Heatmaps in SPSS

Heatmap is a visualization term that gets used in a few different circumstances, but here I mean a regular grid in which you use color to indicate particular values. Here is an example from Nathan Yau via FlowingData:

They are often not the best visualization to use to evaluate general patterns, but they offer a mix of zooming into specific individuals, as well as to identify overall trends. In particular I like using them to look at missing data patterns in surveys in SPSS, which I will show an example of in this blog post. Here I am going to use a community survey for Dallas in 2016. The original data can be found here, and the original survey questions can be found here. I’ve saved that survey as an SPSS file you can access at this link. (The full code in one sps syntax file is here.)

So first I am going to open up the data file from online, and name the dataset DallasSurv16.

*Grab the data from online.

Here I am going to illustrate making a heatmap with the questions asking about fear of crime and victimization, the Q6 questions. First I am going to make a copy of the original dataset, as we will be making some changes to the data. I do this via the DATASET COPY function, and follow it up by activating that new dataset. Then I do a frequency to check out the set of Q6 items.

FREQ Q6_1Inyourneighborhoodduringthe TO Q69Fromfire.

From the survey instrument, the nine Q6 items have values of 1 through 5, and then a "Don’t Know" category labeled as 9. All of the items also have system missing values. First we are going to recode the system missing items to a value of 8, and then we are going to sort the dataset by those questions.

RECODE Q6_1Inyourneighborhoodduringthe TO Q69Fromfire (SYSMIS = 8)(ELSE = COPY).
SORT CASES BY Q6_1Inyourneighborhoodduringthe TO Q69Fromfire.

You will see the effect of the sorting the cases in a bit for our graph. But the idea about how to make the heatmap in the grammar of graphics is that in your data you have a variable that specifies the X axis, a variable for the Y axis, and then a variable for the color in your heatmap. To get that set up, we need to go from our nine separate Q6 variables to one variable. We do this in SPSS by using VARSTOCASES to reshape the data.

VARSTOCASES /MAKE Q6 FROM Q6_1Inyourneighborhoodduringthe TO Q69Fromfire /INDEX = QType.

So now every person who answered the survey has 9 different rows in the dataset instead of one. The original answers to the questions are placed in the new Q6 variable, and the QType variable is a number of 1 to 9. So now individual people will go on the Y axis, and each question will go on the X axis. But before we make the chart, we will add the meta-data in SPSS to our new Q6 and QType variables.

  1 'In your neigh. During Day'
  2 'In your neigh. At Night'
  3 'Downtown during day'
  4 'Downtown at night'
  5 'Parks during day'
  6 'Parks at Night'
  7 'From violent crime'
  8 'From property crime'
  9 'From fire'
 8 "Missing" 
 9 "Don't Know"
 1 'Very Unsafe'
 2 'Unsafe'
 3 'Neither safe or unsafe'
 4 'Safe'
 5 'Very Safe'
FORMATS Q6 QType (F1.0).

Now we are ready for our GGRAPH statement. It is pretty gruesome but just bare with me for a second.

  PAGE: begin(scale(800px,2000px))
  SOURCE: s=userSource(id("graphdataset"))
  DATA: QType=col(source(s), name("QType"), unit.category())
  DATA: ID=col(source(s), name("ID"), unit.category())
  DATA: Q6=col(source(s), name("Q6"), unit.category())
  GUIDE: axis(dim(1), opposite())
  GUIDE: axis(dim(2), null())
  SCALE: cat(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), map(("1", color.darkred),("2", color.red),("3", color.lightgrey), 
            ("4", color.lightblue), ("5", color.darkblue), ("9", color.white), ("8", color.white)))
  SCALE: cat(dim(2), sort.data(), reverse())
  ELEMENT: polygon(position(QType*ID), color.interior(Q6), color.exterior(color.grey), transparency.exterior(transparency."0.7"))
  PAGE: end()

And this produces the chart,

So to start, normally I would use the chart builder dialog to make the skeleton for the GGRAPH code and update that. Here if you make a scatterplot in the chart dialog and assign the color it gets you most of the way there. But I will walk through some of the other steps.

  • TEMPORARY. and then SELECT IF – these two steps are to only draw a heatmap for survey responses for the around 100 individuals from council district 1. Subsequently the EXECUTE. command at the end makes it so the TEMPORARY command is over.
  • Then for in the inline GPL code, PAGE: begin(scale(800px,2000px)) changes the chart dimensions to taller and skinnier than the default chart size in SPSS. Also note you need a corresponding PAGE: end() command when you use a PAGE: begin() command.
  • GUIDE: axis(dim(1), opposite()) draws the labels for the X axis on the top of the graph, instead of the bottom.
  • GUIDE: axis(dim(2), null()) prevents drawing the Y axis, which just uses the survey id to displace survey responses
  • SCALE: cat(aesthetic maps different colors to each different survey response. Feeling safe are given blues, and not safe are given red colors. I gave neutral grey and missing white as well.
  • SCALE: cat(dim(2), sort.data(), reverse()), this tells SPSS to draw the Y axis in the order in which the data are already sorted. Because I sorted the Q6 variables before I did the VARSTOCASES this sorts the responses with the most fear to the top.
  • The ELEMENT: polygon( statement just draws the squares, and then specifies to color the interior of the squares according to the Q6 variable. I given the outline of the squares a grey color, but white works nice as well. (Black is a bit overpowering.)

So now you have the idea. But like I said this can be hard to identify overall patterns sometimes. So sometimes I like to limit the responses in the graph. Here I make a heatmap of the full dataset (over 1,500 responses), but just look at the different types of missing data. Red is system missing in the original dataset, and Black is the survey filled in "Don’t Know".

