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Posted by Neil Paine

It had to end sometime. After sustaining a perfect record and a staggering 142-37 scoring margin over more than three weeks of play, the Cleveland Indians finally lost Friday night, dropping a tight contest to the Kansas City Royals. It was their first loss after winning 22 straight games. Now that The Streak is over, Cleveland can go back to focusing on the playoffs like any contending team.

Just because the Indians can put their streak in the rearview mirror, though, doesn’t mean that we can’t dwell on it a little more. It wasn’t the major league record for consecutive wins — if we include unofficial ties in between victories, the 1916 New York Giants’ 26-game mark still reigns supreme. But we can compare the Indians’ streak to that Giants’ run and determine exactly how difficult baseball’s best winning streaks were in general. (And, because I can’t resist, compare the Indians’ accomplishments with winning streaks in the NBA.)

Depending on how you measure the streak’s likelihood, the chances of a team like Cleveland pulling off their streak might have been as low as 1 in 65,000.

To judge this, I compared all the MLB streaks to one another, assuming they were done by the same, generic contending team. I set up a simulation under which a team with a fixed Elo ratingour method for determining how good a team is at a given moment — would take a crack at the particular opponents1 faced by every real MLB team who had a winning streak2 of at least 18 games since 1901.

A few more technical details of the simulation: I gave all the teams the same fixed rating, 1560, which is the average Elo of a World Series participant since 1903, when the first modern Fall Classic was staged.3 For comparison’s sake, the Indians’ rating at the beginning of their streak was 1555. I also assumed the streaking team had a five-man starting rotation, with the team’s rotation slot for the initial game of the streak randomized.4 (This matters because a team that goes into a potential streak with its No. 5 starter is much less likely to get off on the right foot than a team putting its ace on the mound.)

After running the first round of simulations, here were the odds of our generic contending team pulling off each streak:

Which MLB winning streak was most impressive?

Probability of a generic contending team matching MLB’s eight longest winning streaks since 1901

YEAR TEAM STREAK LENGTH AVG. OPP. ELO AVG. WIN PROB. GENERIC TEAM ODDS
1916 New York Giants 26 1493.4 65.2% 1 in 76,702
2017 Cleveland Indians 22 1496.7 63.0 29,951
1935 Chicago Cubs 21 1499.6 63.1 19,477
1953 New York Yankees 18 1518.0 58.6 16,752
1947 New York Yankees 19 1506.2 60.8 13,297
1906 Chicago White Sox 19 1507.4 61.4 11,642
2002 Oakland Athletics 20 1489.5 63.7 8,454
1904 New York Giants 18 1471.4 66.4 1,691

According to this model, the hardest streak still belonged to the 1916 Giants — which isn’t too surprising, since they won four more games in a row than the Indians. And sorry, Billy Beane: the 2002 “Moneyball” A’s also fall behind lesser streaks because of the weak opposition they faced during their streak. But another thing that stands out are the odds, which are much more favorable than if we simply ran them on a .500 team.

(We’ll have to leave the impressiveness of the Dodgers’ feat — winning 52 out of 61 earlier in the season — for another time.)

The difference is because a 1560 Elo squad is (by design) no ordinary .500 team. Our generic team is going to be predisposed to running off a stretch of games like this, which only makes sense — average teams don’t go on these kinds of tears. And our simulation teams only got hotter as they won — that is, a team’s rating is fixed at 1560 before the streak begins, but then it gains steam with each victory, making the odds of winning again higher.

But there’s another layer we can add to the simulation to make it more reflective of the conditions under which each streak was actually compiled. Most clubs didn’t use the five-man rotation, for instance, until the 1970s or early ‘80s; likewise, the best teams of the past used to be much stronger Elo-wise, making it more likely we’d see such a run of greatness earlier in baseball history. We can account for these wrinkles by assigning a four-man rotation to teams before 1980, and adjusting our generic team’s fixed rating to be slightly higher in the past than in later seasons.5 After re-running the numbers with these two tweaks, here’s an amended list of the most difficult streaks:

What if we account for rotation size and era?

