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Posted by Harry Enten

The final Subway Series contest of the 2017 season takes place this evening at Citi Field, and if you put on the game, you might get the impression that the Yankees and Mets have a big-time rivalry going. It’s not that way for most baseball fans, however. The numbers show that only a minority actually like one team but not the other, while far more people hold the same opinion of both teams (good or bad) or just don’t care about one or both. In other words, most fans will probably be fine no matter the outcome tonight.

That’s according to data from a combination of two FiveThirtyEight-commissioned SurveyMonkey Audience polls conducted in June and July. SurveyMonkey asked baseball fans across the country how they felt — whether they had a favorable view, an unfavorable view or didn’t know enough to say — about each MLB team. Here, we’re examining a subset of that data, totaling 321 baseball fans who were asked specifically about the Mets and Yankees.

Of those, many fans (29 percent) held a favorable view of both the Mets and the Yankees. It’s not just that a fairly high percentage liked both teams. It’s that if you like one team, it actually increases your chance of liking the other team. While just 49 percent of the overall subsample held a favorable view of the Mets, 66 percent of fans who viewed the Yankees favorably felt the same way about the Mets. And a similar story holds in reverse. Only 44 percent of the fans in our subsample held a favorable view of the Yankees, but that percentage jumped to 59 percent among fans who held a favorable view of the Mets.

While the idea that someone could simultaneously like the Mets and the Yankees is unthinkable to this Yankee hater, it actually makes a lot of sense. Fans often root for the hometown team, whether it be in their city or even their state. So it’s not unreasonable to say you like both the Mets and the Yankees because they are both from New York. Indeed, among our subsample who live in New York state, the Mets and Yankees sport a 71 percent and a 67 percent favorable rating, respectively.

At the other end of the spectrum, 21 percent of baseball fans dislike both franchises. So that means 50 percent of baseball fans either like both the Yankees and Mets, or dislike both — not quite what you’d expect from a heated rivalry where battle lines are drawn and allegiances sworn. In fact, disliking the Mets or the Yankees actually makes one less apt to like the other team as well. The Mets sport just a 41 percent favorable rating among those who dislike the Yankees, 8 points below their overall favorable rating. And the Yankees do even worse among fans who dislike the Mets, with a 33 percent favorable rating — far below their 44 percent favorable mark overall.

Again, part of this may just have to do with disliking a city or a state. As an illustration of this, the Mets and Yankees sport favorable ratings of just 40 percent and 30 percent among our subsample that hailed from New England. New England, of course, is a natural geographic rival of New York.

Still, there are some people who do like the Mets and dislike the Yankees, and vice versa. One-fifth (20 percent) of fans hold a favorable view of the Mets and an unfavorable view of the Yankees. Meanwhile, 11 percent of fans hold a favorable view of the Yankees but an unfavorable view of the Mets. These fans, however, total only about a third of our subsample. That’s not much more than the 20 percent of fans who hold no opinion of at least one (if not both) teams.

Don’t tell that to the New Yorkers in the stands, jawing at each other about the two ballclubs. But the bottom line is that most baseball fans around the country won’t have much of anything on the line in tonight’s Subway Series finale.

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Posted by Clare Malone and Dhrumil Mehta

While news from Charlottesville, Virginia, has dominated media coverage in recent days, it was only a short while ago that Americans were Googling the projected trajectory of intercontinental missiles launched from North Korea and fretting about the prospect of war. In late July, North Korea tested a missile that experts believe is capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States, and in August it was reported that the country had also figured out how to miniaturize nuclear weapons to fit on these missiles. In unscripted remarks at an event on the domestic opioid crisis, President Trump said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Americans have long perceived North Korea as a threat, but more acutely so in the last few weeks, according to recent polling. That renews the relevance of questions about the prudence of military action, the public’s tolerance for a looming specter of nuclear conflict, and Trump’s ability to lead effectively in a moment of crisis.

Recent events have left Americans demonstrably shaken. A CNN poll shows that in March of this year, 48 percent of Americans saw North Korea as a “very serious threat” to the U.S., but by early August, that number had reached 62 percent. That puts North Korea on par with the threat posed by ISIS in American minds: 64 percent of those asked in the same August poll viewed the terrorist organization as a very serious threat.1

Right now, North Korea worries Americans more than Iran does; 33 percent said Iran was a very serious threat. This is a change from September of 2015, when 49 percent of people saw Iran as a very serious threat and 37 percent said the same about North Korea.

But Americans have long feared the North Korean regime. Back in 2003, the year North Korea pulled out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, a Gallup poll found that 60 percent of people in the U.S. thought the Kim regime’s weapons capabilities were a “major problem.”

The rhetoric Trump used to talk about North Korea might be exacerbating Americans’ worries. Threatening “fire and fury” against a nuclear-armed, anti-American dictatorship is apt to keep some people up at night, particularly when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would consider an attack on Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific.

A recent Marist University poll, conducted in the days following Trump and Kim’s comments, found that only 19 percent of Americans have a “great deal of confidence” in the president’s ability to lead the nation in an international crisis, and 76 percent preferred the U.S. pursue non-military options. In the past few days, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 68 percent of people favored negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear program, though 52 percent of respondents thought Trump wasn’t just talking tough and actually meant to attack the dictatorship.

But what happens if diplomacy doesn’t work? Americans remain nervous about the likelihood of a nuclear strike by North Korea. While an August CBS poll found that most people — 68 percent — think North Korea is just posturing and isn’t actually planning a strike, a July poll from Bloomberg found that 55 percent think there’s a realistic chance that North Korea could launch a nuclear attack in the next several years. For historical context, in 1982, a Los Angeles Times poll showed that 63 percent of Americans thought that the Russians would be willing to start a nuclear war. Americans might have felt the chill of the Cold War creeping back into their collective consciousness this month.

When asked how the U.S. should approach efforts to end tensions with international adversaries over the nuclear issue, Americans have tended to favor nonproliferation agreements, though the negotiations with Iran during the Obama era were more controversial with the public; a Gallup poll from February 2016 found that 57 percent of people disapproved of that agreement.

That might be in part be because Americans rarely seem to trust an adversary to uphold their end of a bargain. Eighty percent of respondents to a 2015 Fox News poll said that Iran couldn’t be trusted to keep its promises in the nuclear deal. Going back to 2002, a Time/CNN poll found that 47 percent of Americans thought Russia would live up to its end of a potential nonproliferation agreement, but 41 percent thought it wouldn’t. In 1963, at the height of U.S.-USSR tensions, only 19 percent of people thought the Soviets would live up to the terms of a test-ban treaty.

Should the U.S. enter into some kind of negotiations with North Korea in the future, it seems likely that a pattern of public distrust would continue. For now, what will carry on are tensions and an international standoff.

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Posted by Rob Arthur

A few names come to mind when pondering the surefire Hall of Famers playing baseball today. Adrian Beltre, who recently broke the 3,000-hit barrier, is one, as is Mike Trout, despite his youth. But there’s another all-time great who is toiling away on one of the worst teams in MLB: San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. The Giants’ record might make Posey easy to overlook, but his combination of hitting and defense makes him almost a lock to one day join the Hall. In fact, despite being only 30 years old, Posey might already have a Hall of Fame résumé if he retired today.

It’s difficult to forecast whether any given catcher will find his way to Cooperstown. Only 18 backstops have made the Hall, and some did so in part because of accomplishments after their playing careers (as managers or executives).2 Perhaps because of the strain of constant crouching and the beatings they receive behind the plate, catchers are notoriously quick to decline, and historically great performers can become merely ordinary in the space of a few years.

But Posey is special. In a nine-year career, he’s already amassed 37.5 wins above replacement (WAR),3 which puts him 25th on the all-time list among backstops. If we look at how productive all catchers have been through age 304 — Posey’s current age — he looks even better, ranking 11th all-time in WAR.

According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, a rough guide to measuring a player’s Hall-of-Fame qualifications,5 Posey would have a decent chance to make the Hall even if he never played another game. I looked at the top 500 catchers’ JAWS scores and used them to calculate the probability that they would one day be inducted into the Hall.6 Posey’s JAWS score is 36.8 — already only a little below the catcher average of 43.9. (Coincidentally, Posey’s current JAWS score is identical to the end-of-career score of stalwart backstop Ernie Lombardi, who made the Hall of Fame.) Based on this analysis, Posey would have about a 29 percent chance of getting to Cooperstown if he retired today — and as we’ll see below, those numbers probably understate Posey’s contributions.

Why is Posey’s résumé so strong? It starts with his impressive numbers at the plate. Since 2009, Posey’s first season in MLB, he has the 17th-highest Weighted Runs Created Plus in baseball, and he’s the only full-time catcher in the top 50. Posey has power, to which his 128 home runs (in one of MLB’s least hitter-friendly ballparks) can attest. He also has patience, with a career walk rate of 9.6 percent, well above the MLB average of 8.1 percent.

But Posey is much more than just a catcher who hits well. In addition to his power and discipline, Posey has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball during his career — thanks to his particular knack for pitch framing.

Catcher framing is the art of receiving a pitch so that an umpire is more likely to call it a strike. Before the debut of pitch-tracking technology such as PITCHf/x and Statcast, the idea of framing as a skill was unproven, but now it can be measured. And as Hall-of-Fame voters increasingly understand and recognize the importance of framing, catchers like Posey will probably benefit.

Baseball Prospectus rates Posey as the seventh-best framer since 1988,7 so he’s among the cream of the crop. And because framing isn’t factored into most versions of wins above replacement, Posey is somewhat underrated even by newfangled Hall-of-Fame yardsticks like JAWS.

Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR incorporates the number of runs a catcher saves via framing (which the versions from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs do not). Unsurprisingly, Posey’s value under that measure is higher, shooting up to 49.8 WAR. If we recalculate his JAWS score using Prospectus’s version of WAR, then, Posey is already good enough to have an 85 percent chance of making the Hall, according to my calculations. Now, Posey’s framing value this year has been minimal, so it’s possible that he’s losing his touch (he wouldn’t be the only older catcher to forget how to frame a pitch). But even if you assume that he will be a league-average framer going forward, Posey’s JAWS could end up high enough to practically guarantee a Hall of Fame induction.8

In some ways, comparing Posey with the historic greats of yesteryear in this manner isn’t fair. We don’t know what kind of framer Johnny Bench was, for example, and it’s possible that his already-tremendous WAR total would just get more inflated if we did. But we do know that it’s rare for a catcher to have both offensive ability and framing skills. (The few catchers better than Posey defensively tend to be specialists like Jose Molina and Brad Ausmus.) Conversely, there are a lot of catchers who are not great framers but nonetheless have long careers because they excel at the plate. So it’s likely that at least some of the catchers ahead of Posey on the all-time list would see their total value decline if we could measure their framing ability.

Add it all up, and Posey has likely already had a Hall-of-Fame career. And his playing days probably won’t end anytime soon — the average catcher who had 20 or more WAR through age 30 ended up playing another six and a half seasons. So Posey has plenty of years to improve upon his already impressive career. To get a sense of how Posey might end up finishing his run, I asked the folks at Out of the Park Baseball — a baseball simulation engine — to game out the rest of his career.

Out of the Park came back with four simulations of Posey’s future. And according to each, the hypothetical Busters fared very well. In each simulation, Posey earned an end-of-career JAWS score of greater than 51, which would give him at least a 90 percent chance of making the Hall, according to my calculations. With an average of about 2,000 hits, 400 doubles and 250 home runs, Posey’s milestones weren’t overly impressive, so he didn’t make the Hall on the first ballot in the simulations — it usually took three to four years for him to get in — but he was eventually inducted in each universe that was played out. That sounds pretty similar to what will happen in our universe, too.

Posey is one of the few catchers in history who can do it all. He can hit and frame, and he even provides extra value by blocking errant pitches and throwing out runners. When you combine his offensive and defensive skills, Posey might just be the most underappreciated Hall of Famer playing today.

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Posted by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Brace yourself, because we are about to ask you to read a story about a boring technological problem and its impact on government. Like many dull things, though, it’s also important — a failure so pervasive that it costs taxpayers billions and has the power to bridge partisan divides, uniting Jared Kushner and congressional Republicans with congressional Democrats and Obama-appointed scientific experts. Despite those things, the problem remains so deeply unsexy that Kushner publicly speaking about it resulted mostly in headlines about what his voice sounded like.

Senior advisor Jared Kushner speaks during an event with technology sector CEOs at the White House on June 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C. His data center consolidation initiative is supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

Data center consolidation — the art and science of making sure technological infrastructure is being used in an efficient way — does not make for great TV. But experts say it does represent good governance, because fixing it simultaneously saves money and corrects structural problems in the way the federal government is managed. This spring, bipartisan proponents of data center consolidation managed to get a bill through the House that would help get the job done more easily. But it’s now sitting in senatorial limbo. Even when an issue has cross-party cooperation and the support of the White House, it can still fall victim to the current state of political disarray.

Data centers are physical places housing the computers that archive information for the government — records that have to be backed up so a single, failed desktop won’t mean they’re lost forever; historical data that can’t be consigned to the virtual trash bin but also isn’t needed every day; statistics that need to be accessed by multiple people who work in different locations. Some are like warehouses — imagine the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but with racks of blinking electronics instead of wooden crates. Others are more prosaic, like a closet in someone’s office with a couple computers sitting screenless and lonely in the dark. As storage becomes less physical and more digital, we’ll only rely on them more.

But, right now, the federal government has more data centers than it needs, which is a problem since excess data centers mean more spent on building rental, electricity demand, maintenance workers and air conditioning bills. Between 2012 and 2016, data center consolidation efforts saved taxpayers a reported $2.3 billion. But experts say there’s still a long way to go. They talk in terms of the utilization rate — effectively how much of the energy being used by the equipment in a data center actually goes to doing productive work. If the rate is low, that means you’re spending money without getting much benefit from it. The average server in a data center owned by the federal government has a utilization rate between 9 and 12 percent, said David Powner, director of information technology management issues for the Government Accountability Office. The goal set by the federal Office of Management and Budget is something like 60 percent.

This problem isn’t confined to the government, but the government has run into some unique problems while trying to solve it.

Federal data center consolidation efforts have been ongoing since 2010, but while more than 4,300 federal data centers have been closed — out of a total 5,597 scheduled for elimination — many were low-hanging fruit: small, closet-size data centers that didn’t take much effort to close down but also didn’t save much by disappearing, said former Obama Chief Information Officer Tony Scott. Closing larger data centers is more complex and, in many cases, would require technological upgrades that agencies don’t have the budgets to implement. That’s because, in government, funding for software, programming, and other technological infrastructure comes when a project is first implemented. As time goes on, the project will get the funds to maintain itself, Scott said, but not the funds to improve. “If it was started in the ‘90s, it’s running on ‘90s technology. If it started in the ‘60s, it’s running on ‘60s tech,” he said. That can make it difficult to merge the data centers where that software is running.

Meanwhile, Powner said, there have been cases of agencies closing data centers and saving money but not reporting it. “There are some weird incentives in government,” Powner told me. “If you don’t spend your budget, they’ll take it away.” The result is a loss of transparency about how federal dollars are being spent. Document the savings, and you can’t use it for other projects, no matter how legitimate. Fail to report the savings and it becomes available to use, but taxpayers now have no real record of how it’s being spent.

Texas Republican Will Hurd and Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly are trying to solve these problems with their Modernizing Government Technology Act. It would establish a centralized modernization fund that all agencies could use, and, more groundbreakingly, authorize agencies to reallocate the money they’ve saved by consolidating data centers and reinvest it as working capital. Both Powner and Scott praised the effort. It passed the House easily in May. If it becomes law, the bill could be both a heartwarming show of a functional Congress working across party lines and a success for the White House. When Kushner made his first public speaking appearance in June, as part of a White House technology summit aimed at bringing ideas from the business world to government, the need for data center consolidation was one of the main issues he championed.

But that only works if the Senate has time to pay attention. “We are awaiting action in the Senate,” Connolly said. “Given the … what’s the polite word? … the current hiccups legislatively, one does not know if it will be a convenient time to bring it up or if they are just in stasis.”

For now, the Senate version of the Modernizing Government Technology Act is sitting in committee, where it’s been since April. And, even if it does make it to a vote, the project of data center consolidation could still be hamstrung by management issues this bill doesn’t address, like the overabundance of agency-level chief information officers. There are at least 250 people in the federal government with that title, according to Connolly and Hurd. They’ve counted 14 in the Department of Homeland Security alone. Most private companies just have one, but technology often came to the government piecemeal from the bottom up, rather than all at once from the top down. Today, so many people have the same title that it’s not always clear who has ultimate authority, making it difficult to know where the buck stops and who can approve consolidation decisions.

Ironically, this problem is currently exacerbated by the lack of a top CIO, the one in the White House. That role is currently unfilled, and Powner, Scott, Connolly and Hurd all said that position was important for coordinating among the different agencies and ensuring that someone has the authority to make the kinds of decisions that allow large, complex data centers to be reconfigured. It’s wonderful that Kushner’s Office of American Innovation is paying attention to data center consolidation, Scott said, but that top CIO role will be crucial to making those goals a reality. “Ideas are great, but implementation is what really matters at the end of the day,” he said. “If you don’t have somebody really, really focused on implementation, you’re going to come up short.”

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Posted by Oliver Roeder

If you’re a famous dead artist, nothing welcomes you to the canon quite like someone sitting down and meticulously recording every piece of art you ever made. These records become a compendium, often several volumes long, called a catalogue raisonné.9 Such a catalog can itself represent the life’s work of the scholar who compiles it. It took Jacob-Baart de la Faille 11 years to complete van Gogh’s catalog. Monet’s catalog was published over a span of 18 years by a French billionaire. And it took 46 years for all of Picasso’s catalog to be released, while its publisher sold his car and apartment to finance the project.

Tucked away in Massachusetts, one man is making his life’s work out of those other life’s works. For the past three years, Jason Bailey has been hunting these catalogs down. He’s baffled librarians with his voluminous requests. He’s searched for libraries with liberal lending policies, so he can spend time with these pricey rare books. He’s scoured eBay and Amazon. He’s sought out a friend with a Ph.D. in Italian to decipher one rare catalog.

His mission: to turn them all into a proper digital database.

A catalogue raisonné typically lists each piece’s title, dimensions, date, medium, location, provenance, exhibition history, condition and occasionally even more. Together, these represent a comprehensively large and remarkably rich set of data on the most beautiful, seminal and expensive works of modern art. But this data is scattered, unsearchable and unanalyzable, locked away in countless books high on dusty library shelves, or shrink-wrapped and bearing stupefying price tags at boutique bookshops. “It’s locked up in these old books — hard to find, out of print, not very dynamic,” Bailey said. “For all this talk about ‘big data,’ I’ve seen over and over again — you need the data.”

The A.C.I. Art Catalogue Index, top, is a list of all the painters, sculptors, paper artists, engravers and contemporary media artists between 1780 and the late 20th century with catalogues raisonnés. Below it are the individual catalogues raisonnés of Stuart Davis, Hans Hofmann, and Juan Gris, and a portion of Cy Twombly’s.

On a coffee table in his living room in Ashland, Massachusetts, amid the clutter of everyday life — books, power cables, beer bottles — sits a boxy, homemade frame of PVC pipes. In the center of the frame lies an angular cradle, holding open a large volume of a catalogue raisonné, its facing pages held flat by two clear plastic panes; a light dangles above. Flanking this rig are two high-end digital cameras that record the artwork data within. Each volume takes about two hours to scan. Bailey then ships the resulting PDF files to the internet, where he takes bids from freelancers who do the painstaking transcription. The data comes back in a spreadsheet, where Bailey cleans it. Finally, he takes it to his central database: ordered, searchable and analyzable.