*Missing data representation.
SELECT IF (Q6 = 9 OR Q6 = 8).
  PAGE: begin(scale(800px,2000px))
  SOURCE: s=userSource(id("graphdataset"))
  DATA: QType=col(source(s), name("QType"), unit.category())
  DATA: ID=col(source(s), name("ID"), unit.category())
  DATA: Q6=col(source(s), name("Q6"), unit.category())
  GUIDE: axis(dim(1), opposite())
  GUIDE: axis(dim(2), null())
  SCALE: cat(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), map(("1", color.darkred),("2", color.red),("3", color.lightgrey), 
            ("4", color.lightblue), ("5", color.darkblue), ("9", color.black), ("8", color.red)))
  ELEMENT: polygon(position(QType*ID), color.interior(Q6), color.exterior(color.grey), transparency.exterior(transparency."0.7"))
  PAGE: end()

You can see the system missing across all 6 questions happens very rarely, I only see three cases, but there are a ton of "Don’t Know" responses. Another way to simplify the data is to use small multiples for each type of response. Here is the first graph, but using a panel for each of the individual survey responses. See the COORD: rect(dim(1,2), wrap()) and then the ELEMENT statement for the updates. As well as making the size of the chart shorter and fatter, and not drawing the legend.

*Small multiple.
  PAGE: begin(scale(1000px,1000px))
  SOURCE: s=userSource(id("graphdataset"))
  DATA: QType=col(source(s), name("QType"), unit.category())
  DATA: ID=col(source(s), name("ID"), unit.category())
  DATA: Q6=col(source(s), name("Q6"), unit.category())
  COORD: rect(dim(1,2), wrap())
  GUIDE: axis(dim(1), opposite())
  GUIDE: axis(dim(2), null())
  GUIDE: legend(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), null())
  SCALE: cat(aesthetic(aesthetic.color.interior), map(("1", color.darkred),("2", color.red),("3", color.lightgrey), 
            ("4", color.lightblue), ("5", color.darkblue), ("9", color.white), ("8", color.white)))
  SCALE: cat(dim(2), sort.data(), reverse())
  ELEMENT: polygon(position(QType*ID*Q6), color.interior(Q6), color.exterior(color.grey), transparency.exterior(transparency."0.7"))
  PAGE: end()

You technically do not need to reshape the data using VARSTOCASES at first to make these heatmaps (there is an equivalent VARSTOCASES command within GGRAPH you could use), but this way is simpler in my opinion. (I could not figure out a way to use multiple response sets to make these non-aggregated charts, so if you can figure that out let me know!)

The idea of a heatmap can be extended to much larger grids — basically any raster graphic can be thought of as a heatmap. But for SPSS you probably do not want to make heatmaps that are very dense. The reason being SPSS always makes its charts in vector format, you cannot tell it to just make a certain chart a raster. So a very dense heatmap will take along time to render. But I like to use them in some situations as I have shown here with smaller N data in SPSS.

Also off-topic, but I may be working on a cook-book with examples for SPSS graphics. If I have not already made a blog post let me know what you would examples you would like to see!

New undergrad course – Communities and Crime

This semester I am teaching a new undergrad course, communities and crime. Still a few seats left if you are a UT Dallas student and still interested. (You can also audit the course as well even if you are not a UT Dallas student.)

You can see the syllabus from the linked page, but compared to other syllabi I’ve found floating around, (see Dan O’Brien or Elizabeth Groff for two undergrad examples) I focus more on micro places than others. Some syllabi I’ve found spend basically the whole semester on social disorganization, which I think is excessive.

One experiment I am going to try for this course is to use Dallas Open crime data, and then have the students make predictions. For example, for their first assignment they are supposed to make their prediction based on social disorganization theory what neighborhood has the most crime in Dallas from this neighborhood map in Dallas. (Fusion table embedding not working in my WordPress post at the moment for some reason!)

These neighborhoods were obtained from Jane Massey, a researcher for the Dallas area Habitat for Humanity. Hence why the flood plain is its own neighborhood. It is the most reasonable source I’ve seen so far. Most generally agree (see Dallas Magazine for one example), but that data is not very tidy. See this web app to draw your own neighborhood in Dallas as well. And of course for students interested part of the discussion will be about how you define a neighborhood.

Blogging in Review – 2016

The site has continued to grow in 2016. Looking back over the prior years it has looked pretty linear the whole time.

I take a hit in December, but I almost managed on average 200 site views per day in November. I topped the 100,000 cumulative site views for the entire blogs existence in November of this year.

Despite moving from Albany to Texas, I still managed to publish 40 new pages this year, which I am pretty happy with. I don’t set myself with any hard expectations, but I like to publish something at least once every two to four weeks.

While some of my initial traffic is bursty, e.g. gets shared on a popular site and you get a couple hundred views in a day, most of my traffic is a slow trickle of referrals from google. Here is a plot of my pages by average views per day, broken down by some of my main categories. Posts colored in red have an SPSS tag, and so the Python and R columns can also be posts on SPSS. (So most of my python posts are calling python from SPSS.)

So even my most popular posts do not average more than a few views per day, and most do not get any appreciable traffic at all. Here are the labels in that dot plot to show what posts they are.

Don’t ask me why some end up being more popular than others (who knew Venn diagrams in R?). I wrote a few more blog posts on using various google maps APIs with python in response to the google places post being popular. The google street view post is doing pretty well, the others not so much though.

My motivation for posts though are more in line with an academic journal/notebook/diary – I post on some project I am working on essentially, I don’t go and research specific topics just for the blog. I am happy with the extra exposure though – and I’m sure there is more value added to a tutorial blog post than there is for a stuffy academic paper that is read by two dozen individuals (even if that is what counts towards my tenure)!

Spatial join points to polygons using Python and SPSS

A recent use case of mine I had around 60 million points that I wanted to assign to census block groups. ArcGIS was being problematic to simply load in the 60 million point dataset (let alone spatial join it), so I wrote some python code and will show using python and SPSS how to accomplish this.