Probability of a generic contender matching the longest winning streaks, adjusted for historical spread of Elo ratings and shorter rotations in past

YEAR TEAM STREAK LENGTH AVG. OPP. ELO AVG. WIN PROB. GENERIC TEAM ODDS (ADJ.)
2017 Cleveland Indians 22 1496.6 60.9% 1 in 65,566
1916 New York Giants 26 1493.5 67.2 34,720
1953 New York Yankees 18 1518.0 59.2 13,895
2002 Oakland Athletics 20 1489.4 62.2 13,775
1935 Chicago Cubs 21 1499.7 64.3 12,736
1947 New York Yankees 19 1506.2 61.7 10,223
1906 Chicago White Sox 19 1507.5 63.9 5,313
1904 New York Giants 18 1471.4 68.9 860

In a plot twist, the Indians’ streak now rises to the top — a function of being accomplished in an era of (theoretically) more parity and a higher chance for some scrub pitcher to mess the streak up thanks to a bigger rotation than older teams had.

So how does this stack up against notable streaks from another sport like, say, basketball? Using the same Elo-based method,6 I calculated the odds of a generic contending NBA team (with a 1660 Elo7) pulling off some of the longest streaks in pro basketball history. And even the most impressive streaks on the hardwood can’t compare with baseball’s hottest runs.

The longest winning streak in NBA history, the 1972 L.A. Lakers’ 33-game winning streak, would have a 1 in 720 chance of being accomplished by our generic contender. The Golden State Warriors’ 24-game streak to start the season a couple years ago raises the bar a bit, with a 1 in 1,879 chance of being achieved by a generic contender, since the Warriors faced a much more difficult slate of opponents. But even a streak as memorable as the Houston Rockets’ 22-gamer from 2008 seems weak (1 in 247 odds) when compared with the baseball streaks we looked at above.

Streaks are nice, but the Indians surely have another accolade in mind: the World Series trophy. As of now, we give them a 1 in 4 chance. Given what they just pulled off, doesn’t seem so hard, does it?

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Posted by Wil

Tabletop’s Eldritch Horror Pt. 1 was released this week.

Speaking of horror, I think I mentioned that I had this idea for a 1970s-style ridiculous, bloody, Grindhouse horror film. I thought it was just a silly story exercise, but the more I thought I about it and the more I did the story work for practice, the more I wanted to do the story work to make it into a real thing. So I’ve been working on that. It isn’t on cards just yet, but it’s on the whiteboard and it has its own file of ideas and beats and characters and stuff. I don’t know if it’ll get made, but at the very least I’ll have a script to publish.

I’ve been using that idea as an excuse to watch a ton of actual 1970s ridiculous, bloody, Grindhouse horror films. I’ve thrown some classic exploitation films into the mix, and learned a lot about how those movies were made. Some of them are terribad, but most of them have a sincerity that is utterly charming and worthy of emulation in my own screenplay.

I’ve been leveling up my understanding of story and character construction with this book called The Anatomy of Story. It’s densely packed with information and examples, and it’s slow reading for me because I keep going back to review, and I’m making a ton of notes in my notebook, but I’m pulling in tons of XP with each chapter. If you’re interested in writing and want to understand how to build your story, I highly recommend it.

The Deuce is as amazing as I hoped it would be. I am hoping so hard that the series lives up to the pilot (which is a thing I never say, because pilots are generally not that great, since they have to introduce a ton of characters and information.) Franco has always turned me off (it’s not him, it’s me), but I fucking LOVE him in this show.

Blood Drive was not renewed by the network formerly known as Sci-Fi, which makes me a little sad, because Colin Cunningham and Christina Ochoa are brilliant in it (Christina should have had top billing and Colin should win awards), and I would watch them as those characters forever. But! It always felt like it should be a miniseries, and the last four episodes weren’t nearly as compelling as the first eight. I felt like they had to bail on the premise — each episode pays homage to a classic exploitation trope — to set it up for multiple seasons. There was so much great stuff in it, though, and I sincerely love that SyFy gave the project the greenlight. It was a risky project, to say the least, and it’s so cool to see a network that was profoundly risk-averse when I worked for them take the chance.

