Statement Regarding PolicyMap’s Practice of Dark Arts

Fridays have become a lot more fun at PolicyMap, thanks to Christopher Ingraham and the Washington Post’s Wonkblog. His new weekly feature, “Name That Data” has struck a competitive chord in us we didn’t know we had. In Name That Data, Wonkblog posts a map of something in the United States, and the participants have to guess what the map is showing.

Last week, Ingraham awarded us the title of Data Wizards/Ninjas/Unicorns/Whatevs for guessing a map of the rate of people who have never been married. This week, we were ready, checking Wonkblog all day on Friday waiting for the latest Name That Data entry to be posted. At around noon, we sprung into action, and once again, found the answer most expeditiously. So expeditiously, in fact, that Ingraham suggested that we were working with the aid of dark arts to derive our answer.


Did we use dark arts? Believe me, I tried. But our fearless leader, Maggie McCullough, found the right map by intuition before I could even light the candles.

As you might imagine, we have a pretty deep database of geographic data over here. As soon as the map was posted, I delved into our internal Census database, looking for the right number. In a victory for fair play, however, my cheating-ish search came up empty. So we went back to, you know, looking at the map.

Our first thought was, this probably isn’t Census data, since the post hints that it’s a rate of something (not of people). The next thing that struck us was the stark contrasts that existed at some state borders, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Iowa and Illinois. This is usually a sign that the data is collected by the states, or is somehow influenced by differences in state laws. I suggested that it might the amount deducted on tax returns for state and local taxes. And seconds later, Maggie had it: Percent of tax returns with the student loan deduction.

Kudos to Wonkblog commentator RP_McMurphy, who used a similar line of thought to come up with a close guess, and was declared this week’s Data Wizard/Ninja/Unicorn/Whatevs.

So with two weeks of awards under our belts, do we plan on retiring from this game? Not a chance. But in the interest of fair play, we pledge not to use dark arts/our database to get the answer, as devious as that would be.