First, a shout out to Rex Douglass and this blog post, I’ve adapted most of the python code here from that example. Also before we get started, it will be necessary to download several geospatial libraries for python. Here you need shapely, pyshp, and rtree. As a note, I have only been able to get these to install and work using the IOOS channel for Anaconda, e.g. conda install -c ioos shapely rtree pyshp. (I have not been able to get fiona to work.)

The Python Part

So I will go through a quick rundown of the python code first. All of the data and code to run this yourself can be downloaded here. To start, I import all of the necessary libraries and functions.

import shapefile
from rtree import index
from shapely.geometry import Polygon, Point

The next step is to read in the polygon shapefile that we want to assign points to. Note you could swap this part out with fiona (if you can get it working!), but I just use the pyshp function shapefile.Reader. Note you need to change the data string to point to where the shapefile containing your polygons is located on your local machine.

#load in the shapefile of block groups
data = r'C:\Users\axw161530\Dropbox\Documents\BLOG\Point_inPoly_PythonSPSS'
bg_NYC = shapefile.Reader(data + r'\NYC_BG14_Proj.shp')

In my data these are block groups for New York city, and they are projected into feet using a local projection. (As an FYI, you can open up the “prj” file for shapefiles in a plain text editor to see the projection.) Now, the shapefile object, bg_NYC here, has several iterables that you can access either the geometries or the records available. First we need to get those individual polygons and stuff into a list, and then convert into a Polygon object shapely can deal with.

bg_shapes = bg_NYC.shapes()  #get the iterable for the polygon boundary points
bg_points = [q.points for q in bg_shapes] #convert to list of geometry
polygons = [Polygon(q) for q in bg_points] #convert to a shapely Polygon

Next I am going to do two things. First to make a vector that matches those Polygons to a particular id, I need to read in the data attributes from the shapefile. This is accomplished via the .records() attribute. For US census geometries they have what is oft labeled a GEOID. In this example shapefile the GEOID ends up being in the second variable slot. The second thing I accomplish here is I build an rtree lookup. The motivation for this is, when we do a point in polygon check, it can be an expensive procedure the more polygons you have. You can first limit the number of potential polygons to check though by only checking whether a point falls within the bounding box of a polygon, and then do the more expensive operation on the actual (more complicated) boundary of the polygon.

#build spatial index from bounding boxes
#also has a second vector associating area IDs to numeric id
bg_records = bg_NYC.records() #bg_records[0][1] is the geoid
idx = index.Index() #creating an rtree
c_id = 0
area_match = []
for a,b in zip(bg_shapes,bg_records):
    c_id += 1

Now we have all the necessary ingredients to make a function that inputs one X,Y point, and then returns a GEOID. First, the function turns the input X,Y points into a Point object shapely can work with. Second, it does the bounding box lookup I mentioned earlier, using the idx rtree that is available in the global environment. Third, it loops over those resulting polygons that intersected the bounding box, and checks to see if the point is within that polygon using the shapely operation point.within(polygon). If that is true, it returns the associated GEOID, and if none are found it returns None. Again, the objects in this function idx, polygons, and area_match are taken from the global environment. A few additional notes: it will return the first point in polygon found, so if you have overlapping polygons this will simply return the first, not necessarily all of them. That is not the case with our census polygons here though. Second, the functionality here is for a point on the exact border between two polygons to return False.

#now can define function with polygons, area_match, and idx as globals
def assign_area(x,y):
    point = Point(x,y)
    for i in idx.intersection((x,y,x,y)): 
        if point.within(polygons[i]):
            return area_match[i]
    return None
#note points on the borders will return None

To test this function I have a set of points in New York for this particular projection already associated with a GEOID.

#now testing
test_vec = [(1003610, 239685, '360050063002'),
            (1006787, 240666, '360050183022'),
            ( 993580, 219484, '360610122001'),
            ( 986385, 214971, '360610115001'),
            ( 947148, 167688, '360850201001'),
            (      0,      0, 'Miss')]

for a,b,c in test_vec:
    print [assign_area(x=a,y=b),c]

And this should subsequently print out at your console:

['360050063002', '360050063002']
['360050183022', '360050183022']
['360610122001', '360610122001']
['360610115001', '360610115001']
['360850201001', '360850201001']
[None, 'Miss']

For those wishing to do this in vectorized in python, check out the GeoPanda’s functionality. But here I let it churn out one by one by using SPSS.

The SPSS Part

So once the above function is defined in your SPSS environment, we can simply use SPSSINC TRANS to assign XY data to a block group. Here is a quick example. First we read in some data, this is the homicide data from the New York times discussed here. It has the points projected in the same feet as the polygons were.

*Conducting point in polygon tests with Python and SPSS.
FILE HANDLE data /NAME = "C:\Users\axw161530\Dropbox\Documents\BLOG\Point_inPoly_PythonSPSS".
*Read in the NYC homicide data.
GET TRANSLATE FILE='data\HomPoints_JoinBG.dbf' /TYPE=DBF /MAP .

Now I am going to use the SPSS command SHOW to display the current date and time, (so you can see how long the operation takes). This dataset has 4,021 cases of homicide, and the set of polygons we are matching to has around 6,500 block groups. The time the operation takes depends on both, but the rtree search should make the number of polygons not as big a deal as simply looping through all of them. Second, I use SPSSINC TRANS to call the python function we previously constructed. Third, this dataset already has the GEOID matched to the points (via ArcGIS), so I check to make sure I get the same results as ArcGIS. In this example there are quite a few points that ArcGIS failed to return a match for, but this operation does. (It would take more investigation on my part though as to why that is the case.)

*Use this to show timing.

*Now using SPSSINC TRANS to assign geoid.
  /FORMULA "assign_area(x=XFt,y=YFt)".

*Check that the operations are all correct (as compared to ArcGIS)
FREQ Check.

This example runs almost instantly. For some tests with my bigger dataset of 60 million, matching half a million points to this set of polygons took around 12 minutes.

