• Audio
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

The Joy Of Stats: Why you might go up a hill, but come down a crime victim

Updated Thursday 25th November 2010

 Plotting San Francisco's crimes onto a topographical map revealed a surprising factor in crime rates: where you are on a hill.


Copyright The Open University


Copyright The Open University


Hans Rosling: My mission is to inspire people everywhere with the power and insights that statistics can bring to us all. Today, in our age of open government, the possibilities are greater than ever because more and more official data is now accessible to all of us.

The City of San Francisco is blazing a trail, opening up its data on practically everything. Even the Police Department is releasing all its crime reports.

Designers Mike Magoski and Eric Rodenbeck have created an interactive map to both analyse and visualise San Francisco’s crime data.

Michal Migurski: Crime Spotting is a map of crime reports from the San Francisco Police Department showing, you know, dots on maps for citizens to be able to see patterns of crime around their neighbourhoods in San Francisco.

The map is not about just individual crimes but about broader patterns that show you where a crime is clustered around the City, which areas have high crime and which areas have relatively low crime.

Eric Rodenbeck: We’re here at the top of Jones Street on Nob Hill - quite a nice neighbourhood. What the crime maps show us is the relationship between topography and crime. Basically the higher up the hill the less crime there is.

Cross over the border, into the flats. Essentially, as soon as you get into the kind of lower lying areas of Jones Street the crime just sky rockets.

So we’re here in the uptown Tenderloin district. It’s one of the oldest and densest neighbourhoods in San Francisco. This is where you go to buy drugs, right around here.

You see lots of aggravated assaults, lots of auto thefts. Basically a huge part of the crime that happens in the City happens right in this five or six block radius.

Hans Rosling: If you’ve been hearing police sirens in your neighbourhood you can use the map to find out why. If you are out at night in an unfamiliar part of town you can check the map for streets to avoid. If a neighbour gets burgled you can see is it a one-off or has there been a spike in local crime.

Michal Migurski: If you commute through a neighbourhood and you’re worried about its safety the fact that we have the ability to turn off all the night time and middle of the day crimes and show you just the things that are happening during the commute is a statistical operation. But I think to people that are interacting with the thing it feels very much more like they’re just sort of browsing a website or shopping on Amazon. They’re looking at data and they don’t realise they’re doing statistics.

Hans Rosling: What’s most exciting for me is that public statistics is making citizens more powerful and the authorities more accountable.

Chris Vein: We have community meetings that the police attend and what citizens are now doing are bringing printouts of the maps that show where crimes are taking place, and they’re demanding services from the Police Department, and the Police Department is now having to change how they police, how they provide policing services, because the data is showing what is working and what is not.

Hans Rosling: What’s happening with the crime data here is a sign of things to come. The relationship between government and citizens will change wherever countries join the free data revolution.

Eric Rodenbeck: I think our dream government data analysis project would really be focused on live information, on stuff that was being reported and pushed out to the world over the internet as it was happening. You know, trash pick-ups, traffic accidents, buses, and I think through the kind of stats gathering power of the internet it’s possible to really begin to see the workings of a city displayed as a unified interface.

Hans Rosling: To find out more about the Joy of Stats visit the Open University’s OpenLearn website.

More Joy Of Stats

Have you got a passion for statistics?

Find out about how you can study statistics with The Open University - and try the StatsChoices website to create your path through study.


Hans Rosling talk at TED
San Francisco Crimespotting


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Giving trees the open data treatment Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Thomas Jenkins | Dreamstime.com article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Giving trees the open data treatment

Discover some unlikely open data releases that are opening up opportunities for innovation and adventure around our towns and cities.

The Met: Episode three Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The Met: Episode three

Trident, the Met's specialist gang unit, tackle drug dealers in South London and knife crime in this episode of BBC/OU's The Met. 

The Met: Episode two Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The Met: Episode two

Mistaken identity leaves a young father dead and police struggle to find the killer in the second episode of The Met. 

Psychological drama: Writing fictional crime drama for a forensic psychology course Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Micha Klootwijk | Dreamstime.com article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Psychological drama: Writing fictional crime drama for a forensic psychology course

For Graham Pike, writing psychology courses is part of the job. But what happened when he found himself having to create a crime drama?

Race and hate crime go unreported because people believe police will do little Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Catherine Pain article icon

Society, Politics & Law 

Race and hate crime go unreported because people believe police will do little

As UKIP's European election campaign increasingly targets minorities and migrants, tens of thousands of race hate crimes are going unreported, writes Dick Skellington.

OU on the BBC: The Virtual Revolution Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

OU on the BBC: The Virtual Revolution

Presented by Doctor Aleks Krotoski, and developed in partnership with the audience through a mix of social networking sites, The Virtual Revolution (or, The Digital Revolution as it was known while it was being made) takes a fresh look at how the virtual world is shaping the way we live now. And where we might be heading next.

Chasing Perfection - Trailer Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Channel 4/OU video icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Chasing Perfection - Trailer

Get on your marks with the trailer for new OU/Channel 4 series Chasing Perfection.

5 mins
Family Ties: Summary Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

Family Ties: Summary

Using the internet for genealogy.

OU on the BBC: Escape from the Boardroom Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

OU on the BBC: Escape from the Boardroom

Five high-ranking executives from around the globe head to the front lines of their organisations in a bid to better understand their company, staff and customers.