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Finding Science in Speculation with Bayes’ Theorem

Image: "Bayes' Theorem MMB 01" by mattbuck (category) - Own work by mattbuck. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Image: “Bayes’ Theorem MMB 01″ by mattbuck (category) – Own work by mattbuck. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not mathematically inclined, one look at Bayes’ Theorem – a parade of parenthetical A’s and B’s stacked on top of each other — can be a bit intimidating.

However, the theorem can be traced to many different parts of our everyday lives. First conceived around the time that Ben Franklin experimented with his infamous kite and key, it now helps us predict things like the weather, election results, health trends, even locating missing people and things.

Sydney Beveridge’s PRX STEM Story Project guides us through different ways the theorem is used, framing it with how it might be used to help someone find their missing keys.

When asked how she chose the topic, producer Sydney Beveridge responds, “This story was an opportunity to dig into the magic and manipulation behind the numbers that we encounter in our daily lives.” Outside of radio, she works with data at the demographic research and visualization website Social Explorer, which focuses on numbers to communicate trends and ideas. Also, she admits, she lost her keys last year.

“Even though numbers feel so concrete, the way we work with them varies and can be heavily disputed,” Beveridge reminds us. While researching the story, she was surprised to learn that the field of statistics is fraught with controversy; it even has warring factions within the field. No huge surprise there, especially with books like How to Lie With Statistics juxtaposing statistics and dishonesty, and general skepticism around exit polling during elections.

However, Beveridge hopes that listeners come away from the piece better understanding the difference between Bayesian statistics and classical statistics. “In some ways, the theorem is a common sense idea…but it is also conceptually rich in its handling of subjectivity, contradictory possibilities and iteration.”

That said, if you end up listening to the piece, the odds might just fall in your favor.

Reveal Coming January 2015 from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

Reveal Logo

Here’s the story.

Reveal will launch officially on a monthly schedule on Saturday, January 24, 2015.

The full hour-long radio show will be distributed exclusively by PRX.org starting Thursday, January 22, 2015. The radio air window opens Saturday, January 24.

Reveal will be free to all stations regardless of PRX membership. Not sure how to use PRX? – drop us a line at PRXhelp@prx.org.

Reveal launched with three hour-long pilots in 2013 and 2014, tackling multiple investigative stories, winning a Peabody Award and leading to real impact. Hundreds of stations aired the programs.  CIR and PRX created the program because stations told us they wanted a regular investigative presence in public radio. Listeners are showing a hunger for deeper journalism with meaningful impact. Reveal will showcase the best investigative reporting together in one regular, national broadcast.

Reveal is based on a collaborative production model: many of the stories come from CIR’s award-winning newsroom, but excellent stories come from many investigative efforts. The pilots featured work from the Center for Public Integrity and public radio stations including WNYC, Chicago Public Radio, Michigan Radio, KQED and others. The pilots also included collaborations with the PBS NewsHour, various print outlets and websites to extend the reach of their featured stories. CIR and PRX are in conversation with dozens of other news outlets and public radio stations to feature their stories on Reveal.

Reveal is more than a radio program. It also produces stand-alone digital assets – from accompanying text stories, to data interactives, video, animations, and more – offered to stations for their audiences to engage with any time. Plus a Reveal podcast is in production for 2015.

Reveal won a 2014 Peabody award for CIR’s original investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs’ role in over-prescribing opioid drugs to returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The story put pressure on the VA and, as a result, the federal agency has reformed some of its most egregious prescription practices.

Al Letson, the recipient of multiple journalism awards for his original series, State of the Re:Union, is the host of Reveal. Al’s engaging storytelling style and straight-on questioning will be hallmarks of Reveal.

Reveal will air monthly from January through June. The air dates for the first two quarters are:

January 24, 2015

February 14, 2015

March 14, 2015

April 11, 2015

May 9, 2015

June 13, 2015

The first WEEKLY show of Reveal will be released on July 2, 2015 for broadcast starting Saturday July 4, 2015. It will be delivered to station automation systems through SubAuto on PRX or available by exclusive download through PRX.org. The weekly program will also be free to all stations regardless of PRX membership status.

Questions, comments, concerns? Contact John Barth at john@prx.org or Kathleen Unwin at kathleen@prx.org.

Radiotopia Visits Kickstarter HQ

The Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign is barreling along, with just 3 days left. We are so excited about our final stretch goal: $600,000 to start a pilot fund for new voices. Our (nearly 20,000!) backers are helping us truly revolutionize public radio.