To End

Again, all of the data and code to run this at once can be downloaded here. I will need to make a blog post at some point of using pyproj to project point data in SPSS as well, such as to go to and from Lat-Lon to a local projection. You probably always want to do geometric operations like this and buffers with projected data, but you may get the data in Lat-Lon or want to export data in Lat-Lon to use online maps.

For those working with crime data, I oft complain that crime is frequently on the borders of census geographies. But due to slight differences in resolution, most GIS systems will still assign crime points to census geographies. I’m not sure if it is a big problem for much analysis in our field, but the proportion on the border is clearly quite large in some instances. For things that can occur often outdoors, like robberies and field stops, the proportion is even higher because crime is often recorded at intersections (I have estimates for the percentage of crimes at intersections for 14 years in Albany in this paper). So the problem depends on the crime type or nature of the incident (traffic stops are almost always listed at intersections), but I have seen analysis I would bet over 50% of the incidents are on the border of census blocks and/or block groups.

A general way to check this in GIS is to turn your polygon data into lines, and then assign points to the nearest line and check the distance. You will see many points that are very close to the border (say within 5 meters) that really should be undetermined.

Review of Trees, maps, and theorems: Effective Communication for rational minds by Jean-luc Doumont

I was recently introduced to the work of Jean-luc Doumont via Robert Kosara. So I picked up his book, Trees, maps, and theorems: Effective Communication for rational minds, and it does not disappoint.

In a nutshell, if you have read Tufte’s Visual display of quantitative information and you like it, you will like Doumont’s book as well. He persists in the same minimalist ideal as Tufte, but has advice not just about statistical graphics, but about all aspects of scientific communication; writing, presentations, and even email.

Doumont’s chapter on effective graphical displays is mainly a brief overview of Tufte’s main points for statistical graphics (also he gives some advice on pictures and icons), but otherwise the book has quite a bit of new advice. Here is a quick sampling of some of the points that most resonated with me:

The rule of three: It is very difficult to maintain any more than three items in our short term memory. While some people use the magic number 7 rule, Doumont notes this is clearly the upper limit. Doumont’s suggestion of using three (such as for subheadings in a document, or bullet points in a powerpoint presentation) also coincides with Howard Wainer’s suggestion to limit the number of significant digits in tables to three as well.

For oral presentations with slides, he suggests printing out your slides 6 to a page on a standard letter size paper. If you have a hard time reading them, the font is too small. I’m not sure if this fits inline with my suggestions for font sizes, it will take some more investigation on my part. Another piece of advice for oral presentations is that you can’t read text on slides and listen to the presenter at the same time. Those two inputs compete in our brain, as opposed to images and talking at the same time. Doumont gives the same advice as Tufte (prepare a handout), but I don’t think this is a good idea. (The handout can be distracting.) If you need people to read text, just take a break and get a sip of water. Otherwise make the text as minimal as possible.

My only real point of contention is that Doumont makes the mistake in talking about graphics that one only needs two points labeled on axes. This is not true in general, you need three. Imagine I gave you an axis:


For a linear scale, the missing point would be 5, but for a logarithmic scale (in base 2) the missing point would be 4. I figured this is worth pointing out as I recently reviewed a paper where a legend for a raster image (pretty sure ArcGIS was the culprit) only had the end points labeled.

Doumont also has a bunch of advice about writing that I will need to periodically reread. In general one point is that the first sentence of either a section (or paragraph) should be declarative as to the point of that section. Sometimes folks lead with fluff that is only revealed to be related to the material later on in the section.

My writing and work will definitely not live up to Doumont’s standard, but it is a goal I believe scientists should strive for.

Downloading and reading in American Community Survey Data: Python and SPSS

I had a prior blog post on working with American Community Survey data in SPSS. The meta-data format has changed from that example though, and the Census gives out comma separated files and xls Templates now. So this will be an update, and I have good stuff for those working strictly in python, as well as those wanting to load the data is SPSS.

So first, when downloading the small geographies from the Census’s FTP site, they have a ton of files. See this page, which contains the 5 year estimates for 2014 for New York block groups and tracts. Now instead of downloading each zip file one by one, we can write a quick python script to download all the files.

import urllib, os

downFold = r'C:\Users\axw161530\Dropbox\Documents\BLOG\ACS_Python_SPSS\Data'
base = r'http://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/summary_file/2014/data/5_year_seq_by_state/NewYork/Tracts_Block_Groups_Only/'

for i in range(1,5):  #change range(1,5) to range(1,122) to download all zip files
    file = "20145ny0" + str(i).zfill(3) + "000.zip"
    urllib.urlretrieve(base + file, os.path.join(downFold,file))

#also download the geography file
urllib.urlretrieve(base + "g20145ny.csv", os.path.join(downFold,"g20145ny.csv"))

The downFold string is where the files will be downloaded to (so change that to a place on your local machine), and the base string ends up being the base URL for that particular set of files. The files go from 1 to 121 in that example, but just to keep the time down I only download tables one through four. The second urlib.urlretrieve line downloads the geography csv file (we won’t be using the other geography file, which is the same data but in tab delimited format).

Now we can go and download the meta data excel file shells. For this dataset they are located here. Here we want the 5 year templates. Once that data is downloaded, then unzip all of the files. You could technically do this in python as well, but I just use 7zip, as that has a handy dialog to unzip multiple files to the same place.

So the way the files work, there are a set of estimate and margin of error text files that are comma delimited that have the demographic characteristics. (Here for all block groups and census tracts in New York.) The xls excel files contain the variable names, along with a brief description for the variables.

If you are a hipster and only do data analysis in python, here is a function that takes the location to a xls template file and the corresponding data file and reads it into a pandas data frame.