I read a bunch of short stories from Charlie Jane Anders when I was on vacation last week, and I loved them all. So I went to the bookstore yesterday to pick up All the Birds in the Sky, and while I was there, I browsed the tabletop game section. My finger is ten miles from the pulse of tabletop gaming right now, but I took pictures of some games there that looked promising to me:

Have any of you played any of them? I’m just looking for fun games to add to my collection, not necessarily games that are candidates for Tabletop, as Tabletop’s future is uncertain.

Also, not that it matters, but getting Twitter off my phone and mostly out of my life has been a really great choice. It turns out that not being kicked in the face by infuriating bullshit dozens of times a day is a pretty neat idea.

So that’s a bunch of stuff I want you to know. What do you want me to know? I’m enjoying these posts, because it reminds me of the early days of my blog, when you who read it and I who wrote it would interact more than we seem to these days.

 

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Posted by Brin-Jonathan Butler

At the age of 40, after a 21-year career and a 50-0 record, Floyd Mayweather, the greatest prizefighter of his era, has walked away. He peddled the most lucrative act in the history of not only boxing, and not only sports, but entertainment.

When Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in 2015, he earned over $200 million for hardly breaking a sweat. The audience who witnessed those 36 minutes had the star power of the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, ESPYS and White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — combined. Some seats at the MGM Grand sold for $350,000 a pop. The fight obliterated records for gate and pay-per-view numbers. And why not? Mayweather had proven himself the most exciting fighter in the history of boxing — that is, until he stepped into the ring. After the opening bell sounded and the crowd had its chance to lean in toward the “Fight of the Century,” most recoiled before the first round was over, as though reacting to the stench of a spoiled carton of milk. Despite the ensuing bitterness and buyer’s remorse, only two years later, against Conor McGregor last month in Las Vegas, Mayweather was able to both earn and generate nearly as much money — although final estimates have yet to be released — fighting an opponent who had never boxed professionally.

Mayweather is gone. Pacquiao had his bite at the Mayweather apple and is now intent on becoming this generation’s answer to Muhammad Ali, hanging around too long at the fair. So what now? Mayweather was a lightning rod for the sport — many loved him, more loved to hate him, and he defined the big-money barometer of boxing success. Without this conduit, where does boxing’s energy flow? We might glimpse the future this weekend over 12 rounds in Las Vegas.

Two international fighters are ready to assume the mantle of the Face of Boxing. This Saturday, three weeks after the sideshow of Mayweather-McGregor, Mexican phenom Saul “Canelo” Alvarez squares off against undefeated Kazakhstani knockout artist Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin for the WBA, WBC and IBF middleweight titles in one of the most combustible matchups in decades.

After Mayweather, Alvarez has established himself as the sport’s most bankable pay-per-view star, albeit with far smaller numbers. The only blemish on his record is a 2013 defeat to Mayweather himself,8 which nearly broke what was then the all-time pay-per-view record Mayweather set against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Alvarez has fought seven times since, mainly against stiff competition, and steadily improved with each outing. Golovkin, meanwhile, is mounting his 19th-consecutive title defense.

But how much will the public care? In the U.S., this fight, more than any on the horizon, will prove a bellwether for what the health and complexion of boxing look like in a post-Mayweather era. Examining the top pay-per-view fights over the last couple of decades provides some useful clues and insights into the evolution of what the public sought from boxing and, ultimately, what it got for its money.

Long before Mayweather-McGregor infected the water supply, Mike Tyson single-handedly set boxing on course where spectacle would supplant substance. After serving a three-year sentence for rape at Indiana’s Plainfield Correctional Facility, the former champion emerged from prison more popular than ever, facing off against a walking punchline named Peter McNeeley, in 1995. The fight was billed with the line “He’s Back,” with Tyson playing the role of the “Jaws” shark and McNeeley the teenager wandering into the ocean with a surfboard. The resulting 89-second disqualification (McNeeley’s manager jumped into the ring) became the most lucrative fight in boxing history and Tyson was again one of the highest-earning entertainers on earth. Tyson offered a poignant assessment of the American public’s frightening fascination with him: “I can sell out Madison Square Garden masturbating.”

