He sails, he golfs-- and he is a patented innovator of solar panel arrangements.

Dwyer applied the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical principle widely occurrent in nature, to solar panel arrays in a months-long backyard experiment. He found that small solar panels arranged according to the Fibonacci sequence found in tree branches produced 20 percent more energy than flat panel arrays, and prolonged the collection window by up to two and a half hours.

Most remarkably, the elegant tree design out-performed the flat panel array during winter exposure, when the sun is at its lowest point, by up to 50 percent.

The feel-good story quickly built steam over the next two weeks, when it blew up into the big time as a number of mainstream media outlets, including Popular Science, heralded 13-year old Aidan Dwyer's achievement. The popular environmental news site Earthtechling offered the following lead for its story on the 13-year old's naturist's insight and invention:

One would be excused for suspecting that Aidan Dwyer, said to be 13, is in fact a small, very young-looking, 37-year-old college-educated con-man of the highest order. Such is not the case though for what the young Long Island lad has accomplished in a feat typically associated with much older individuals. As reported on the Patch community website out of Northport, N.Y., Aidan has used the Fibonacci sequence to devise a more efficient way to collect solar energy, earning himself a provisional U.S. patent and interest from "entities" apparently eager to explore commercializing his innovation.And you're wondering what the Fibonacci sequence is. Aidan explains it all on a page on the website of the American Museum of Natural History, which recently named him one of its Young Naturalist Award winners for 2011. The awards go to students from middle school through high school who have investigated questions they have in the areas of biology, Earth science, ecology and astronomy.

The feel-good bubble for solar power enthusiasts burst just days later when it became clear that 13-year old had made mistakes in his science work backing his invention, which if corrected, would almost entirely diminish any advantage that 13-year old Aidan Dwyer's invention might provide for deploying solar panel technology. Earthtechling summarized the rapid debunking that followed the previous triumphant stories:

Welcome to the digital age, Aidan Dwyer, where a hero becomes a bum in a blink of an eye and you need a neck brace to protect against media whiplash. One day, credulous news outlets – including the one you’re reading now – were glomming onto 13-year-old Aidan’s award-winning science project and advertising it to the world as a solar-power breakthrough. Now, a veritable cottage industry of Dwyer-debunkers has sprung up, and his work is being called way off base.

“Was Our Beloved 13-Year-Old Solar Power Genius Just Proven Wrong?” asks Gizmodo. “Why 13-year-old’s solar power ‘breakthrough’ won’t work,” writes Tuan C. Nguyen on Smart Planet. “Blog Debunks 13-Year-Old Scientist’s Solar Power Breakthrough,” says The Atlantic Wire. “This is where bad science starts,” headlines an exhaustive, nearly 4,000-word takedown of Aidan (and, even more pointedly, the media who grabbed his story and ran with it) on the No One’s Listening blog.

Keeping in mind that it took the effort of people with considerably more scientific knowledge and experience to even detect the errors that 13-year old Aidan Dwyer made, it is perhaps not so surprising that a 13-year old made mistakes in his scientific investigation. People who do real science in real life often go down what turn out to be blind alleys on the path to discovery all the time. Failure is both an integral and illuminating part of the scientific process.

But while the story of how 13-year old Aidan Dwyer's invention turned out to be one of those blind alleys, a more remarkable story is that the original story of 13-year old Aidan Dwyer's insight and invention refuses to die. Instead, scientifically-illiterate environmental activists are continually recycling it! Here's a quick sampling:

Recycling a 13-Year Old's "Solar Breakthrough"
Date Link
17 October 2012 Fibonacci Department: 13-year-old spirals tree branching into solar panels
21 March 2013 13-Year Old Replicates Fibonacci Sequence to Harness Solar Power
23 September 2013 13-Year Old Replicates Fibonacci Sequence to Harness Solar Power
21 November 2013 13-Year-Old Replicates Fibonacci Sequence in Trees
29 December 2013 13-year-old investor cracks the secret of trees to revolutionize solar energy
30 December 2013 13 Year Old Invents Fibonacci Solar Panel Designs
12 March 2014 This Boy Walked Into A Forest. What He Found Could Change Mankind's Future
14 April 2014 Biomimicry - Tree Solar Panels
9 June 2014 13-Year Old Replicates Fibonacci Sequence to Harness Solar Power

It's always the same story too. It's as if the community of environmental activists are too scientifically illiterate to even be curious to find out more about it, much less what can be found on the first page of Google search results.

But do you know what the best part of all this recycling is? Aidan Dwyer never gets any older! Even though it's three years later (at this writing in 2014), he's *always* 13-years old!

Somehow, in failing to make a solar breakthrough with the Fibonacci sequence, 13-year old Aidan Dwyer would appear to have accidentally discovered the fountain of youth!

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July 24, 2014

Previously, we found that the worst state for jobs for teens in the U.S. is California.

But we have bad news for the teens in that state. In 2014, the worst state for job-seeking teens, California, is getting worse:

Labor Market for Teenage Californians, January 2005 - June 2014

Here is how that compares with the job market for adults in California (Age 20 and over) since the total employment level in the U.S. peaked in November 2007, just ahead of the U.S. economy's peak of expansion in December 2007, marking the official beginning of the so-called "Great Recession":

Change in Number of Employed in California by Age Group Since U.S. Total Employment Peak Reached in November 2007, Through June 2014

To make it to the bottom in this category takes a unique combination of poor government policies and poor economic growth prospects, the latter which can be demonstrated by their not being sufficient to offset the negative effects of the former. For the state's teen population, California would appear to have developed both in spades.

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July 23, 2014

What are the best and worst states for U.S. teens between the ages of 16 and 19 for finding jobs?