#this reads in american community survey data
import xlrd
import pandas as pd

def readACS(Template,Data):
    book = xlrd.open_workbook(Template) #first open the xls workbook
    sh = book.sheet_by_index(0)
    vars = [i.value for i in sh.row(0)] #names on the first row
    labs = [i.value for i in sh.row(1)] #labels on the second
    #this rewrites duplicate 'BLANK' names, mangle dups not working for me
    n = 0
    vars2 = []
    for i in range(len(vars)):
        if vars[i] == 'BLANK':
            n += 1
            vars2.append('BLANK.' + str(n))
    #check for if geo file or data file
    if vars2[1] == 'FILETYPE':
        df = pd.read_csv(Data,names=vars2,dtype={'FILETYPE':'object'})
        df = pd.read_csv(Data,names=vars2)
    return df,zip(vars2,labs)

In a nutshell, it reads the metadata column names and labels from the excel spreadsheet, then reads in the csv file with the data. It returns two objects, the one on the left is a pandas dataframe, and the one on the right is a zipped up list of the variable names and the variable labels. This would be a bit simpler, except that the format for the geo dataset is a little different than all the data files and contains multiple “BLANK” fields (the mangle_dupe_cols option in read_csv is not behaving like I expect it to). For the non-geographic file, I need to tell python the filetype column is a string, else it interprets the “e” in the estimate files as a scientific number (e.g. 1e5 = 100,000).

So here is an example of using this function to grab the second table. When I unzipped the excel templates, it nested the data templates in another subfolder, hence the TemplateFold string.

TemplateFold = downFold + r'\seq'
Tab002,Meta002 = readACS(TemplateFold + r'\Seq2.xls',downFold + r'\e20145ny0002000.txt')

If you want to check out all the variable labels, you can then do:

for i in Meta002:
    print i 

Or if you want to turn that into a dictionary you can simply do dict(Meta002). If you wanted to import all 121 tables and merge them you should be able to figure that out in a simple loop from here (note the “x.zfill(n)” function to pad the integers with leading zeroes). But I typically only work with a select few tables and variables at a time, so I won’t worry about that here.

The function works the same with the geographic data and its template. (Which that metadata template is not nested in the further down seq folder.)

GeoDat,MetaGeo = readACS(downFold + r'\2014_SFGeoFileTemplate.xls',downFold + r'\g20145ny.csv')

Note if you are working with both the estimates and the margin of error files, you may want to put somewhere in the code to change the variable names to signify that, such as by putting a suffix of “e” or “m”. If you just work with the estimates though you don’t need to worry about that.

Reading ACS data into SPSS

For those working in SPSS, I’ve shown previously how to turn python data into SPSS data. I’ve started working on a function to make this simpler with pandas dataframes, but I will hold off on that for now (need to figure out datetimes and NaN’s). So what I did here was grab the meta-data from the template xls file (same as before), but from that build the necessary DATA LIST command in SPSS, and then just submit the command. SPSS has the added benefit of having native meta-data fields, so I can also add in the variable labels. Also, this only uses the xlrd library, in case you do not have access to pandas. (I point SPSS to Anaconda, instead of worrying about using pip with the native SPSS python install.)

So in SPSS, you would first define this function

*This just builds the necessary SPSS program to read in the american community survey data.
#creating my own function to read in data
import xlrd, spss
def OpenACS(Template,Data):
  book = xlrd.open_workbook(Template)
  sh = book.sheet_by_index(0)
  vars = [i.value for i in sh.row(0)]
  labs = [i.value for i in sh.row(1)]
  #this rewrites duplicate 'BLANK' names, mangle dups not working for me
  n = 0
  vars2 = []
  for i in range(len(vars)):
    if vars[i] == 'BLANK':
      n += 1
      vars2.append('BLANK.' + str(n))
    #check for if geo file or data file
  if vars2[1] == 'FILETYPE':  #regular data
    ncols = sh.ncols - 6 #need the end of the number of variables
    ext =  ' (' + str(ncols) + 'F7.0)'
    v2 = '\n '.join(vars2[6:])
    Tab = Data[-10:-7] #Names the dataset based on the table number
  else: #geo data file
    ncols = sh.ncols
    ext =  ' (' + str(ncols) + 'A255)' #255 should be big enough to fit whatever str
    v1 = " / "
    v2 = '\n '.join(vars2)
    Tab = "Geo"
  #this sets errors off, implicit missing data for block groups
  #now creating the import program to read in the data
  begin = "DATA LIST LIST(',') FILE = '%s'" % (Data)
  full_str = begin + v1 + v2 + ext + "\n."
  #now reading in the dataset
  #assigning a dataset name
  datName = "DATASET NAME Table" + Tab + "." 
  #now adding in the variable labels
  for i,j in zip(vars2,labs):
    #replaces double quotes with single quotes in label
    strVal = """VARIABLE LABELS %s "%s".""" % (i,j.replace('"',"'"))
  if Tab == "Geo":
    spss.Submit("ALTER TYPE ALL (A = AMIN).")

Again this is much shorter if I only needed to worry about the data files and not the geo file, but that slight formatting difference is a bit of a pain. Here I use the errors off trick to suppress the data list errors for missing data (which is intended, as not all of the data is available at the block group level). But you will still get error messages in the SPSS syntax bottom section. They can be ignored if it is the “insufficient data” warning.

Here is an example of using this python function now to read the data into SPSS. This automatically assigns a dataset name, either based on the Table number, or “Geo” for the geographic data.

*Now reading in the data files I want.
downFold = r'C:\Users\axw161530\Dropbox\Documents\BLOG\ACS_Python_SPSS\Data'
TemplateFold = downFold + r'\seq'

#reading in Data file, table number 2
OpenACS(TemplateFold + r'\Seq2.xls',downFold + r'\e20145ny0002000.txt')

#reading in Geo file
OpenACS(downFold + r'\2014_SFGeoFileTemplate.xls',downFold + r'\g20145ny.csv')

And Voila, there is your small area American Community Survey data in SPSS. This will produce two different datasets, “Table002” and “TableGeo” that can be merged together via MATCH FILES.

Let me know in the comments if you have already worked out a function to turn pandas dataframes into SPSS datasets.

Paper – Replicating Group Based Trajectory Models of Crime at Micro-Places in Albany, NY published

My article on estimating crime trajectories in Albany from 2000 through 2014 has been published in the latest issue of JQC.