The folks at Kickstarter recently invited us to their beautiful Brooklyn digs for a conversation with the Radiotopia producers*, led by PRX’s Jake Shapiro. They talked of the joys and challenges of making radio in a new way, building relationships with a new kind of listener, and funding their passion.


Kickstarter HQ
Some excerpted highlights:

Stephanie Pereira gave us a tour of Kickstarter’s remarkable offices, a 99% Invisible fan’s dream. Oh look, there’s Roman, snapping a pic. >>>

Special thanks to Stephanie, Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler, and Owen Katz for a great day.

* except Benjamen Walker who was busy teaching podcasting.


A Radiotopia Surprise…

Dear Diary,

I can’t believe I am going to stand on a stage and read aloud our secrets. Am I nuts? Will you, or technically me, embarrass me? Will I be mortified?

You, our wonderful fans, are giving Radiotopia such an incredible Kickstarter campaign (still going strong!). We have a surprise for you. And it’s a good one — not something like your prom date deciding to take your best friend at the last minute instead. Although we’d like to hear about that, too…

Please join us in welcoming the brand-new Mortified podcast — launching in early 2015 — to our Radiotopia network!
Mortified

Mortified is a popular stage show with ongoing events in nine cities. They have a documentary film, a TV series on the Sundance channel, two books and now… a Radiotopia podcast.

Imagine adults channeling their younger selves by sharing embarrassing moments immortalized in their diaries, letters, poems, lyrics and art. You will remember your own fights with parents, teenage drama, fantastical fantasies and complete preoccupation with sex — both good and bad.

Hailed a “cultural phenomenon” by Newsweek and celebrated by This American Life, The Today Show, The Onion AV Club, Entertainment Weekly, and beyond, Mortified is a comic excavation of the strange and extraordinary things we created as kids.

We are thrilled to welcome Mortified to the Radiotopia family. Stay tuned and prepare to be Mortified!

Stretch Goal #1 Reached!


We are very excited to say that today we hit our first Radiotopia stretch goal of $400,000! This means that we will be able to bring on three new podcasts, all hosted by women. Woo!

Helen Zaltzman of "Answer Me This" with PRX COO Kerri Hoffman at Radiotopia Live.
Helen Zaltzman
of “Answer Me This.”

The shows:

  • Soon-to-be-titled Helen Zaltzman words and language program(me)– Created by Helen Zaltzman, host of the popular UK show “Answer Me This,” this brand new program peels back the surface of language to find out why we say the things we say.

  • The Heart, produced by Kaitlin Prest
    The Heart,
    produced by
    Kaitlin Prest
  • The Heart – A show about the triumphs and the terrors of human intimacy, the bliss and banality of being in love and the wild diversity of the human heart. Hosted by Kaitlin Prest.


  • Criminal – Riveting true crime stories about being wronged, doing wrong, and being caught in the middle. Hosted by Phoebe Judge and produced by Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer.
  • Criminal, hosted by Phoebe Judge
    Criminal, hosted
    by Phoebe Judge

The Hover 20,000 Backer Challenge.

We are still working toward another huge challenge from Hover to reach 20,000 backers. Please consider backing the project and getting a friend, a significant other or a family member to back our project, too. Every $1 pledge gets us closer to $25K.



That Crime of the Month

This is part of the PRX STEM Story Project series.

PMS_2-01
Image credit: Criminal podcast

What does it mean when a woman commits a crime and attributes her actions to PMS? We revisit the first use of the “PMS defense,” in this country, back in 1981. What have we learned about the science of PMS since then? Last year, the American Psychiatric Association classified a form of PMS (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD) as a mental disorder in the DSM-V. How can the scientific community study severe premenstrual symptoms without perpetuating the utterly unscientific idea that menstruating women aren’t mentally competent or liable for crimes they commit?

In this PRX STEM Story Project piece, the Criminal podcast tells us about the psychiatry, law, and gender politics surrounding PMDD.

About 30 years ago, lawyers started attributing behavior to PMS as a cause for women feeling so severe they were afraid of hurting themselves or others. As one would imagine, this topic can veer on the controversial, necessitating a more open conversation about the issues surrounding it.
Criminal_Podcast_Logo_medium
When asked how she chose this story idea, producer Lauren Spohrer comments, “Obviously there are a lot of crime stories out there, and a lot of media dedicated to telling those stories in various way…and this was the one that made us say, ‘Wait, what?'”

Possibly more surprising than the story content might be the way that people react to the idea. Spohrer describes her friends’ reactions upon hearing about it pre-production: “There was an awful lot of eye rolling at the suggestion of a PMS defense…it struck me that gut reactions haven’t changed much in 30 years.”