This moonshot project is called Artnome (as in “genome”).10 So far, Bailey says he has completely extracted, liberated and reassembled the data from the print catalogs of 35 major artists (including Cézanne, Dalí, Monet, O’Keeffe, Pollock and Rothko), and at least 10 more are currently in progress.

Other art databases exist, of course. Artnet maintains a massive database of auction sales, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA recently made their own databases public. The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, an arts nonprofit in New York, is currently digitizing and publishing online a century’s worth of Impressionist archives. But “a database of complete known works across the most important art and artists of the 20th century,” as Bailey describes his goal, does not exist.

“Everybody thought I was crazy to do it, which made me want to do it more,” he said. “A single raisonné across all artists is the Holy Grail.”

Even a simple chart of Bailey’s data so far, a sampling of which he provided to FiveThirtyEight, reveals the artistic depth running beneath: the human-size color fields of Mark Rothko, the delicate intricacies of van Gogh, the panoramic abstractions of Lee Krasner.11 “Just playing in the virgin snow, I’m able to discover some interesting things,” he said.

Coming from a family full of engineers, “I was sort of the black sheep,” Bailey said. When he and his friends skipped school, he would eschew more typical adolescent hijinks and read art history books in the woods instead. But he got his start in data collection at age 11, when his father taught him to use Excel so he could catalog his comic book and baseball card collections. He went to school for studio art and design, but his current day job is at a company called Tamr that unifies data for large companies. His art project was sparked after he listened to a book on tape about art forgeries on his commute to work.

The project is very much a work in progress. The list of interesting artists is endless, and the catalogs of Picasso and Francis Bacon are Bailey’s white whales at the moment. Picasso’s catalog, often called “the Zervos,” after its original publisher, is 33 volumes long and retails for $25,000. It contains information on over 16,000 Picasso pieces. Bacon’s catalog was published just last year, and retails for a relatively meager $1,300. Bailey is still on the hunt for the data locked on paper inside them.

Bailey said he’s received a warm reception from art scholars, and one I spoke with agreed that the project had potential. “To the extent that projects are collaborative across institutions or between scholars, independent researchers, and institutions to make those works available worldwide, that’s all to the public good,” Carole Ann Fabian, the director of the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, told me.

But Bailey also said many were skeptical it could be done. “These are very complicated projects he’s talking about,” Fabian said. “He’s an enthusiast, and these are areas of extreme expertise that the field dedicates tremendous effort toward.”

Bailey made a cradle out of PVC pipes, left, to photograph the catalogs. He uses a bag full of cans, right, to keep it from tipping.

Ultimately, Bailey hopes Artnome can do for the art market what Zillow does for real estate. More than $45 billion worth of art was sold in 2016 — a lot of demand despite no comprehensive ledger of art’s supply side. Just how many Rothkos are there, anyway? And where are they? Who owns them? What are they titled? These are surprisingly difficult questions to answer.

While Bailey is hoping to spark a “Moneyball” era for art, the traditional auction houses are still acting as scouts. His database could allow them to do all sorts of new things, though. He’s beginning to weave data on auction prices into his universal raisonné, adding market valuations to the art-historic descriptions. That data helped him argue that Christie’s was overvaluing its pre-sale estimate by millions of dollars for a Wassily Kandinsky painting it plans to sell this fall. (Christie’s did not respond to a request for comment.) And the auction houses have shown interest in data. Last year, Sotheby’s acquired the Mei Moses Art Indices, “a constantly updated database of 45,000 repeat sales of objects.”

The Artnome project thus far has relied on a long list of high technology unthinkable to de la Faille or the other assemblers of early catalogs — the internet, the gig economy, data science and interlinked databases. Bailey plans to leverage much more tech. For his next phase, he’s drawing from artificial intelligence, machine learning, image matching and a Slack community where art historians, art-loving programmers and deep learning specialists from around the world have flocked in recent days. In concert, these technologies could help gather, verify, match, unify and enrich this budding Holy Grail.

“I don’t see it as a project that scales, long term, as one person’s crazy hobby,” Bailey said.

Despite the mountainous engineering challenge, another potential hurdle remains: These catalogs, no matter how hard won, don’t belong to Bailey. He didn’t spend the grueling years their authors took assembling and editing them, or the expenses their publishers incurred publishing them — and he certainly doesn’t hold their copyrights. But Bailey was optimistic about the copyright issues, citing the scanning done by the Google Books project and reading he’d done on the matter. One copyright lawyer I spoke with was optimistic, too, citing the example of the periodic table of elements: It was really hard to come up with, but it isn’t copyrightable. Copyright protects expression, not facts.

Still, Bailey offered a bit of gallows humor. “I don’t know if I’ll get blacklisted by libraries and have to wear a disguise,” he said. Bewigged or not, Bailey continues to pursue his “crazy hobby.” And as you read this, the database continues to grow.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

Looking for a single page to bookmark to always access the latest Significant Digits? Say no more.


3

Number of orca deaths at SeaWorld parks this year, the latest resulting from the euthanization of a 42-year old female Kasatka at its San Diego park. SeaWorld is phasing out its orca performances by 2019. [Associated Press]


7 episodes

Number of episodes of “There’s… Johnny,” a sitcom about the backstage crew of “The Tonight Show” that was produced for streaming network Seeso as its tentpole comedy. Here’s the issue: Seeso was shuttered before the program could even go to air, raising a fundamentally modern question of what happens to shows that outlast their streaming start-up network. [The Wall Street Journal]


13.2 points

Difference between the labor force participation of men and women in the United States in July, an all-time low. [Bloomberg]


83 percent

Favorable opinion of Russia in Vietnam, the highest in the world according to Pew Global; only Greece and the Philippines also have a majority positive opinion of Russia. [Pew Research Center]


111

Passer rating of Jags quarterback Blake Bortles during garbage time over the past two seasons, one point off Tom Brady’s overall quarterback rating last season. Granted, Bortles is only good during garbage time, that magical period in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter when a team is two or more scores back and Blake is throwing as if his job depends on it. [FiveThirtyEight]


$1 billion

Apple is moving into the original content business and intends to spend $1 billion buying content over the next year. Hey, uh, I know a guy with a Tonight Show sitcom if they’re looking. [The Wall Street Journal]


If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

Left Behind and Trumpism

Aug. 17th, 2017 10:48 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

The Left Behind series sold more than 65 million copies. I can't offer a precise Venn diagram comparing those 65 million readers with the just-under 63 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump, but I would imagine the overlap in the middle would be pretty big. Their appeal is the same, and so is the audience.
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Posted by Erin Ptah

“[Kevin Pratt-King] had asked McCain for help after being diagnosed with the same form of aggressive cancer, glioblastoma. Instead of offering aid, according to Roy’s tweet, McCain advised them to move to a different state.”

“Social workers began going door to door in San Juan housing projects, explaining that a pill could be taken daily to prevent pregnancy. Once women were told what the pill did, they signed up by the hundreds. However, these women were not informed that they were part of a clinical trial or that the treatment was experimental.”

“Side effects [of the vaginal implant] can range from chronic pain and loss of sexual function, to major complications like the implant protruding through the bladder, or bowels, even necessitating removal of organs ensnared in the mesh. It can shrink inside your body, slicing through nerve endings, tissue and organs.

If someone makes the effort of going to doctor after doctor, and all they are given is a pat on the head and told, ‘Oh, sweetie, you’ll be OK—you just need to smile more,’ that is a failure of the physicians.” Article covers both social biases (like doctors assuming a woman’s problems are psychosomatic instead of doing tests) and biological ones (like researchers only testing on male mice, leaving them with huge gaps in knowledge regarding biologically female humans).

“The Gay Men’s Chorus posed to illustrate the impact of AIDS. Those dressed in black, with their backs turned, represent those who had died.” This 1993 photo is a punch in the heart.

The military spends five times as much on Viagra as it would on transgender troops’ medical care.”

And for something more hopeful:

An experiment, recounted in comic form: If you put rats alone in cages, they’ll addict themselves to morphine. If you put them in an enriching environment with a bunch of other rats to hang out with, they’ll avoid it.

Gisella Perl, the “Angel of Auschwitz” — who got that title by providing abortions, so the Nazis wouldn’t have pregnant Jewish women to experiment on.

“As what was thought to be the largest referral service in the country, which referred an estimated half million women for abortions in its six years of existence, the [Clergy Consultation Service] had significant market power that it leveraged to reduce the going rate for an abortion.” The name isn’t a euphemism. It was literally a coalition of Protestant and Jewish religious leaders.

“Intersex advocates are rejoicing at a paper released by three former US Surgeons General. The surgeon-generals called for an end to forced medical surgeries on young intersex people.


Filed under: News Roundup Tagged: feminism, health insurance, Politics
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Posted by Seth Masket

What are the chances that Democrats will take over Congress next year? Obviously, it’s early, and polling isn’t going to give us a very reliable picture just yet. But the number of candidates from each party getting in line to run can give us some useful hints about how things will shake out.

Last year, I wrote a few pieces about the numbers of candidates who had filed to run for Congress. Since 2010, there had been more Republicans than Democrats filing to run for Congress in every election cycle.

Ed Kilgore ran a similar analysis recently at New York Magazine, drawing from a longer time series made available by the Campaign Finance Institute. The main finding was that Democrats hold an enormous advantage in early candidate filings for the 2018 midterm elections. In particular, if we limit the analysis to the number of challengers to House incumbents who have filed for next year and have raised at least $5,000 — in an effort to narrow our sample to truly viable candidates — we see a record advantage for Democrats right now.

Who wants to run for the House?

Number of House challengers who raised at least $5,000 by June 30 of year prior to election

ELECTION CYCLE DEMOCRATS REPUBLICANS
2004 22
29
2006 48
24
2008 57
49
2010 40
78
2012 42
40
2014 45
52
2016 44
28
2018 209
28

Source: Campaign Finance Institute

But what exactly does this mean? Yes, Democrats had twice the number of challengers that Republicans did in 2006 and then took over the House in that election, while a similar advantage yielded similar payoffs for Republicans in 2010. But should we necessarily expect an advantage in the number of early candidates to lead to election victories?