That link is permanent, but Springer gifts me a temporary free pdf link for everyone for up to four weeks. So grab that if you are interested.

Also note though that I have the pre-print posted on SSRN. Since that is Albany PD’s data, I cannot provide code to replicate the analysis. But, I have produced a series of blog posts showing to to replicate the trajectory and the point pattern analysis on your own data if you are interested, see

Here is the cross Ripley’s L plot testing for clustering between the different trajectory groupings.

Also always feel free to send me an email if you have questions about the findings and paper.

ASC 2016 – Quantifying the Local and Spatial Effects of Alcohol Outlets on Crime

This year at the American Society of Criminology I will be presenting some work from my dissertation, Quantifying the Local and Spatial Effects of Alcohol Outlets on Crime. I have the working paper posted on SSRN, and that also has a link to download data and code to reproduce the findings in the paper.

I will be presenting at the panel Alcohol and Crime on Wednesday at 9:30 (at the Cambridge room on the 2nd level).

Here is the abstract:

This paper estimates the relationship between alcohol outlets and crime at micro place street units in Washington, D.C. Three specific additions to this voluminous literature are articulated. First, the diffusion effect of alcohol outlets is larger than the local effect. This has important implications for crime prevention. The second is that in this sample the effects of on-premise and off-premise outlets are very similar in magnitude. I argue this is evidence in favor of routine activities theory, in opposition to theories which emphasize individual alcohol consumption. The final is that alcohol outlets have large effects on burglary, despite the fact that alcohol outlets cannot increase the number of vulnerable targets, as it can with interpersonal crimes. I discuss how this can either be interpreted as evidence that alcohol outlets self-select into already crime prone areas, or potentially that the presence of motivated offenders’ matters much more than increasing the number of potential victims.

The most interesting finding is the fact that I estimate the diffusion effect of alcohol outlets is larger than the local effect. I then show that this is the case for some other papers as well, it is just interpreting the regression model is tricky. Here is a diagram showing what happens. The idea is the regression coefficient for the spatial lag is one orange dot, and the local effect is the blue dot. Adding a bar though diffuses to multiple places, so when adding up all the smaller orange dots, they result in more crime than the one bigger blue dot.

Some inverse distance weighting hacks – using R and spatstat

For a recent project I was mapping survey responses to attitudes towards the police, and I wanted to make a map of those responses. The typical default to accomplish this is inverse distance weighting. For those familiar with hot spot maps of crime, this is similar in that is produces a smooth isarithmic map, but instead of being a density it predicts values. For my project I wanted to explore two different things; 1) estimating the variance of the IDW estimate, and 2) explore different weighting schemes besides the default inverse distance. The R code for my functions and data for analysis can be downloaded here.

What is inverse distance weighting?

Since this isn’t typical fodder for social scientists, I will present a simple example to illustrate.

Imagine you are a farmer and want to know where to plant corn vs. soy beans, and are using the nitrogen content of the soil to determine that. You take various samples from a field and measure the nitrogen content, but you want predictions for the areas you did not sample. So say we have four measures at various points in the field.

Nit     X   Y
1.2     0   0
2.1     0   5
2.6    10   2
1.5     6   5

From this lets say we want to estimate average nitrogen content at the center, 5 and 5. Inverse distance weighting is just as the name says, the weight to estimate the average nitrogen content at the center is based on the distance between the sample point and the center. Most often people use the distance squared as the weight. So from this we have as the weights.

Nit     X   Y Weight
1.2     0   0   1/50
2.1     0   5   1/25
2.6    10   2   1/34
1.5     6   5   1/ 1

You can see the last row is the closest point, so gets the largest weight. The weighted average of nitrogen for the 5,5 point ends up being ~1.55.

For inverse distance weighted maps, one then makes a series of weighted estimates at a regular grid over the study space. So not just an estimate at 5,5, but also 5,4|5,3|5,2 etc. And then you have a regular grid of values you can plot.

Example – Street Clean Scores in LA

An ok example to demonstrate this is an LA database rating streets based on their cleanliness. Some might quibble about it only makes sense to estimate street cleanliness values on streets, but I think it is ok for exploratory data analysis. Just visualizing the streets is very hard given their small width and irregularity.

So to follow along, first I load all the libraries I will be using, then set my working directory, and finally import my updated inverse distance weighted hacked functions I will be using.


MyDir <- "C:\\Users\\axw161530\\Dropbox\\Documents\\BLOG\\IDW_Variance_Bisquare\\ExampleAnalysis"

#My updated idw functions

Next we need to create an point pattern object spatstat can work with, so we import our street scores that contain an X and Y coordinate for the midpoint of the street segment, as well as the boundary of the city of Los Angeles. Then we can create a marked point pattern. For reference, the street scores can range from 0 (clean) to a max of 3 (dirty).

CleanStreets <- read.csv("StreetScores.csv",header=TRUE)
BorderLA <- readOGR("CityBoundary.shp", layer="CityBoundary")

#create Spatstat object and window
LA_Win <- as.owin(BorderLA)
LA_StreetPP <- ppp(CleanStreets$XMidPoint,CleanStreets$YMidPoint, window=LA_Win, marks=CleanStreets$StreetScor)

Now we can estimate a smooth inverse distance weighted map by calling my new function, idw2. This returns both the original weighted mean (equivalent to the original spatstat idw argument), but also returns the variance. Here I plot them side by side (see the end of the blog post on how I calculate the variance). The weighted mean is on the left, and the variance estimate is on the right. For the functions the rat image is the weighted mean, and the var image is the weighted variance.

#Typical inverse distance weighted estimate
idw_res <- idw2(LA_StreetPP) #only takes a minute
plot(idw_res$rat) #this is the weighted mean
plot(idw_res$var) #this is the weighted variance

So contrary to expectations, this does not provide a very smooth map. It is quite rough. This is partially because social science data is not going to be as regular as natural science measurements. In spatial stats jargon street to street measures will have a large nugget – a clean street can be right next to a dirty one.