To find out, we turned to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment provides the data by detailed age group on an annual basis for the years from 1999 through preliminary figures for 2013. We used that data to calculate the ratio of the number of employed U.S. teens from Age 16 through 19 with respect to their numbers in the U.S. population to create the following chart.

Ratio of Employed U.S. Teens (Age 16-19) to Population of U.S. Teens by State, 1999-2013

In the chart, we see that North Dakota is currently the leader among all states, surging considerably in 2013. We also see that the state has consistently ranked high by this measure from 1999 through the present. That's likewise true for the states that also ranked highly in 2013. The Top 5 states for teen jobs are:

  1. North Dakota
  2. Iowa
  3. Nebraska
  4. South Dakota
  5. Wyoming

Meanwhile, we observe that the worst place for jobs for U.S. teens is the District of Columbia, which currently and has chronically occupied the basement in the rankings by a wide margin during each year for which we have data.

But since this geographic region reserved to be the seat of the nation's capitol is not a state, the state that really ranks as being the worst state for job-seeking teens in 2013 is California. Here are the Bottom 5 states for teen jobs:

  1. New York
  2. West Virginia
  3. Mississippi
  4. Georgia
  5. California

In 2013, these five bottom-dwelling states were home to 23.6% of the entire population of 16-19 year olds in the United States.

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July 22, 2014
Broken Hard Drive - Source: http://oversight.house.gov/release/15076/

What are the odds that IRS employees deliberately targeted President Barack Obama's political opposition and have attempted to cover it up?

On 31 May 2013, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) told Congressional investigators that they had identified at least 88 IRS employees and supervisors who were involved in targeting groups opposed to various aspects of President Barack Obama's political agenda. At that time, the IRS ordered these employees to preserve all the "responsive documents" related to the scandal on their personal computers, which would apply to documents going back as far as 2010.

On 21 July 2014, in written testimony before the U.S. Congress, IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane indicated that the hard drives of up to as many as 20 of these IRS employees had experienced crashes, making e-mails and other documents stored on them inaccessible in explaining why the agency would not deliver the information that it had been ordered to provide to Congressional investigators.

What are the odds of that happening?

Fortunately, we have an app for that! You just need to enter the relevant data, which we have below, or adjust it as you might like, and we'll figure out the odds of so many members of such a small group of IRS employees and supervisors going through the experience of their hard drive crashing so bad that no information related to potentially unlawful activities would ever be retrieved from them.


Binomial Probability Data
Input Data Values
Total Number of Opportunities [Must be 170 or lower to avoid maxing out the calculator!]
Number of Times the Outcome Goes a Particular Way
Percentage Odds of Outcome Occurring for Each Opportunity [%]

The Odds of That
Calculated Results Values
Percentage Odds of the Outcome Occurring the Entered Number of Times
Odds of the Event Occurring [1 in ...]

In the tool above, we're using the findings of a 2007 study found that the odds of a single hard drive independently failing in a given year is about 3%. If you want to be precise however, the average rate of replacement for a failed hard drive in a single year is 2.88%.

Our tool's results indicate the probability of the events in question occurring by purely random chance. If you want to find the odds that IRS employees deliberately targeted President Barack Obama's political opposition and have since attempted to cover up evidence of their unlawful conduct, just subtract the percentage odds above from 100% to find the odds of that....

Other Probability Tools on the Web

We've previously found two really cool tools for doing this kind of math elsewhere on the web:

Richard Lowry presents the detailed calculations and an online calculator for finding binomial probabilities that gets around our tool's limitation of 170 opportunities!

Texas A&M offers a Java application for doing this kind of math that includes graphical output, so you can see where various outcomes might fall on a normal bell curve distribution!

Update 3:35 PM EDT: One of our readers points us to the perfect country tune to describe the IRS' "problem" with hard drives:


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July 21, 2014

A new noise event rattled the markets on Thursday, 17 July 2014, when news broke that a Malaysian Airlines commercial jet had been shot down over eastern Ukraine, potentially by Russian-backed separatists. That act caused stock prices to drop below the level they would otherwise be, assuming that investors are now focused on 2015-Q2 (the quarter the Fed will likely hike interest rates from their current near-zero levels) in setting today's stock prices.

Our expectations/accelerations chart shows the negative impact upon stock prices with respect to the change in the growth rate of dividends expected in that future quarter.

Change in Growth Rates of Expected Future Trailing Year Dividends per Share with Daily and 20-Day Moving Average of S&P 500 Stock Prices, as of 2014-07-18

While stock prices rallied strongly back on Friday, 18 July 2014, in reality, the negative noise generated by the missile attack on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 event is still present in the market and is keeping stock prices from rising as high as their fundamental relationship with their expected future dividends indicates that they would otherwise be.

That is evident from the relative position of the trajectory of stock prices with respect to the trajectory they would be taking if not for the negative impact of the terrorist act.

Alternative Futures for S&P 500, 30 June 2014 - 30 September 2014 (Without Echo Effect), Snapshot on 18 July 2014

What this chart indicates is that the perception of investors of the event's potential negative impact on their expectations for the future did not worsen from the previous day, as the gap that opened up in response to the event did not widen. By that same token, the outlook of investors did not meaningfully improve either, as the gap between projected trajectory and actual trajectory did not close on 18 July 2014.

As of the close of market trading on Friday, 18 July 2014, investors were in a holding pattern as more information about the attack becomes known and its potential impact upon their expectations of the future can be assessed. Depending upon what they learned over the weekend, there is a potential for a significant difference between the value the market closed at and the value at which it will open later this morning (21 July 2014) to develop.

And you'll know what they thought of what they learned over the weekend by whether the gap between our forecast and actual stock prices widens or narrows.

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