In the chart below, I have plotted the Democratic advantage in early House challengers against the number of House seats won by Democrats since 2004. As the chart suggests, while there is a pretty small number of data points, this is a very strong relationship. Each additional percentage advantage in early candidates yields about 2.5 additional House members in the election.

Why do we see such a strong relationship? It’s not precisely that the number of candidates causes a party to win more seats. After all, there are only so many House seats in play. What a large number of challengers does create is a better recruitment environment. If there are several challengers from whom to choose in a particular race, a party can pick the strongest nominee.

Political science research suggests that the recruitment of high-quality candidates explains a good deal of election outcomes — if a party can convince a large number of skilled and experienced candidates to run for office, those candidates tend to do better and the party tends to win more seats. Indeed, the recruitment of quality candidates helps explain the development of the incumbency advantage in 20th century American politics. Finding strong candidates was Newt Gingrich’s approach prior to the 1994 Republican landslide, just as it was Rahm Emanuel’s strategy for 2006.

Other factors will affect just how successful those recruitment efforts will be, of course. If a House member looks safe and the political fundamentals (including the state of the economy and the president’s popularity) don’t look like they’re going to make incumbents unpopular, it will be hard to convince, say, a state legislator in a safe district to jump into a difficult and expensive congressional race.

But the environment right now suggests that Republican incumbents are vulnerable. President Trump’s approval ratings are in the mid-30s, even amid a strong economy, and it’s hard to see how the environment will improve much for the GOP by next year. And one way Democrats have been responding to Trump’s various norm violations is by running for office.

Of the 237 House challengers who raised at least $5,000 for the 2018 midterms by the end of June, 209 of them (88 percent) are Democrats. If we were to plug that into the regression line above, it suggests Democrats would pick up 93 House seats. This figure seems highly improbable given the number of seats that are actually competitive, as Kilgore and Kyle Kondik note. But it does suggest strong potential gains for the Democrats next year.

Of course, it’s still early, and the people who went to rallies last January and said “Hell yes, I’m running for Congress!” might ask “What was I thinking?” by the time next January rolls around. And it’s hard to know just what the political system will look like by this time next year given the rapid pace of events lately. But indicators thus far suggest a strong year for the Democrats.

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Posted by Oliver Roeder

Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion and probably the best player ever to play the game, has come out of retirement and returned to competitive chess. He has suited up for this week’s Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, a 10-player round-robin tournament that consists of relatively speedy games and features some scarily strong competition. Four of the 10 competitors are in the world’s top 10.

The chess world was abuzz with news of the return; Kasparov hasn’t played competitively since 2005. But the open question was how well he could perform against the young guns across the table. Kasparov is 54 years old, after all. To get some insight into how chess skill might decline with age, I downloaded the most recent FIDE rating list, from the beginning of August. This lists ranks all the players registered with the game’s international governing body according to their Elo rating.12 The end result was a data set with more than 280,000 players and their respective ratings. These are all the players currently rated by FIDE, although some of them, such as Kasparov, are flagged as “inactive,” meaning that they haven’t played a rated game in a year or more. (To estimate a given player’s age, we subtracted his or her birth year from 2017.)

The result is shaped like a large floating apostrophe of mortality. After a steep increase in players’ early years (youth is wasted on the young), the estimated trend in ratings peaks just after age 38, before beginning a long, slow, irreversible and depressing decline (kinda like real life).

But when the ratings are plotted this way, Kasparov’s outlier status becomes clear — his most recent rating, established before he retired in 2005, is 2812. If he were active in classical chess tournaments, that’d put him second in the world, behind the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, who is 26.

Another former world champion, Vladimir Kramnik, who defeated Kasparov for the title in 2000, noted in a 2015 interview that he was in his mid-20s at the time. “In fact, chess is a game for the young,” he said.

As I write, Kasparov is near the bottom of the pack in St. Louis, with five draws and a loss through his first six games. Ian Nepomniachtchi, a 27-year-old Russian grandmaster, is in first place.

After the first day of play, Kasparov retweeted the following:

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Posted by Kathryn Casteel and Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Last weekend’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, began as a protest against the city’s plan to remove a statue memorializing Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Efforts to remove such monuments are nothing new, but they have intensified in recent years and look likely to gain further steam in the wake of the deadly events in Charlottesville. On Tuesday night, the city of Baltimore began removing its Confederate monuments, including statues of Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Gainesville, Florida, removed a monument to Confederate soldiers this week, and the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, said Saturday that he was accelerating plans to remove two Confederate statues there. And in some cities, such as Durham, North Carolina, protesters are taking matters into their own hands by toppling these statues themselves.

They have their work cut out for them. There are currently more than 700 monuments to the Confederacy in public places, located predominantly in the South. Only a tiny fraction of them have been removed so far. And as this weekend’s protests showed, efforts to take the monuments down — or even to relocate them to less prominent locations — often encounter vocal opposition. President Trump himself on Tuesday seemed to question whether Confederate monuments should be removed. “So this week, it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down,” Trump said at a press conference at Trump Tower. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after. You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

The movement to remove Confederate monuments gained traction after the deadly 2015 shooting in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. After the attack, photos surfaced of the shooter, Dylann Roof, posing with a Confederate battle flag. Within weeks of the incident, the South Carolina House had voted to remove a Confederate flag at the statehouse, a move that was also met with protest. Since the shooting, statues have been removed or relocated in Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and other states; multiple monuments, memorials and flags have also been removed or are slated for removal. Numerous public spaces with names honoring the Confederacy, including schools, parks and streets, have also been renamed.

“Charleston was a fulcrum moment,” said Alfred Brophy, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. “The steam with which monuments are coming down has accelerated greatly. There’s more public discussion. Where before it was done more quietly, now there’s a sort of celebration.”

In the wake of the shooting in Charleston, the Southern Poverty Law Center began collecting data on public displays of the Confederacy throughout the United States. Using federal, state and other sources, they found more than 1,500 places or things commemorating the Confederacy, including more than a hundred schools and more than 700 monuments.13 The SPLC’s list of symbols also includes street and county names, as well as parks, military bases and a broad range of other public works or spaces. The vast majority are located in states that once made up the Confederacy, though they extend north and west as well.

Most of those monuments and other symbols date back not to the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but to the early 20th century, when many Southern states were imposing Jim Crow laws. Another wave of monument-building came during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and it hasn’t fully ceased — the SPLC database includes a monument to Confederate soldiers in Tennessee that was erected in 2012.

Despite the renewed attention to the issue since the Charleston attack, only a relative handful of these monuments have been removed. The SPLC had identified just six cases in which statues or monuments have been taken down before last weekend’s events, including the removal of four statues in New Orleans that prompted a much-discussed speech from the city’s mayor.14 That number has grown by at least six more this week alone, reflecting growing momentum after the events in Charlottesville. And the SPLC has identified dozens more symbols of various kinds that have been or might be removed.15

Those in favor of removing public Confederate symbols say those symbols represent oppression and slavery, and that these parts of history “belong in a museum, not on a pedestal.” But in the past, states have fought in support of the preservation of Confederate monuments. Conservatives who protest for the preservation of these monuments assert that they are part of Southern heritage and reflect a part of history — good or bad. Several states, including South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina, have heritage protection acts that restrict the removal of any monument located on public property.

The hate and violence on display in Charlottesville, however, could change the debate. Brophy, the law professor, has previously argued against the wholesale removal of Confederate monuments, which he has said represent a reminder of the nation’s troubled history. But he said the weekend’s white supremacist demonstration shows that the monuments are also serving as a present-day rallying cry for violence. After Charlottesville, Brophy said it’s unlikely politicians will stand in the way of the monuments’ removal, and in some cases, as in Durham, protesters will ignore those laws altogether. “This is the sign that monuments matter,” he said.

Others, however, worry that the movement to take down the monuments has potential to backfire by providing a platform for white nationalist protesters. And even if the statues do come down, some civil rights activists and others question how much difference it would make. Susannah Ryan, a University of North Carolina doctoral student who has studied conflict and reconciliation, said the fight over statues and monuments gives politicians a way to call for equality without addressing harder, more fundamental issues such as voting rights.

“As we see some of these monuments being torn down, another question we have to face is to what extent is that just a veneer,” Ryan said.

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Posted by Michael Salfino

If the Pro Football Hall of Fame had a special wing for Garbage Time, they’d already be sculpting Blake Bortles’s bust.

On the surface, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ signal-caller fits the profile of a perfectly mediocre NFL quarterback. But the traditional stats don’t show the true Bortles: He is the NFL’s best when the game is basically over. In garbage time — which we define as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, when a team is down multiple scores (9 or more points) — Bortles transforms into the franchise quarterback Jacksonville envisioned when they made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. In these scenarios in the past two seasons, Bortles has completed 78 of 118 for 964 yards with 12 touchdowns. He’s tossed only four picks. His passer rating in these instances is 111. To get a sense of how good that is, Tom Brady’s rating across all of last season was 112.

Since 2015, 20.7 percent of Bortles’s total touchdown passes have come when the fans are heading for the exits. That’s nearly four times the average for the rest of the league. It’s done little to help the fortunes of the Jags, who have won eight games in the last two seasons and failed to come back in any of the 15 where they were trailing big late. So his body of garbage-time work has been meaningless to everyone except his fantasy owners.