Here the default is using inverse distance squared – what if we just use inverse distance though?

#Inverse distance (linear)
idw_Lin <- idw2(LA_StreetPP, power=1)

This is smoothed out a little more. There is essentially one dirty spot in the central eastern part of the city (I don’t know anything about LA neighborhoods). Compared to the first set of maps, the dirty streets in the northern mass of the city are basically entirely smoothed out, whereas before you could at least see little spikes.

So I was wondering if there could maybe be better weights we could choose to smooth out the data a little better. One I have used in a few recent projects is the bisquare kernel, which I was introduced by the geographically weighted regression folks. The bisquare kernel weight equals [1 - (d/b)^2]^2, when d < b and zero otherwise. Here d is the distance, and b is a user chosen distance threshold. We can make a plot to illustrate the difference in weight functions, here using a bisquare kernel distance of 2000 meters.

#example weight functions over 3000 meters
dist <- 1:3000
idw1 <- 1/dist
idw2 <- 1/(dist^2)
b <- 2000
bisq <- ifelse(dist < b, ( 1 - (dist/b)^2 )^2, 0)

Here you can see both of the inverse distance weighted lines trail to zero almost immediately, whereas the bisquare kernel trails off much more slowly. So lets check out our maps using a bisquare kernel with the distance threshold set to 2000 meters. The biSqW function is equivalent to the original spatstat idw function, but uses the bisquare kernel and returns the variance estimate as well. You just need to pass it a distance threshold for the b_dist parameter.

#BiSquare weighting, 2000 meter distance
LA_bS_w <- biSqW(LA_StreetPP, b_dist=2000)

Here we get a map that looks more like a typical hot spot kernel density map. We can see some of the broader trends in the northern part of the city, and even see a really dirty hot spot I did not previously notice in the northeastern peninsula.

The 2,000 meter distance threshold was just ad-hoc though. How large or small should it be? A quick check of the spatial correlogram is one way to make it slightly more objective. Here I use the correlog function in the ncf package to estimate this. I subsample the data first (I presume it has a call to dist somewhere).

#correleogram, random sample, it is too big
subSamp <- CleanStreets[sample(nrow(CleanStreets), 3000), ]
fit <- correlog(x=subSamp$XMidPoint,y=subSamp$YMidPoint,z=subSamp$StreetScor, increment=100, resamp=0, quiet=TRUE)

Here we can see points very nearby each other have a correlation of 0.2, and then this trails off into zero before 20 kilometers (the distances here are in meters). FYI the rising back up in correlation for very large distances often occurs for data that have broader spatial trends.

So lets try out a bisquare kernel with a distance threshold of 10 kilometers.

#BiSquare weighting, 10000 meter distance
LA_bS_w <- biSqW(LA_StreetPP, b_dist=10000)

That is now a bit oversmoothed. But it allows a nicer range of potential values, as oppossed to simply sticking with the inverse distance weighting.

A few notes on the variance of IDW

So I hacked the idw function in the spatstat package to return the variance of the estimate as well as the actual weighted mean. This involved going into the C function, so I use the inline package to create my own version. Ditto for creating the maps using the bisquare weights instead of inverse distance weighting. To quick see those functions here is the R code.

Given some harassment on Crossvalidated by Mark Stone, I also updated the algorithm to be a more numerically safe one, both for the weighted mean and the weighted variance. Note though that that Wikipedia article has a special definition for the variance. The correct Bessel correction for weighted data though (in this case) is the sum of the weights (V1) minus the sum of square of the weights (V2) divided by V1. Here I just divide by V1, but that could easily be changed (not sure if in the sum of squares I need to worry about underflow). I.e. change the line MAT(var, ix, iy, Ny) = m2 / sumw; to MAT(var, ix, iy, Ny) = m2 / (sumw - sumw/sumw2); in the various C calls.

Someone should also probably write in a check to prevent distances of zero. Maybe by capping the weights to never be above a certain value, although that is not trivial what the default top value should be. (If you have data on the unit square weights above 1 would occur quite regularly, but for a large city like this projected in meters capping the weight at 1 would be fine.)

In general these variance maps did not behave like I expected them to, either with this or other data. When using Bessel’s correction they tended to look even weirder. So I would need to explore some more before I go and recommend them. Probably should not waste more time on this though, and just fit an actual kriging model though to produce the standard error of the estimates.

A principled approach to conducting subgroup analysis

Social scientists often have a problem when conducting analysis — we have theories that are not tightly coupled to actual measures of individual behavior. A response to this is to often conduct models of many different, interrelated measures. This can be either as outcome variables, e.g. if I know poverty predicts all crimes, does poverty predict both violent crime and property crime at the city level? Or as explanatory variables, e.g. does being a minority reduce your chances of getting a job interview, or does it matter the type of minority you are — e.g. Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, etc.

Another situation is conducting analysis among different units of analysis, e.g. see if a treatment has a different effect for males or females, or see if a treatment works well in one country, but does not work well in another. Or if I find that a policy intervention works at the city level, are the effects in all areas of the city, or in just some neighborhoods?

On its face, these may seem like all unique problems. They are not, they are all different variants of subgroup analysis. In my dissertation in trying to identify situations in which you need to use small geographic spatial units of analysis, I realized that the logic behind choosing a geographic unit of analysis is the same as these different subgroup analyses. I more succinctly outline my logic in this article, but I will try it in a blog post as well.

I am what I would call a "reductionist social scientist". In plain terms, if we fit a model:

Y = B*X

we can always get more specific, either in terms of explanatory variables:

Y = b1*x1 + b2*x2, where X = x1 + x2

Or in terms of the outcome:

y1 = b1*X
y2 = b2*X, where Y = y1 + y2

Hubert Blalock talks about this in his causal inferences book. I think many social scientists are reductionists in this sense, we can always estimate more specific explanatory variables, or more specific outcomes, or within different subgroups, ad nauseam. Thus the problem is not should we conduct analysis in some particular subgroup, but when should we be satisfied that the aggregate effect we estimate is good enough, or at least not misleading.