Tyson was a box-office behemoth after that. He continued to generate big numbers the next year when he faced Frank Bruno and the 25-1 underdog Evander Holyfield, who shockingly knocked out Tyson. Their rematch broke records yet again, before Holyfield’s ear was bitten off and spat out into the public consciousness. Only Van Gogh’s might be more famous.

Tyson lost his boxing license for just over a year. All he really had left in his career was offering the public his comeuppance against Lennox Lewis in 2002. It didn’t matter that Tyson was 35, more than a decade past his prime, and fighting one of boxing’s most menacing and dominant heavyweight champions. The public’s infatuation with Tyson ensured that the fight would set the pay-per-view record as the highest-grossing fight in boxing history. Only three years later, in 2005, a worn-out, broken-down Tyson quit on his stool against an Irish journeyman named Kevin McBride. Two hundred and fifty thousand people still paid to watch.

In 2007, two years after Tyson retired, Mayweather had fought on pay-per-view only three times and produced underwhelming numbers, never reaching even 400,000 buys. But the public spent $136 million on Mayweather-De La Hoya, and Mayweather used the opportunity to usurp his opponent’s considerable fan base. If he couldn’t win them over with his style in the ring, he would entice them to pay even more money, exploiting his undefeated record and willingness to play the “heel” role. “Pretty Boy” Floyd became “Money” Mayweather, and he dipped his toe into “Dancing with the Stars” and the WWE to gain even more exposure and cultural purchase. It worked like a charm. A decade after fighting De La Hoya, only 11 fights later, before Mayweather was done — not including the astronomical figures yet to be crunched from the McGregor bout — there was $1.3 billion in revenue from more than 19.5 million pay-per-view buys.

Mayweather tapped the post-prison Tyson business model of packaging hype and spectacle in ways that transcended the sport. But operating on a different plane during the same era, Pacquiao assumed the pre-prison Tyson business model. Pacquiao earned legions of devoted fans by becoming the most devastating fighter in the sport who would steamroll opponents with almost cartoonishly iconic knockout victories. As a result, from 2008 to 2012, there were six Pacquaio fights on pay-per-view that earned more than 1 million buys.9

Which brings us to boxing’s next chapter. The story on these pages is a new one. Although Golovkin and Alvarez may be the two most exciting boxers in the sport, neither has crossed the blockbuster threshold established by Tyson. Among the 22 fights estimated to have yielded more than 1 million pay-per-view buys, only three didn’t involve the names Tyson, Mayweather or Pacquiao: De La Hoya versus Trinidad and Holyfield’s fights against George Foreman and Lewis. Canelo’s six non-Mayweather fights on pay-per-view have averaged 575,000 buys and Golovkin’s two each earned fewer than 200,000.

The potential for a great fight is no guarantee that we’ll get one. Andre Ward demonstrated this last year in his pay-per-view disaster against Sergey Kovalev. Ward inherited the pound-for-pound crown from Mayweather, is sponsored by Nike’s Jordan brand, in his prime, and the last male American to win an Olympic gold medal. He challenged an undefeated knockout machine in Kovalev in one of the best 50-50 fights on paper in decades. Nobody cared and the fight generated anemic numbers. Their rematch this year produced even worse numbers.10

Both Golovkin and Alvarez are in their primes. They aren’t marketing this fight with dog whistles toward racism, homophobia or misogyny, or with cynical appeals to the lowest common denominator. They simply are offering what promises to be one of the best fights in years. Is that enough? In today’s America, nothing is taken seriously that doesn’t sell. And after years of being hooked on the antiheroic narrative, is America in our modern age willing to pay to watch a fight without one boxer wearing the black hat?

Who Hates The Patriots The Most?

Sep. 15th, 2017 05:14 pm
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Posted by Neil Paine

The NFL season is upon us, and for many fans that means hate-watching rival teams as much as it means cheering for one’s own favorite squad. And for a large subset of that group, that specifically means hate-watching the New England Patriots.

