The other night I had a minor but perhaps brilliant idea. What if there were a correlation between the number of prisons in a state and that state's incarceration rate? Perhaps the more prisons there are, the greater the political influences that play in a state, leading to more people locked up! Prison-Industrial-Complex shit I'm talking about!
Of course, bigger states would have more prisons, but that's the beauty of stats: they can take population into account and just compare the number of prisons with a state's incarceration, holding population constant.
So I found and put every state's incarceration rate into an SPSS file. Then I added the state's population. Finally I used wiki to get a decent number for the number prison institutions in each and every state.
Then a crunched the numbers and found... uh, there's no correlation. So I tortured the data a bit (maybe it only works for the highest and lowest levels of incarceration!). No dice. No brilliant idea. No publishable paper. Just a waste of a few hours that would have better been spent writing.