Spohrer maintains that the piece doesn’t claim to promote any singular view but rather intends to stimulate even more discussion. She says, “We hope we’ve distilled the relevant issues such that the listener feels as conflicted as we do.”

You can find this piece and more on the Criminal Podcast.

Hey, this is exciting: The world needs more successful female-hosted shows. We hope to add Criminal to Radiotopia, our network of amazing story-driven podcasts. We need to meet $400,000 for our Radiotopia Kickstarter Project to support Criminal and more. Any amount helps!

Stretch Goal #1 and Hover 20k Backer Challenge

Helen Zaltzman of "Answer Me This" with PRX COO Kerri Hoffman
Helen Zaltzman of “Answer Me This” with PRX COO Kerri Hoffman at Radiotopia Live.

Three days ago Radiotopia hit our Kickstarter funding goal. We are thrilled! Thank you for your support and for getting the project to this point.

We are very excited to announce 2 major updates:

1. Our first stretch goal! This is huge and we’re really thrilled to share this.

As of February 2013, only 20% of the top 100 podcasts are hosted by women. We want to change that. If we reach $400,000 we will be able to green-light three new shows, all hosted by women.

The shows:

  • Soon-to-be-titled Helen Zaltzman words and language program(me)– Created by Helen Zaltzman, host of the popular UK show “Answer Me This,” this brand new program peels back the surface of language to find out why we say the things we say.
  • “The Heart” – A show about the triumphs and the terrors of human intimacy, the bliss and banality of being in love and the wild diversity of the human heart. Hosted by Kaitlin Prest.
  • “Criminal” – Riveting true crime stories about being wronged, doing wrong, and being caught in the middle. Hosted by Phoebe Judge and produced by Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer.

2. The Hover 20,000 Backer Challenge.

Hover is offering $25,000 if Radiotopia is able to reach 20,000 backers. Every pledge gets us that much closer to $25K and this is going to be a tough one, so please consider backing the project and sharing with your friends.



Radiotopia Goal Reached! Thank You!

We did it! YOU did it!

A huge group hug for the more than 6000 of you who got Radiotopia to our Kickstarter goal in just six days! Amazing, just amazing. We are feeling the love and the very real financial support, and we are energized by it. Thank you for helping us take storytelling and podcasting to new levels of craft and audience. PRX is so proud to be charting the future of radio with these talented producers and you.

We’re not stopping there. Keep an eye on this space for some exciting stretch goals. But first, we have a (completely full) Radiotopia Live! party to throw in NYC tonight…

Second Ear Producer Wins Third Coast Award

The annual Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Competition Awards were announced recently, and we were excited to see that one of the winners is Annie McEwen, for her beautiful piece Here I Am and Here Be Danger.

We had the pleasure of workshopping Here Be Danger with Annie for our Second Ear program, which is a chance for producers to meet with PRX staff to edit stories, brainstorm promotion, and get ideas. Annie sent us her perspective on the process. Here’s how to submit your own radio story to Second Ear.

Congrats to Annie and to all of the winners, whose specific awards will be announced on Nov. 9 in Chicago at the Third Coast Conference. And hey, stations: many of the winners are available now to license on PRX — and you can look forward to the annual Best of the Best broadcast coming in November.

Art, Math, Mystery: Stylometry

Image credit: Jenny Chen
Image credit: Jenny Chen

Can style be measured? Is it possible to express with numbers?

Visual stylometry is a new branch of mathematics that uses math to determine the style of a particular artist’s body of work. In this #PRXSTEM piece, co-producers Jenny Chen and Molly Jean Bennett take a look at how this works, how well it works, and what the implications are.

You can think of visual stylometry as the measurement of style with higher math. The method has been used to determine the authenticity of art by identifying, analyzing, and mapping unique stylistic elements.

Chen and Bennett talked to several mathematician friends about different types of stories before landing on this one. After meeting Dr. Yang, who previously used literary stylometry to authenticate an ancient Chinese work called Dreams From the Red Chamber, the co-producers discovered that there was a visual branch of stylometry too.

“We all have this stereotype that mathematicians do work that isn’t relevant to the humanities,” says Chen. “It was delightful to discover how wrong that stereotype is – and to find a branch of math that depends on the collaboration between art connoisseurs and mathematicians.”

The co-producers hope that this piece shows listeners that neither the hard sciences nor humanities have full answers to life’s questions: “Only by embracing as many different disciplines as possible can we get more complete answers.”

“Art and mathematics are so far apart that they actually become neighbors again…both are interested in patterns and life.”