It’s no secret that winning five Super Bowls, 25 playoff games and 196 regular season games in a span of 17 years — not to mention breaking some rules along the way — will earn you a few enemies. But has New England’s nearly two-decade reign of terror over the NFL made them as universally despised as it seems? Have they reached the New York Yankees’ Evil Empire status? We decided to put it to a test.

We commissioned SurveyMonkey Audience to conduct a poll of NFL fans in early September,11 tracking how many would classify each franchise among their three favorite — and least favorite — teams. The survey also asked respondents to assign a favorability rating to a randomly drawn subset of teams, which we used to further judge the admiration — and, more importantly, the vitriol — between fan bases.

It should be noted that the Patriots are among the most popular teams in our database (cough, bandwagon), with more than 16 percent of all NFL fans listing them among their favorite teams. That ranks third in the league, trailing only a pair of historic NFL bluebloods: the Green Bay Packers (23 percent) and Dallas Cowboys (19 percent). But they’re also one of the two teams — along with the Cowboys — who stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league in terms of hatred from other fanbases. More than 26 percent of fans polled listed New England as one their three least-favorite teams; only Dallas checked in higher at 31 percent. (No. 3 were the Baltimore Ravens at 13 percent.)

The most loved — and hated — teams in the NFL

Share of NFL fans who ranked a given team among the their three favorite, and least-favorite, teams

FAVORITE TEAM IN TOP 3 LEAST-FAVORITE TEAM IN TOP 3
1 Green Bay Packers 23.0% 1 Dallas Cowboys 30.7%
2 Dallas Cowboys 19.1 2 New England Patriots 26.2
3 New England Patriots 16.4 3 Baltimore Ravens 13.2
4 Seattle Seahawks 15.1 4 Oakland Raiders 11.3
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 14.8 4 Pittsburgh Steelers 11.3
6 Denver Broncos 13.7 4 Washington Redskins 11.3
7 Chicago Bears 12.4 7 Cleveland Browns 11.2
8 New Orleans Saints 12.2 8 Green Bay Packers 10.6
9 San Francisco 49ers 11.1 9 New Orleans Saints 9.4
10 New York Giants 10.4 10 Buffalo Bills 9.3
⋮ ⋮
23 Detroit Lions 5.8 23 Miami Dolphins 6.1
24 Kansas City Chiefs 5.7 24 Detroit Lions 5.9
25 Indianapolis Colts 5.3 25 Los Angeles Chargers 5.5
26 Cincinnati Bengals 4.6 26 Minnesota Vikings 5.5
27 Cleveland Browns 4.6 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 5.4
27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4.6 28 Houston Texans 5.1
29 Los Angeles Rams 4.2 29 Indianapolis Colts 4.8
30 Buffalo Bills 4.0 30 Tennessee Titans 4.5
31 Tennessee Titans 3.9 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3.9
32 Jacksonville Jaguars 1.8 32 Kansas City Chiefs 3.7

Surveying 2,290 Americans who described themselves as NFL fans, conducted from September 1-7, 2017.

Source: Surveymonkey Audience

Does this mean the Cowboys and all the Jerry World glitz are actually more disliked than the Patriots? Not necessarily. A good amount of the Cowboys hate is accounted for by deep-seated rivalries with their fellow NFC East teams. Patriots hatred is far more egalitarian.

For example, the fan groups who hate Dallas the most — Philadelphia and Washington — really, really hate them: A staggering 50 percent of fans who ranked either the Eagles or Redskins among their top three teams also ranked the Cowboys among their bottom three.

The Patriots, by contrast, racked up their high dislike rate without the benefit of such intense hatred from specific fan bases. No single group of fans even cracked 35 percent, in terms of the share who ranked New England among their bottom three teams. But the Pats also collected a good amount of hate from a diverse spread of some of the league’s largest fan bases, which nearly helped them catch the Cowboys as the league’s most disliked team.

Here’s the rundown of the fan bases who most frequently listed the Patriots among their three least favorite teams:

Which fan bases hate the Patriots the most?

