My Life in One Sobering Graph

by Shawn Crawford

(The following is an excerpt from Crawford’s lecture at the Lausanne, Switzerland conference of The Society of Data Analysts Committed to Reducing Any Complexity to a Single Sobering Graph. Researchers will remember the group’s acrimonious split from the Social Scientists United for Reducing Any Cultural Crisis to a Single Meme. In a classic dispute among the “hard” and “soft” sciences, the two sides exchanged a dizzying array of pie charts and Willie Wonka images with devastating captions to no avail.)

. . . I want to thank Professor Owens once again for his electrifying lecture on determining the outcome of any baseball season by crunching the data from a ten-game sample, reducing the number of games played by 152. Like so much breakthrough research, this also produced an unintended benefit: the freeing up of nearly 10,000 extra hours on TBS for reruns of  The Big Bang Theory. I know we are all grateful.

I still remember Professor Owens bursting onto to the scene when his algorithm, pushing the Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer to its limits, proved conclusively that Dewey had indeed defeated Truman. While his subsequent modeling has produced dozens of legislative fixes for this mathematical reality, we know the current gridlock in Washington continues to thwart his efforts.

When Dr. Harry Lutz from DataTorrent approached me about joining him on the cutting edge of the Sober Graphing movement, I knew I couldn’t say no. While Thomas Piketty appeared to be rapidly consolidating the research space in Sober Graphing, I reckoned Dr. Lutz had a clear edge moving forward: his proprietary Sober Index, able to finally tackle such vexing questions as does the bar graph illustrating the concentration of wealth since World War II achieve Peak Soberness as it relates to income inequality? Using a baseline of soberness, the realization of just how worthless a degree in the humanities will be, Dr. Lutz built out his Soberness Index with enviable precision.

But would Sober Graphing prove as chimerical as Shocking Graphing and Surprising Graphing in offering real advances? The number of graphs required in these areas had also become problematic: if it’s going to take three scatters, a 2-D pie, and a funnel graph to shock me, perhaps we need to revisit the biases lurking in our data field.

Lutz and I became convinced the Sober Index could help us express the answer to any seemingly intractable question in one elegant, sobering graph. Furthermore, we posited the level of soberness, correctly calibrated to the industry or society addressed, could effect lasting and measurable change. But before we tackled broader issues, we decided to test our hypothesis on a basic level: could the essence of my existence be explained in One Sobering Graph, or OSG, now the recognized nomenclature?

We reviewed and rejected many approaches to fashion my OSG. Finally, Dr. Lutz hit upon a masterful construction–how many people over the course of my life had agreed To Do it My Way? Little did we know the stresses we would be placing both on ourselves and the Index the day my OSG saw its first articulation.

During beta-testing we discovered an enormous obstacle: I could not plot anything along the X-Y Axis. With generous funding from the NIH, enhanced thermal resonance imaging of my brain revealed I could not conceptualize the idea of horizontal or vertical, which helped to explain my disastrous summer internship at Taliesin West during my undergrad flirtation with architecture. Bell Laboratories constructed a VR environment that allowed me to translate data points on to a grid through simple voice commands. The system, with an ingenious modification, also made me nearly invincible at Fortnite.

In the summer of 2018 we awaited anxiously while our string of 8,000 22-core IBM Power9 processors and 25,000 NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs went to work. Dr. Lutz had used over 2,000,000 DNA profiles to extrapolate those willing To Do It My Way even if we had never met. Two days before producing the OSG, the supercomputer had texted me, “Are you sure?” I took the message as little more than an anomaly in the system and returned to my weekly pay-per-view Fortnite match with Ninja. Although I did move to an unlisted number.

Finally the day arrived. You see the results on the slide behind me (graph at top of post), although the world-wide dissemination of the OSG probably ensures your prior knowledge. So beautiful. So concise. So sobering. The OSG allowed us to expand the range of the Sober Index by a factor of ten, allowing for the calculation of Soberness using even the most seemingly disparate of data.

I had attended enough faculty meetings and Trivia Nights to understand times would occur when no one wanted To Do It My Way, even at the expense of bonus points when I was the only one that knew that Rickey Henderson had set the record for most stolen bases and most times caught stealing in the same season. But to see that unbroken line of only myself ready to jump on the Shawn bandwagon, that produced a level of soberness the Index had never take into account. Apparently even my parents, regardless of my tears, pleadings and tantrums as an infant, had refused to see things my way.

The experts among you will notice the spike around 1990, where those ready To Do It My Way increases by an incredible 100%. This can easily be explained by my marriage around that time. I had expected a sustained registering of this increase, but the precipitous decline again took the Index to the edges of its tolerances. My bitter dispute with Dr. Lutz that my spouse’s response of “Whatever” to my suggestions should count as half-agreement would have made the results decidedly less sobering. But to his credit, Lutz maintained his integrity and insistence on following the data wherever it might lead.

Most of  you know the real reason for my presence here today. The OSG quickly produced another stunning discovery: The Crawford Threshold, the Soberness Index number at which the subject of the OSG can no longer maintain their personal soberness and all graphing on that subject should cease as an ethical imperative. Although our supercomputer’s lawsuit against me, claiming credit for the Threshold via that text message, has called my achievement into question, the computer wasn’t the one fished out of Emma Stone’s reflecting pool yelling, “You’d Do It My Way wouldn’t you, Emma?” now was it? Dr. Lutz’s subsequent analysis has demonstrated that I’m also mistaken in this assumption. The numbers never lie.

I’m proud of my work in opening up this new frontier. I understand that I also exist as a cautionary tale that data can tell when you to kick a field goal on fourth-and-one and when to go for it, but it can also destroy. I am also grateful for Emma Stone lifting the restraining order. Please remember that I am evaluating your requests to speak at your conference or symposium as quickly as possible and that my appearance is contingent on an open bar. Thank you.