Bortles is at his best when it matters least …

Projected 2017 starters based on their performance in garbage time (GT) compared to non-garbage time, 2015-2016

RATING TOUCHDOWNS
PLAYER CUR. TEAM ATT. GT NON-GT % DIFF. GT* TOTAL* % IN GT*
B. Bortles Jaguars 118 111.0 80.5 37.9% 12 58 20.7%
B. Osweiler Browns 45 103.8 75.5 37.5 4 25 16.0
S. Bradford Vikings 58 111.1 91.9 20.9 5 39 12.8
A. Luck Colts 60 100.6 88.0 14.3 5 46 10.9
M. Stafford Lions 83 91.2 95.4 -4.4 5 56 8.9
D. Brees Saints 73 98.3 101.6 -3.2 6 69 8.7
T. Taylor Bills 51 105.4 93.4 12.8 3 37 8.1
B. Hoyer 49ers 41 80.0 94.8 -15.6 2 25 8.0
J. Winston Bucs 84 82.4 85.4 -3.5 4 50 8.0
J. Cutler Dolphins 30 115.1 87.8 31.1 2 25 8.0
A. Dalton Bengals 25 125.6 96.9 29.6 3 43 7.0
C. Wentz Eagles 31 78.7 79.3 -0.8 1 16 6.3
A. Smith Chiefs 40 104.2 92.8 12.3 2 35 5.7
J. McCown Jets 35 65.7 87.3 -24.7 1 18 5.6
K. Cousins Redskins 53 94.8 99.5 -4.7 3 54 5.6
C. Palmer Cardinals 39 64.5 97.0 -33.5 3 61 4.9
P. Rivers Chargers 36 103.4 90.7 14.0 3 62 4.8
B. Roethlisberger Steelers 42 86.3 95.3 -9.4 2 50 4.0
R. Wilson Seahawks 32 109.4 100.6 8.7 2 55 3.6
M. Ryan Falcons 20 110.6 101.9 8.5 2 59 3.4
D. Carr Raiders 57 75.6 94.9 -20.3 2 60 3.3
E. Manning Giants 20 120.0 89.3 34.4 2 61 3.3
J. Flacco Ravens 15 115.0 82.9 38.7 1 34 2.9
A. Rodgers Packers 20 134.8 98.0 37.6 2 71 2.8
M. Mariota Titans 51 85.8 94.3 -9.0 1 45 2.2
C. Newton Panthers 19 57.6 88.0 -34.5 0 54 0.0
D. Prescott Cowboys 0 0.0 104.9 0 23 0.0
T. Brady Patriots 6 88.2 106.4 -17.1 0 64 0.0
T. Siemian Broncos 27 38.2 87.3 -56.2 0 18 0.0

Garbage time defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, when the passer’s team is down multiple scores (9 points or more). Minimum of 450 pass attempts, so doesn’t include data for the projected starters on the Bears, Texans and Rams.
* Includes passing touchdowns only.

Source: NFL Tru Media

The only thing Bortles is as good at as posting garbage-time numbers is creating garbage time with his lackluster play in meaningful time. According to ESPN data, last year when a team was within one score (8 or fewer points) in the first half of games — one of the situations in which the game’s outcome is most uncertain — Bortles was the worst quarterback in football. He completed 96 of 158 passes (60.8 percent) last year for 963 yards and just five touchdowns versus eight picks. His rating in these situations was just 67.6. What’s more, in the past two years, Bortles has thrown only half as many touchdown passes in the first quarter of all games (six) as he threw in the last five minutes of games he had already lost.

And he’s at his worst when the game is undecided

How 2016 quarterbacks fared when the game was within 8 points in the first half

QB TEAM RAT.
Matt Ryan Falcons 124.1
Tom Brady Patriots 113.1
Philip Rivers Chargers 109.9
Aaron Rodgers Packers 108.6
Colin Kaepernick 49ers 106.3
Dak Prescott Cowboys 105.7
Russell Wilson Seahawks 101.4
Ben Roethlisberger Steelers 99.4
Marcus Mariota Titans 98.9
Sam Bradford Vikings 97.3
Ryan Fitzpatrick Jets 96.2
Derek Carr Raiders 96.0
Joe Flacco Ravens 95.5
Case Keenum Rams 95.4
Ryan Tannehill Dolphins 95.2
Andy Dalton Bengals 94.1
Alex Smith 49ers 93.8
Drew Brees Saints 93.7
Tyrod Taylor Bills 92.0
Eli Manning Giants 91.7
Matthew Stafford Lions 91.1
Kirk Cousins Redskins 89.7
Cam Newton Panthers 83.8
Trevor Siemian Broncos 83.5
Carson Palmer Cardinals 76.9
Carson Wentz Eagles 75.2
Jameis Winston Bucs 75.1
Brock Osweiler Texans 69.4
Andrew Luck Colts 67.7
Blake Bortles Jaguars 67.6

Minimum of 224 attempts.

Source: NFL Tru Media

Bortles throws more garbage-time passes than anyone, partly as a result of his own crummy play earlier in games. By comparison, Brady has only thrown six garbage-time passes in the last two seasons — or 112 fewer than Bortles — because the Patriots are never losing.

It may seem like any quarterback would be more productive when opponents are easing into a prevent defense and beginning to daydream about their next game. But in the last two seasons, the average non-Bortles QB saw his rating increase only marginally in these scenarios, 2.4 percent. Bortles’s rating jumps 37.9 percent.

Despite Bortles’s ability to excel only when the chips are off the table, the Jaguars picked up his fifth-year option in May, meaning they will pay him $19 million in 2018. The move mystified many NFL observers, but general manager Dave Caldwell and new executive vice president Tom Coughlin rationalized that Bortles’s salary over this year and next will still be below average — two words that Bortles is familiar with.

Bortles is not off to a good start in 2017. He threw five interceptions in one recent practice, including one that was returned for a touchdown in 11-on-11 drills. Another pick 6 on Sunday led to head coach Doug Marrone giving veteran backup Chad Henne (who had no pass attempts last year) a chance with the first team. Not only is the patience of Marrone wearing thin, but the team’s No. 1 receiver, Allen Robinson, is reportedly also growing increasingly frustrated.

Maybe the only way to turn Bortles into an efficient quarterback is to somehow convince him that the game is already lost before it’s even begun.

Do Athletes Really Run Hot And Cold?

Aug. 16th, 2017 01:46 pm
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Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s episode (Aug. 15, 2017), we discuss how the NFL responds to players’ behavior off the field in light of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Next, FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur joins the gang to discuss his recent article on baseball’s hot hand. Using a new calculation on fastball velocity, Rob worked out a way to determine when a pitcher is really getting hot — and when he’s going cold, too. We discuss the implications that his findings could have on our understanding of momentum in other sports. Plus, a significant digit on baseball’s long (and getting longer) games.

Here are links to what we discuss during the show:

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Posted by Harry Enten

It will be the Republican establishment versus the evangelical base in Alabama’s GOP Senate primary runoff on Sept. 26. That’s the story after former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore and appointed U.S. Sen. Luther Strange finished first (but short of a majority) and second, respectively, in Tuesday’s primary to compete for the seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Democrats, on the other hand, put themselves into the strongest position — one that is still nonetheless incredibly weak — to win the December general election by nominating former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones in their primary.

The main action on Tuesday night came on the Republican side, and it played out pretty much as expected. Moore, riding strong support from evangelical voters, won 39 percent of the vote to Strange’s 33 percent. Moore’s 6-percentage-point edge over Strange16 is right around the 7-point Moore lead that polls predicted. U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, meanwhile, finished third with nearly 20 percent of the vote — again, as the polls had suggested he would.

There was some concern among Republicans that Strange, despite currently occupying the Senate seat that is being competed for, wouldn’t make the runoff. But he was able to maintain his advantage over Brooks in large part because of the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; the pro-McConnell Senate Leadership Fund spent heavily on attack ads against Brooks during the campaign. Strange also got a last-minute endorsement from President Trump.

The question going into the runoff is whether McConnell’s and Trump’s backing will be enough to get Strange past Moore. The limited runoff polling that has been released so far shows Moore and Strange finishing first and second — just like they finished in the first round. And McConnell is a polarizing figure among Republicans. But Strange will have more time to trumpet his Trump endorsement, and the president could visit Alabama, where he is incredibly popular among Republicans. Still, that Moore won comfortably on Tuesday demonstrates that Trump’s pull may only mean so much and a lot of Republican primary voters are still looking for an outsider candidate.

Two other questions: Where will Brooks’s voters go in the runoff? Will they shun Strange because of the negative ads that were run against Brooks on Strange’s behalf? Some might, but Moore is sure to be on the receiving end of a lot of those negative ads over the next month.

On the Democratic side, despite trailing in some polls, Jones easily beat Robert Kennedy Jr. (66 percent to 18 percent). Jones is perhaps best known for prosecuting the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing defendants. There was some thought that Kennedy, who is not related to the famous political clan of the same name, might be able to win on name recognition. But as I previously noted, many voters probably weren’t tuning in to the race until late. Additionally, pollsters who found Kennedy leading may have been surveying too wide a swath of the population and not accurately capturing the more politically clued-in voters who eventually turned out.

Democrats are hoping that Moore wins the Republican runoff, thinking it would give Jones a shot in December. That may be true. Moore is a hard-core conservative. He also got kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 and suspended from it this past year for failing to follow a higher court’s order.

Remember, though — Alabama has a deeply conservative, deeply religious electorate. This is a state that Trump won by 28 percentage points in 2016 and where a Democrat hasn’t been elected to the U.S. Senate since 1992. Even if Moore wins the Republican nomination, he will be heavily favored in December. Strange would be an even bigger favorite in the general. A Democratic win is a long shot either way.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

NEW: Looking for a single page to bookmark to always access the latest Significant Digits? Say no more.