Among respondents who identified themselves as an NFL fan, share who also put the Patriots in their three least favorite teams

RK▲▼
FAN BASE▲▼
DIVISION▲▼
SHARE OF FANS▲▼
PUT PATS IN BOTTOM 3▲▼
1 New York Giants NFC East 3.8% 34.7%
2 Pittsburgh Steelers AFC North 5.3 33.0
3 Carolina Panthers NFC South 2.6 32.9
4 Indianapolis Colts AFC South 1.9 32.0
5 Denver Broncos AFC West 4.9 31.6
6 Seattle Seahawks NFC West 5.4 31.6
7 Buffalo Bills AFC East 1.4 30.4
8 Tennessee Titans AFC South 1.4 30.0
9 Philadelphia Eagles NFC East 2.9 29.9
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFC South 1.6 29.5
11 Jacksonville Jaguars AFC South 0.6 29.3
12 Green Bay Packers NFC North 8.3 29.1
13 Chicago Bears NFC North 4.5 28.4
14 Miami Dolphins AFC East 2.5 28.2
15 Atlanta Falcons NFC South 3.0 28.2
16 Minnesota Vikings NFC North 2.4 27.5
17 Baltimore Ravens AFC North 2.4 27.3
18 Detroit Lions NFC North 2.1 27.1
19 Cincinnati Bengals AFC North 1.7 26.4
20 New York Jets AFC East 2.4 26.3
21 Houston Texans AFC South 2.5 26.3
22 New Orleans Saints NFC South 4.4 25.8
23 Arizona Cardinals NFC West 2.3 25.7
24 Oakland Raiders AFC West 3.1 25.6
25 Kansas City Chiefs AFC West 2.0 25.4
26 Dallas Cowboys NFC East 6.9 25.3
27 Washington Redskins NFC East 2.2 23.0
28 San Francisco 49ers NFC West 4.0 22.4
29 Los Angeles Rams NFC West 1.5 21.6
30 Cleveland Browns AFC North 1.6 20.0
31 Los Angeles Chargers AFC West 2.4 17.0
— New England Patriots AFC East 5.9 —

Surveying 2,290 Americans who described themselves as NFL fans, conducted from September 1-7, 2017.

Source: Surveymonkey Audience

Perhaps surprisingly, given that their favorite team beat the Pats in two Super Bowls over the last 10 years, fans of the New York Giants win the crown as the group that hates New England most, with 34.7 percent of them ranking the Pats among their bottom three teams. (Granted, the poll was conducted in the middle of a pennant race between the Red Sox and the Yankees — so there’s no telling what lingering Boston-New York resentment carried over.) Add in animosity from a handful of other huge fan bases — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks (all of whom the Pats have beaten in the playoffs this decade) — plus leftover resentment from fans of the Carolina Panthers (who apparently have really long memories) and Indianapolis Colts (for whom it’s unclear how much hate is motivated by DeflateGate and how much by the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry), and there are very few corners of America where Patriots fans won’t be behind enemy lines.

But look on the bright side, Patriots fans: In order to be at the top of the “hate” list, you have to be successful. The top six teams on our list have combined for 24 Super Bowl wins. By comparison, the bottom of the list is filled with teams that are either relatively new or simply inoffensive because they haven’t won many playoff games. And the biggest congratulations are in order for the Kansas City Chiefs, who are currently No. 1 in FiveThirtyEight’s rankings and are also the least disliked team in America, according to the poll. What’s more, this poll was conducted before Kansas City knocked off the Patriots in the NFL season opener.

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Posted by Edited by Oliver Roeder

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-size and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either,12 and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint, or if you have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

From Max Weinreich, a phantasmal puzzle:

Twenty ghostbusters are on their annual camping retreat. Two of them, Abe and Betty, have discovered that another pair, Candace and Dan, are in fact ghosts posing as ghostbusters. Abe and Betty hatch a plan: When all 20 campers are sitting in a circle around the campfire, Abe will fire his proton pack at Candace, and Betty will simultaneously fire her proton pack at Dan, annihilating the ghosts. However, if two proton streams cross, it means the end of all life on Earth.