So remember this when we are evaluating a model, the aggregate effect is a function of the sub-group effects. In linear models the math is easy, which I show some examples in my linked paper, but the logic generally holds for non-linear models as well. So when should we be ok with the aggregate level effect? We should be ok with the aggregate effect if we expect the direction and size of the effects in the subgroups to be similar. We should not be ok if the effects are countervailing in the subgroups, or if the magnitude of the differences is very large.

For some simplistic examples, if we go with our job interview for minorities relative to whites example:

Prob(Job Interview) = 0.5 + 0*(Minority)

So here the effect is zero, minorities have the same probability as white individuals, 50%. But lets say we estimate an effect for different minority categories:

Prob(Job Interview) = 0.5 + 0.3(Asian) - 0.3(Black)

Our aggregate effect for minorities is zero, because it is positive for Asian’s and negative for Black individuals, and in the aggregate these two effects cancel out. That is one situation in which we should be worried.

Now how about the effect of poverty on crime:

All Crime = 5*(Percent in Poverty)

Versus different subsets of crime, violent and property.

Violent Crime = 3*(Percent in Poverty)
Property Crime = 2*(Percent in Poverty)

Here we can see that the subgroups contribute to the total, but the effect for property is slightly less than that for violent crime. Here the aggregate effect is not misleading, but the micro level effect may be theoretically interesting.

For the final areas, lets say we do a gun buy back program, and we estimate the reduction in shootings at the city wide level. So lets say we estimate the number of shootings per month:

Shootings in the City = 10 - 5*(Gun Buy Back)

So we say the gun buy back reduced 5 shootings per month. Maybe we think the reduction is restricted to certain areas of the city. For simplicity, say this city only has two neighborhoods, North and South. So we estimate the effect of the gun buy back in these two neighborhoods:

Shootings in the North Neighborhood = 9 - 5*(Gun Buy Back)
Shootings in the South Neighborhood = 1 - 0*(Gun Buy Back)

Here we find the program only reduced shootings in the North neighborhood, it had no appreciable effects in the south neighborhood. The aggregate city level effect is not misleading, we can just be more specific about decomposing that effect to different areas.

Here I will relate this to some of my recent work — using 311 calls for service to predict crime at micro places in DC.

In a nutshell, I’ve fit models of the form:

Crime = B*(311 Calls for Service)

And I found that 311 calls have a positive, but small, effect on crime.

Over time, either at presentations in person or in peer review, I’ve gotten three different "subgroup" critiques. These are:

  • I think you cast the net too wide in 311 calls, e.g. "bulk collections" should not be included
  • I think you shouldn’t aggregate all crime on the left hand side, e.g. I think the effect is mostly for robberies
  • I think you shouldn’t estimate one effect for the entire city, e.g. I think these signs of disorder matter more in some neighborhoods than others

Now, these are all reasonable questions, but does it call into question my main aggregate finding? Not at all.

For the casting the net too wide for 311 calls, do you think that bulk collections have a negative relationship to crime? Unlikely. (I’ve eliminated them from my current article due to one reviewer complaint, but to be honest I think they should be included. Seeing a crappy couch on the street is not much different than seeing garbage.)

For all crime on the left hand side, do you think 311 calls have a negative effect on some crimes, but a positive effect on others? Again, unlikely. It may be the case that it has larger effects on some than others, but it does not mean the effect on all crime is misleading. So what if it is larger for robberies than others, you can go and build a theory about why that is the case and test it.

For the one estimate in different parts of the city, do you think it has a negative effect in some parts, and a positive effect in others? Again, unlikely. It may be some areas the effect is larger, but overall we expect it to be positive or zero in all areas of the city. The aggregate city wide effect is not likely to be misleading.

These are all fine for future research question, but I get frustrated when these are given as reasoning to critique my current findings. They don’t invalidate the aggregate findings at all.

In response to this, you may think, well why not conduct all these subgroup analyses – whats the harm? There are a few different harms to conducting these subgroup analyses willy-nilly. They are all related to chasing the noise and interpreting it.

For each of these subgroups, you will have smaller power to estimate effects than the aggregate. Say I test the effect of each individual 311 call type (there are near 30 that I sum together). Simply by chance some of these will have null effects or slightly negative effects and all will be small by themselves. I have no apriori reason to think some have a different effect than others, the theory behind why they are related to crime at all (Broken Windows) does not distinguish between them.

This often ends up being a catch-22 in peer review. You do more specific analysis, by chance a coefficient goes in the wrong direction, and the reviewer interprets it as your measures and/or model is bunk. In reality they are just over-interpreting noise.

That is in response to reviewers, but what about you conducting subgroup analysis on your own? Here you have to worry about the garden-of-forking paths. Say I conducted the subgroup analysis for different types of crime outcomes, and they are all in the same direction except for thefts from auto. I then report all of the results except for thefts from auto, because that does not confirm my theory. This is large current problem in reproducing social science findings — a subgroup analysis may seem impressive, but you have to worry about which results the researcher cherry picked.

This only reporting confirmatory evidence for some subgroups will always be a problem in data analysis — not even pre-registration of your data plan will solve it. Thus, you should only do subgroup analysis if there is strong theoretical reasoning you think the aggregate effect is misleading. You should simply plan a new study on its own to assess different subgroups from the start if you think differences may be theoretically interesting.

Given some of the reviews I received for the 311 paper, I am stuffing many of these subgroup analyses in Appendices just to preempt reviewer critique. (Ditto for my paper on alcohol outlets and crime I will be presenting at ASC in a few weeks, that will be up on SSRN likely next week.) I don’t think it is the right thing to do though, again I think it is mostly noise mining, but perpetually nit-picky reviewers have basically forced me to do it.