0

Number of NBA teams that will play four games in a five-night span this year, which is part of a league-wide scheduling plan to implement more rest days so that top talent can continue playing in those late-season must-watch games. On average, teams will play 14 back-to-backs compared to 16 last season. [FiveThirtyEight]


6 years, 5 months

Sentence for a man who accidentally discharged a gun while taking a selfie in “Club Lust,” a Florida strip club. [The Associated Press]


38.6 percent

Percentage of a 16 GB iPhone 6 that is aluminum and iron. The cocktail of other precious and base metals that go into the phones — 0.02 grams of bismuth here, another 0.014 grams of gold there, the little 0.01 grams of gallium to top it all off — have to come from somewhere, and the answer isn’t always pretty. [Motherboard]


38.9 percent

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange will move on to the runoff stage of the special Alabama primary election to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s seat in the the Senate. Moore — who was suspended from the bench for refusing to enforce the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage — won the first vote with 38.9 percent of the vote. Strange, who received 32.8 percent of the vote, was appointed to the seat by disgraced Alabama ex-Gov. Robert Bentley and has the support of President Trump. The winner of the GOP primary in Alabama is as close as one can get to a lock to win the general election, which will be held in December. [FiveThirtyEight, New York Times]


40 percent

The antique furniture market has taken a hard hit — with English antique furniture seeing a 40 percent drop in value over 10 years — in part because millennials don’t want to buy them. [Marketplace]


$3 million

Two victims of the vehicular attack carried out in Charlottesville this past weekend are suing both the man charged in the attack as well as two-dozen alt-right rally organizers for $3 million. [Reuters]


If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by A FiveThirtyEight Chat

In this week’s politics chat, we discuss President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Welcome, all. Today I want to talk about President Trump’s continued insistence on treating the violence in Charlottesville — where white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan held a march, and a suspected white nationalist has been charged with killing a woman and injuring others by plowing a car into a group of counterprotesters — as a “both sides” problem. After getting a ton of blowback because his initial statement, on Saturday, failed to explicitly condemn white supremacist groups, Trump made more explicit remarks on Monday. But then today, he returned to the position that “both sides” are to blame.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said. “And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say that right now.”

It was really an amazing, depressing press conference, but we’re political reporters, so … WTF is the political calculus here? (For the sake of this conversation, let’s assume that there was such a calculus.) The idea I’ve seen floating around is that Trump won the White House, in part, by pushing messages and policies that white nationalists liked and is therefore hesitant to condemn those groups because doing so would anger his political base.

But the number of full-fledged neo-Nazis, for example, or KKK members is small. So what’s really going on here?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): I think if you pushed and pushed Trump on it, he would never say he supports white nationalists — today’s press conference saw some pretty ugly prevarication, though. When he said “not all of those people were neo-Nazis” of white nationalists who organized a march and were chanting KKK slogans — that was a pretty disturbing false distinction for a president to make.

But what Trump would be proud to say is that he doesn’t support “PC culture,” which is what a lot of people who hold racist beliefs use as a cover: I’m not racist, but I think we’re marginalizing white people. That spins into a whole lot of other things, many of them pretty ugly, but not always rising to the level of bringing out plastic riot shields and guns and beating up black people in Charlottesville and killing someone. A lot of times, racism in America is a lot more coded than neo-Nazi riots. Not always, though.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Clare is making the right point. I think the actual number of neo-Nazis is small. They are not an integral part of Trump’s coalition.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): You have to conclude that we saw the real President Trump in that press conference. He is who he is. I could add to that, but like … how hard is it to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis and stick to that condemnation?

In any case, I’d start with a number from Perry’s Charlottesville story: Nearly 20 percent of self-identified Republicans who think there’s “a great deal” of discrimination against whites. Almost half think there’s “a great deal” or “some” discrimination against whites. Those groups, which are bigger than neo-Nazis, are the ones I think Trump had on his mind.

perry: That is why I think he could have condemned them on Saturday, in the same way Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush did. But there is this “PC” culture thing that he campaigned against. So I was not surprised that he did not immediately react the way other Republicans did.

clare.malone: You look to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and what he said — he called the attack domestic terrorism. Sessions is not a guy who is known for being PC.

perry: Right.

clare.malone: Trump could and should have done that. But perhaps his initial statement and his press conference today are signs of the radicalism of people who are helping him write this stuff.

Or, to give them a more charitable read, their ignorance about the effect that certain rhetoric can have.

Or, very believably, these are the feelings Trump himself has about race — he refuses to see nuance in the issue. When a reporter at the press conference today asked him, “What do you think needs to be done to overcome the racial divides in this country?” Trump answered, “Well, I really think jobs can have a big impact.” Pretty telling answer.

perry: Right. Trump may be overdoing it, at least in this instance, in aligning himself against the media/establishment/political correctness.

micah: OK, so take that ~20 percent of Republicans who think there’s a lot of discrimination against whites. I don’t know if they are “white nationalists” per se, but maybe that’s a group — a sizable group — that feels like victims and found in Trump someone they thought would fight for them. Is Trump worried about turning that group off by condemning racism, white nationalism, etc.?

clare.malone: I guess Trump is worried about turning them off, but what I think he misunderstands is that probably the majority of those people who feel that way about whites being discriminated against have internalized the social stigma of being part of, say, the KKK.

Not all, but a lot. We’re still a pretty racist country, but up until at least recently, there’s been a heavy stigma on this kind of ugly belief. Maybe, though, that is changing. Which would be sad.

harry: According to the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, about two-thirds of Trump voters said they are at least somewhat angry that racism exists. We don’t know what’s in people’s hearts, but as Clare said, they’re at least aware of modern cultural norms. A very large chunk of Trump’s voters say they don’t like racism. So I’d imagine that they’d be fine with Trump saying the same thing.

perry: I don’t necessarily think feeling that there is a lot of discrimination against whites makes you a white nationalist. But white people who feel like they are victims of today’s politics and policies — that feels like something that undergirds Trump’s positions. He is proposing to limit legal immigration, for example, because he says it brings down wages of people already here. I guess I think Trump might agree in some ways with those who say whites are facing too much discrimination.

micah: Right — so there does seem like a political risk for him in not appearing as a champion of white, working-class Americans.

I guess, here’s what I’m trying to get at …

We’ve sometimes talked about whether a politician with Trump’s policy agenda and a more conventional, acceptable persona could do even better than Trump has in national politics. But maybe Trump thinks that’s not right — that the anti-PC stuff, the white nationalist rhetoric, is central to his appeal.

perry: It’s hard to know, because Trump rarely talks directly about his political coalition. And his advisers don’t talk about the white nationalism stuff as part of their political coalition. They talk about people opposed to illegal immigration.

clare.malone: But there’s such a thing as going too far on the anti-PC stuff. What’s been effective about Trump’s racial dog-whistling is that he hides it — to some extent — underneath this “law and order” umbrella.

So, MS-13 is going to kill people on Long Island, Mexican criminals are going to rape your daughters, etc.

Remember the GOP convention? The testimonials about people killed by undocumented immigrants?

perry: Yes, all signs are that Trump views this kind of identity politics as central to his politics. But I don’t know if Trump or even Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, ever say that.

We know from Joshua Green’s book “Devil’s Bargain” that Bannon felt like the people who were really passionate about condemning racism were already Hillary Clinton voters.

harry: Can we break this down a little further?

micah: Yeah, go Harry!

harry: The American National Election Studies asked Clinton and Trump voters to give their opinion on different groups. They asked them to rate each group from zero to 100, with 100 being the warmest feelings. I took a look at different groups — specifically, how many Clinton and Trump voters gave each group a rating below 50 (which means they disliked the group more than they liked it).

Among Trump voters, 77 percent gave illegal immigrants a negative rating. But just 12 percent gave blacks a negative rating.

That’s a huge disparity.

clare.malone: That’s really interesting.

micah: Hmmm … That seems like a blunt, semi-misleading measure to me.

perry: That doesn’t tell me much, at all. Illegal immigration is illegal behavior. I’m not surprised people are against it.

harry: Let’s keep going.

micah: Keep going

harry: Forty-seven percent of Trump voters gave Muslims a negative rating.

clare.malone: Well, those demos intersect too …

micah: See, this seems hard to disentangle from the social stigma attached to “disliking” each group.

harry: Perhaps — although part of this survey was conducted among web participants, so among them, I wouldn’t think social stigma would be too much of a factor.

perry: This data set, from the Public Religion Research Institute, I thought was interesting

micah: Yeah, I think we need more indirect questions, like that PRRI study. Here’s a chart from that:

clare.malone: I’ve seen a lot of Confederate flags in very Northern states.

perry: This too:

harry: There was no subtlety in Charlottesville; there were Nazi flags, etc.

It’s one thing to be against removing the Confederate flag. It’s another to come out and say I don’t like black people — as most people would argue happened in Charlottesville.

micah: I mean, the way to do this, I think, is to look at a bunch of poll questions that, to various degrees, get at someone’s racial biases and prejudices without directly asking, “Are you racist?” Check these charts out, from a 2014 article we did …

micah: And here’s the aggregate of a bunch of those different questions:

perry: So I think we should consider two things in terms of Trump’s response. The rally had elements of being anti-black, anti-Semitism, anti-diversity. But it also had elements of being pro-white. Do parts of Trump’s coalition feel like they should be able to defend whiteness? Sure. The defense of Confederate monuments is not exactly the same thing as saying blacks should not marry whites. You can see in the PPRI data that the share of whites who see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than a symbol of racism is fairly high, even among the college-educated.

micah: Hmm …

perry: Secondly, we have to consider that, politics aside, Trump may agree at least partially with the ideas that whites/Christians/men are under threat from a society that won’t let them say what they think.

clare.malone: A lot of the white voters in Trump’s coalition take umbrage at the term “white privilege,” saying that they lack economic opportunity. And they resent, say, white men being treated as a powerful, monolithic group.

That’s a powerful political argument to a lot of people, especially if you live in a homogenous area where everyone is white and poor.

micah: It certainly proved powerful in 2016.

I mean, Obama made that point in his famous “A More Perfect Union” speech:

harry: Well, just 3 percent of Trump voters rated Christians, as a group, negatively in the ANES. For Clinton voters, it was 14 percent. I think Trump voters see that type of thing and think there’s a group of liberal elites who don’t like them.

clare.malone: I.e., wearing “deplorables” as a badge of honor, resenting that Clinton had boiled their Trump support down to racism.

harry: Indeed, this goes back to the point made earlier: Most Trump voters don’t see themselves as racist.

perry: I think that word is basically pointless to use — because we don’t have a shared understanding of what racist means in any real way. Beyond Bull Connor-style moves.