If the ghostbusters are arranged randomly around the fire, what are the chances that Abe and Betty will cross streams?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

This week’s Classic, from Spreck Rosekrans, continues our camping theme. Here are four questions of increasing difficulty about finding sticks in the woods, breaking them and making shapes:

  1. If you break a stick in two places at random, forming three pieces, what is the probability of being able to form a triangle with the pieces?
  2. If you select three sticks, each of random length (between 0 and 1), what is the probability of being able to form a triangle with them?
  3. If you break a stick in two places at random, what is the probability of being able to form an acute triangle — where each angle is less than 90 degrees — with the pieces?
  4. If you select three sticks, each of random length (between 0 and 1), what is the probability of being able to form an acute triangle with the sticks?

Submit your answer

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Ian Leavitt 👏 of Denver, winner of last week’s Express puzzle and the champion War-rior of Riddler Nation!

For a simplified game of War against a random opponent, you had to decide how to arrange your set of 13 cards: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king and ace. In the one-round game, you go through all 13 of your cards once, with you and your opponent drawing a card off the top of your decks and comparing them. (Your opponent has the same cards.) If your card outranks your opponent’s, you get a point. After all 13 cards have been shown, the player with the most points wins. No points are awarded for ties. But there’s a catch: To enter the tournament, you must first beat me, the house. My cards are in this order: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A. I, being the house and all, get an advantage: I win ties. Plus, I can choose to play my deck forward or backward. Your deck must be able to beat both of my decks.

Over the weekend, 1,349 of you submitted decks. Of those, 1,278 were valid decks, and 1,163 beat my house deck both forward and backward, successfully earning entry into the tournament.13 (Twitter user @sl2c calculated that about 10 percent of all possible decks beat mine.) I matched each of these decks against every other — and the War results are in.

Our winner, Ian, described his approach this way: “Like an illusion, it just happened.” My best ideas come to me in the shower, so, Ian, I totally get it.

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Keith Hudson👏 of Nashville, winner of last week’s Classic puzzle!

In a standard, two-player, 52-card game of War, if I start with four aces and you start with the 48 other cards, randomly shuffled, your chances of winning are about 19 percent. My chances, starting with the four aces, are about 81 percent.

At first, it might seem impossible to lose with all four aces — aces can’t be beat, after all. But later-in-the-game wars are what make this assumption problematic. If I take one of your fives, for example, with one of my aces early in the game, I will have to play that five later. At that point, it could match with one of your fives, leading to war. In that war, I have to place one of my cards14 face down, one of which could be an ace, and if I get unlucky, I could lose it to you. If that happens often enough, you could overtake me.

Ultimately, this is problem best tackled with computer simulations. Solvers turned to Perl, Python, R and C++. Julian Norton, Zack Segel, Jonathan Whitmore and Hector Pefo were kind enough to share their code.

Our winner, Keith, shared the following “pseudocode,” guiding us intuitively through the process that he used to create his simulations:

while neither deck is empty: {
 take the top card off of both decks and put them "on the table" 
 if the cards are different: { 
 shuffle the cards on the table 
 put the table cards in the winner's desk 
 } else { 
 if neither deck is empty: { 
 take the top card off of both decks and put them on the table 
 } else { 
 break 
 } // end neither deck empty 
 } // end cards are different
} // end while
calculate win-loss stats based on which deck is empty

How long can you expect all this warring to take? Hector shared a visual representation of his simulations, showing what share of the total number of games ended after a given number of turns flipping cards. He did this for a standard, fairly dealt game as well as our one-player-all-aces version:

There are slight variations in the rules of War that led to slightly varying results. Do you put one or two (or even three, as I did as a kid) cards face down during a war? Are the cards that are won in a war added randomly back to the bottom of a deck or can they be placed strategically? These led to small shifts in the probability, but regardless of the house rules, the starting ace-haver was always a heavy favorite.

In any event, get comfortable: You might be playing for a while.

Want to submit a riddle?