And I think it doesn’t do a particularly great job capturing what is happening in America.

harry: That’s a great point.

micah: OK, so we have a bunch of these labels/groups — Nazi, white nationalist, racist, deplorables, people who believe white people are discriminated against, people who are “uncomfortable” with America’s growing diversity, etc. — and those overlap some but are also very different.

But at least based on the numbers we referenced above, those feelings and grievances do represent a big chunk of Trump’s support. I don’t know if it’s 10 percent or 40 percent or whatever. But Trump lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College by a hair. So aren’t we in a situation where we have a president who is catering to those groups? He may have bungled that catering in response to Charlottesville, but he is doing it.

clare.malone: We have a president definitely catering to the group that believes white people are being discriminated against/people who are uncomfortable with diversity.

perry: Well, if we broaden things out that widely, didn’t Richard Nixon/Ronald Reagan/Bill Clinton appeal to some of that.

micah: Yeah, fair point.

perry: This is part of the problem: “Racist” is being defined too narrowly in some instances and too broadly in others. It irritates white and Republicans who feel like everything is labeled racist, but also liberals and minorities who feel like nothing is considered racist unless you are Bull Connor or George Wallace.

clare.malone: What’s new is that we can’t say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump isn’t dog whistling to white nationalist groups. I think today’s press conference was pretty unsettling to that end.

That’s new in the modern presidency.

harry: Yeah, I mean the difference is Trump couldn’t say neo-Nazis were bad on Saturday. That’s the difference.

perry: I guess I feel like Trump is getting this wrong for an obvious reason: Who else are these people who feel racial resentment or are outright racists going to vote for? Hillary Clinton? Kamala Harris?

He can offend David Duke.

He can go pretty far in offending David Duke and keep this part of the Republican Party behind him.

micah: Are we sure about that, Perry?

perry: Who else are they going to vote for?

micah: I guess my question is how much that bleeds over into the less overt groups?

Take the Bannon-level white nationalists …

They’re not wearing white hoods, but they have a pretty explicit, racialized set of policy goals. Doesn’t Trump need that group to believe that he’s a champion of white people?

I mean, Trump must think that, right?

How else to explain him not condemning neo-Nazis?

perry: He doesn’t like condemning people the media tells him to.

I happen to think this is less about some kind of grand political calculation than a petulant president.

micah: (Yeah, I agree with that.)

perry: He doesn’t like the media and elites telling him what to do, particularly about issues of race and culture.

harry: He knows that bashing the media is something that unites his party.

perry: I also think he and his team genuinely see white nationalists as like an alternative version of Black Lives Matter.

‘Obama never had to condemn Black Lives Matter; why should Trump have to condemn the radicals who like him?’

That is what it sounds like Trump thinks.

micah: IDK. I’m a little worried that we’re underestimating the size of the white nationalist vote.

perry: I guess I’m worried we can never calculate it.

harry: I think that’s right.

clare.malone: You’re likely never going to be able to get an explicit, actual polling read.

perry: What I’m not sure about is whether Confederate monument defenders are“white nationalists.” Or whether that term is only for those who say whites must control the country. And people who say blacks should not marry whites seems like a different issue.

Do all the various white power groups support Trump? Probably yes. In terms of policy, I don’t think he politically can afford to say that he supports affirmative action, for example. Could he call for taking down Confederate monuments? I think yes politically, but that’s a closer call. (Trump, to be clear, seems to oppose taking down those monuments.) He can certainly say that he doesn’t support white supremacy.

micah: See, that’s revealing. I don’t think he could call for taking down Confederate monuments without having big problems with his base. I’m much more willing to take out the broad brush.

clare.malone: He’s not going to do that. Look how he handled those questions today. He said if you take down the statues of Robert E. Lee, that might lead you to taking down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Trump’s reasoning on this being that those other guys were slave owners too. Washington and Jefferson, of course, didn’t lead a rebellion against the U.S. government over the issue of slavery and states rights, though, certainly, yes, they did own slaves.

perry: But is there a huge political risk with his base? I can see Micah’s point. I’m not sure of it.

micah: OK, final question that gets at some of this in a different way: If Trump fires Bannon, will Trump have a meaningful political problem?

perry: I don’t have a great sense of who defines white nationalism in today’s politics. Is it Trump, David Duke, Breitbart or someone or something else? Who decides what violates the tenets of this kind of white nationalism? Who decides Trump has gone too far in the tolerance direction and says we must oppose him? Ann Coulter? Bannon when he is outside of the White House?

So if Bannon is fired but Trump remains generally anti-free trade, anti-immigration and Stephen Miller stays, Trump will be fine politically with his base.

clare.malone: I think Bannon would lob inflammatory criticism at the White House if he were let go.

Would that affect economic populist Trump supporters who read/watch a certain part of the right-wing media? Or would the prominence of Fox/Hannity as ever-loving supporters of Trump drown out the noise?

I don’t know, honestly!

Although, I guess I can see a scenario where Bannon is let go on good terms and he writes from a not-entirely-confrontational point of view from the outside.

perry: If Bannon is fired and it’s part of a general repositioning of Trump as a Jeb Bush/Rubio-style figure, yeah, then Trump will have a problem. If it means that H.R. McMaster/John Kelly/Ivanka Trump have taken over, Trump will have a problem with the Bannon wing of the party. But I doubt Trump is headed there.

Isn’t Donald Trump the leading voice of this kind of politics in the White House, not Bannon?

micah: Yes.

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Posted by Chris Herring

If you want a sense of what it was that forced the NBA to alter the way it schedules games, take a close look at a one-week stretch in mid-March.

On March 11, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs — separated in the standings by a mere game-and-a-halfeach sat out their best players during a nationally televised Saturday game on ABC. A week later, the Cleveland Cavaliers did the exact same thing, sitting LeBron James among others in a marquee, ABC-carried game against the Los Angeles Clippers.17

Asked whether the league contacted the Cavs about the team’s decision to rest its stars during the contest, David Griffin, Cleveland’s general manager at the time, said an NBA official called him almost immediately. “Seven minutes after it was announced. Yeah, they were not happy,” he said. “I feel bad for the league. I really do. But it is what it is from an injury standpoint.”

In response to such concerns — including the fact that NBA teams have begun resting players earlier and earlier in the calendar each season, even when they aren’t in contention — the league made sure to build in a decent number of rest days around its biggest, most-hyped games this season to prevent clubs from using that rationale to sit star players in those contests.

Perhaps the clearest shift in this regard: The league did its best to ensure that ABC will not be left showing the Warriors without Steph Curry, Kevin Durant or the Dubs’ other stars. Golden State, the NBA’s most televised team18, played five games on ABC last season, with four of those matchups being part of a back-to-back set.19 But this year, Golden State is slated to play six games on ABC with none of those being part of a back-to-back.

More broadly, league officials were able to reduce each club’s number of back-to-back showings by beginning the season a week earlier than usual. The average team will now play just over 14 back-to-backs over the course of the season, down from 16 last season. And for the first time in league history, no team will be forced to play four games in a five-night span.

Over the past few years, the notion of resting players has almost become commonplace, even after the Spurs got hit with a massive $250,000 fine in 2012 for holding out a number of its best players in a high-profile game against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. But there is an argument to be made that the league was overstepping its bounds in that case. After all, what if a team runs out of gas in the postseason, largely because it overexerted itself during a regular season in which players were all but forced to play in high-profile, nationally televised games? Aside from the injury risk, it’s also taking a key coaching decision — when and how to push your players, versus when to relax them — out of a coach’s hands.

By striking the balance it did Monday night, the league may have found a way to keep players more happy, and fans at home more interested.

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Posted by Neil Paine

This baseball season seems to have the makings of an unpleasant one for pitchers. Hitters are focusing on hitting deep fly balls, and more of them are leaving the yard than ever before, possibly thanks to a batch of baseballs that are bouncier than usual. As a result, scoring has increased to 4.65 runs per game, the highest it’s been since 2008. But despite all of that, star hurlers are quietly experiencing a renaissance in 2017.

In fact, several of them are butting their way into the MVP conversation. Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale has the most wins above replacement of any player — pitcher or otherwise — in the major leagues, with 6.6,20 and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals leads the National League with 6.1.

That wasn’t the case last season. According to WAR, the top pitcher of 2016 was the New York Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, who clocked in at eighth overall with 6.7 WAR — 0.8 of which came from his bat, not his arm.21 To find the last time baseball’s top pitcher ranked worse in overall WAR, you’d have to go back to 1983, when Steve Carlton and John Denny of the Philadelphia Phillies finished tied for ninth overall. Between then and last year, only one top pitcher has finished as low as eighth by overall WAR, San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy in 2007.

With Syndergaard injured since May, it might have seemed as though top pitchers were in for an even worse fate this season. But instead, they’ve flourished: In addition to Sale and Scherzer, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber ranks among baseball’s top 20 players this season (seventh), as do Arizona’s Zack Greinke (17th) and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (19th). (And that’s even though Kershaw headed to the DL in late July.)

On pace for 9.1 WAR over a full schedule,22 Sale is having one of the most dominating seasons by a pitcher in recent memory. If Sale keeps it up, the only campaign better by WAR in the past 15 years will have been Greinke’s 9.5-WAR season in 2009. And for his part, Scherzer is tracking for one of the best seasons by a runner-up pitcher, ranking as the 28th-best among No. 2 pitchers in a season since 1901 and 10th-best since MLB lowered the mound in 1969.

Of course, all of this means only that the top of the pitching heap has been stellar this season. Because there’s a finite amount of pitching WAR to go around, if the best pitchers are accumulating more of it, lesser pitchers must be doing worse. Indeed, if you look at a ranking of this year’s pitchers by overall WAR, most of those between Nos. 10 and 75 are doing worse (in terms of WAR per 162 team games) than the average for their ranking slot since 1998.23 (For example, Jimmy Nelson of the Brewers ranks 18th in baseball with a 3.9-WAR pace. The typical No. 18 pitcher records 4.3 WAR, so Nelson is running nearly a half-WAR behind average for his ranking slot.) In other words, there are more legitimately great pitchers this year, but fewer good ones.

Even so, the numbers pick up again around the 100th-best-pitcher slot, and many pitchers who rank in the range between Nos. 100 and 200 are outpacing the historical average for their rank. So the class of “solid pitchers” seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much.

Either way, with such great pitching performances leading the pack, you can expect this season’s MVP debates to be complicated by the old (and really dumb) argument over whether hurlers should be allowed to win the award. Scherzer is currently a half-WAR clear of Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt for the NL lead, while Sale is in a slightly tighter race with Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve for the AL lead. And although I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since Pedro Martinez finished second and fifth in MVP voting during two of the greatest pitching seasons ever,24 there is probably still some anti-pitching bias in the minds of MVP voters. (“They have their own award, the Cy Young,” is the common justification.) But unlike last season, there have at least been pitching performances outstanding enough to warrant the debate.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

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Posted by Alice Callahan

It seems like a major part of keeping kids healthy these days is managing their microbial exposure. On the one hand, we’re told that letting our kids get dirty and tempering our use of hand sanitizer can help cultivate a healthy population of good microbes in and on the body, which is associated with lower rates of chronic maladies like asthma and allergies. On the other hand, we know that among all the benign and beneficial bacteria in the world lurk some that are deadly, causing diseases such as whooping cough, pneumonia and meningitis.

To treat these diseases, we need antibiotics, but the downside is that antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria in the body, including the ones that contribute to our health. Meanwhile, every course of antibiotics gives bacteria that are resistant to the drugs a chance to grow and thrive. That makes for more antibiotic-resistant infections, all of which are harder to treat and some of which can’t be treated at all.

Ideally, we want to protect our kids from deadly bacteria without disturbing the good ones or worsening the trend of antibiotic resistance. And this is exactly what vaccines do. They give us exposure to the pathogen — be it bacterial or viral — in a weakened, killed or partial form so that we can develop immunity to it without getting the full-blown illness. If we’re exposed to the real thing later, our bodies have antibodies specific to that pathogen ready to fight back. No antibiotics needed, and our friendly microbes can continue to live in peace. But when parents choose not to vaccinate their kids, they’re increasing the kids’ chances of not only becoming seriously ill, but also of needing antibiotic treatment and other medical interventions down the road.

Dr. Joel Amundson, a pediatrician in Portland, Oregon, finds himself frequently talking about vaccines and antibiotics in the same breath. Oregon has one of the lowest immunization rates in the nation, and Amundson said many of the parents he counsels want to keep their kids “all-natural” and see vaccines as an unnecessary medical intervention. But when he explains that vaccines are a tool for decreasing medical interventions, including antibiotic use, that often changes their perspective. “That’s a huge benefit to my families,” he said, “It definitely has them more interested in doing vaccines when they understand that.”

Some parents who are reluctant to vaccinate worry about side effects, and though some kids will experience short-lived, minor reactions such as swelling at the injection site, serious side effects are extremely rare. Side effects from antibiotics, including diarrhea, rashes and allergic reactions, are generally more common and severe, Amundson said. “I see far more harm from antibiotics than I do from vaccines, by a huge margin. It’s not subtle,” he said.

Of course, when a person has a serious bacterial infection, the benefits of antibiotics far outweigh those risks, because these diseases can be deadly. “When we need them, we really need them,” said Janet Gilsdorf, professor emerita of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Michigan. But in a world where antibiotic-resistant infections are thought to kill 50,000 people each year in the U.S. and Europe alone, a problem that the United Nations has called “the greatest and most urgent global risk,” reducing our use of antibiotics helps preserve their value. “The fewer infections we have, the fewer antibiotics we need to use, and we know that the use of antibiotics is what drives antibiotic resistance,” Gilsdorf said.

Vaccines have prevented millions of illnesses

Estimated number of infections prevented by vaccines over the lifespan of children born in the U.S. in 2009

INFECTIOUS DISEASE CAUSED BY CASES PREVENTED
Varicella Virus 3,942,546
Measles Virus 3,835,825
Pertussis Bacteria 2,950,836
Pneumococcus-related diseases Bacteria 2,323,952
Mumps Virus 2,312,275
Rubella Virus 1,981,066
Rotavirus Virus 1,582,940
Diphtheria Bacteria 275,028
HepB Virus 239,993
HepA Virus 153,164
Polio Virus 67,463
Hib Bacteria 19,606
Congenital rubella syndrome Virus 632
Tetanus Bacteria 169

Source: Pediatrics

We don’t yet have research on whether emphasizing this benefit of vaccines might encourage parents to immunize their kids. While the vast majority of parents vaccinate their kids on schedule, the number of parents who are reluctant to do so does seems to be increasing in the U.S., despite a mountain of evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Reasons for parents’ concerns about vaccines are varied, and each type of concern will likely need to be addressed differently to improve vaccination rates. But there’s some evidence that parents are becoming more aware of the problem of antibiotic resistance, and a study of Austrian adults found that those with more knowledge about antibiotics were more likely to get the flu vaccine.

There’s no question that vaccines have dramatically reduced the burden of disease. A study published in 2014 estimated that among U.S. children born in 2009, following the recommended childhood vaccine schedule (not including the flu vaccine) would prevent 20 million cases of disease across their lifespans, and about 30 percent of these are bacterial diseases that would likely require antibiotic treatment. These are diseases like diphtheria and pertussis, both of which were major causes of childhood illness and death before their vaccines were developed in the first half of the 20th century. More recently, the vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), which the Food and Drug Administration approved for use in toddlers starting in 1985 and infants in 1990, nearly eliminated the dangerous blood and brain infections caused by this bacteria.

Pneumococcal vaccines have also reduced our dependence on antibiotics. The first was recommended in the U.S. for infants and young children in 2000, followed in 2010 by an updated version covering more strains of the bug. Like Hib, pneumococcus bacteria can cause pneumonia and invasive blood and brain infections, but it’s also a major cause of ear infections, which are one of the biggest reasons that children are prescribed antibiotics. Before the vaccine was added to the infant immunization schedule, up to 40 percent of invasive pneumococcal infections — meaning infections that spread to parts of the body, such as the bloodstream, that are normally germ-free — were resistant to at least one antibiotic, making them more difficult and costly to treat. The first pneumococcus vaccine decreased antibiotic-resistant invasive pneumococcal infections in young children by 81 percent, and the second vaccine caused an additional 61 percent drop. (These studies looked at different age groups, however; the first included only children younger than 2, and the second looked at children up to age 4.)

The U.S., Israel and the U.K. have also observed big drops in kids’ ear infections coinciding with the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines. (Other factors, such as increased breastfeeding and tightened diagnostic criteria for ear infections, have likely contributed to these improvements, but researchers believe that the vaccines have played an important role.) In a paper published last year, researchers estimated that making the pneumococcal vaccine universally available to children in the 75 countries they looked at could not only prevent disease but also avert 11.4 million days of antibiotic treatment each year, a 47 percent drop in current antibiotic use for pneumonia.

Less obviously, vaccines that protect against illnesses caused by viruses rather than bacteria can also help cut antibiotic use. For example, influenza is viral, but flu season always brings an uptick in antibiotic prescriptions. In many cases, the antibiotics are being inappropriately prescribed, but some are necessary treatments for secondary bacterial infections, like pneumonia and ear infections, that can move in when a person’s immune system is busy fighting the virus. When Ontario, Canada, started offering free flu vaccines, the province’s rate of antibiotic prescriptions associated with the flu dropped by 64 percent.

The vaccine against measles, another viral infection, also probably decreases antibiotic use. A 2015 paper showed that a measles infection weakens a person’s immune system for two to three years, which explains why the measles vaccine reduces childhood mortality by 30 percent to 50 percent in poor countries, which can’t be explained by measles prevention alone. “Not having measles is a really good thing for your immune system in terms of preventing other infections,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a paper published last year, Lipsitch argued that development of new vaccines should be considered an important strategy in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He believes that it would be most useful to have vaccines against certain bacterial strains that patients tend to pick up in hospitals — those strains are often resistant to multiple antibiotics. A more effective flu vaccine and a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, which sends more than 57,000 young children and 177,000 elderly people in the U.S. to the hospital each year, could also reduce antibiotic use. Potential vaccines for a number of these diseases are in various stages of clinical trials.

Lipsitch envisions vaccines that go even further. “I actually think one of the most interesting ideas I’ve had is the idea of using vaccines directly to target [antibiotic] resistant bacteria, not just all bacteria, but directly aiming at the targets that are the resistant genes.” This type of vaccine would be especially helpful for bacteria like pneumococcus and Staphylococcus aureus, which are so ubiquitous that they’re unlikely to be eliminated; keeping drug resistance at bay would help us coexist with them more peacefully. “The idea of these resistance-targeted vaccines is to try to make life extra hard for the resistant organisms,” Lipsitch said.

But would it be tough to sell people on more vaccines for both kids and adults when some people are refusing to get the vaccines we already have? “I think it ought to be a pretty easy sell, actually,” said David Salisbury, associate fellow at the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security in London and former director of immunization at the U.K. Department of Health. “Imagine if an ear infection, which happens so commonly in children, became untreatable. You can fantasize about false risks of the vaccines, but they turn to nothing when you compare them with untreatable infections. Would you seriously prefer your child not to have a vaccine and risk an infection to which there was no treatment?”

A global challenge as big as antibiotic resistance will require multiple solutions, including reducing the use of antibiotics in agriculture and developing new antibiotics, but Salisbury says that vaccines deserve more attention and investment. Gilsdorf is on board with that. “What we need is more good science, which means we need more funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and these federal agencies that support scientists to learn the nitty-gritty of these bacteria,” she said.

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