Email me at oliver.roeder@fivethirtyeight.com.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

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


85 percent

An abnormally warm winter caused the loss of 85 percent of Georgia’s peach crop. As world temperatures rise due to climate change, crops all over — whether it’s apples in Michigan or cherries in California — are at risk of loss due to premature blooms or dry winters. [FiveThirtyEight]


1,800 people

The entire island of Barbuda was evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma, meaning the 62 square mile home of about 1,800 people is empty. It’s infrastructure has also been decimated by the storm, with about 95 percent of its structures sustaining damage. [USA Today]


3,948

Later today we’re going to hurl a satellite into Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens mission has been a major success, resulting in 3,948 scientific papers, 453,048 images taken, and six named moons discovered. You have any idea how hard it is to find a moon nobody else noticed? Yeah well Cassini did that like six times. Now it gets to be part of Saturn, which is pretty neat all things considered. [NASA]


700 million

New air conditioning units expected to be added by 2030, largely in developing countries. One issue yet to be solved is that additional air conditioning units are positively terrible for the environment, given that the hydroflourocarbons that they use as refrigerants have thousands of times the warming potential of more common greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. [The Verge]


$4.4 billion

Immigrating to the U.S. isn’t easy, but the rich have a leg up: The EB-5 visa allows investors to eventually obtain a green card with a $500,000 minimum investment in the U.S. In 2015, the value of those loans was $4.4 billion, up from $240 million in 2007, with 74 percent of that investment going to real estate. The great recession made foreign EB-5 related financing ideal for many real estate developers: They get a way better interest rate than commercial alternatives — 4 to 8 percent annually compared to 10 to 18 percent annually — because the actual ROI for the lender is a green card. [Bloomberg]


$58 billion

That’s the current estimate for the aggregate costs of Hurricane Irma in Florida, with a further $30 billion in damage to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean. It’s important that Irma struck Marco Island rather than passing it 20 miles to the west, as the storm could have hit mainland Florida at a far more advanced strength and could have caused an additional $150 billion in damage to the state. [Bloomberg]


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Posted by Harry Enten

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Today’s theme song: End credits from “The Simpsons” (Renaissance version)

ESPN Video Player

Poll of the week

Jeff Flake is still in big trouble.

The latest survey from Democratic pollster GBA Strategies gives Kelli Ward (Flake’s opponent in Arizona’s GOP Senate primary) a 58 percent to 31 percent advantage over Flake. It’s the third poll released during the last month showing Ward with at least a 15-point lead. The same survey has potential Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema in front of Flake, 47 percent to 40 percent, in the general election.

Flake’s difficulties aren’t surprising, but how quickly he’s become (perhaps) the most vulnerable Republican up for re-election in 2018 is. That title was supposed to belong to Nevada Sen. Dean Heller — Nevada is a bluer state than Arizona, and Heller already has a well-known declared Democratic opponent in Rep. Jacky Rosen.

So why is Flake’s future looking so much more uncertain than Heller’s? The difference appears to be how Flake and Heller have managed their relationships with President Trump. Flake has written a book slamming Trump. That, along with other anti-Trump actions, has motivated the president to all but endorse Ward. Heller, on the other hand, has been more cooperative with the White House, even if he has sometimes done so reluctantly. Heller also said — after a long period of not saying — that he voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Flake didn’t.

So, Trump hasn’t made a move toward backing a Republican challenge against Heller. As a result, Heller has a lead in most primary polls against Republican Danny Tarkanian, and Heller is holding his own in the few general election surveys that have been released.

The lesson here seems to be that even while Trump is unpopular overall, he is still well-liked by the Republican base — Republican lawmakers cross him at their own peril.

Other polling nuggets:

  • Murphy leads in New Jersey — Usually, the New Jersey governor’s race is a marquee matchup in the year after the presidential election. Not this year. Democrat Phil Murphy holds a 58 percent to 33 percent lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll. Guadagno is being hurt by her association with unpopular Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Polls of New Jersey’s governor race this far out are sometimes off, but there would have to be an unprecedented change in the race for it to become competitive. Since 1981, the difference between the poll closest to this point in the campaign from Rutgers (through 1993) or Quinnipiac (since 1997) and the eventual election result has never been more than 12 points.
  • Cops and professors divide us — The Pew Research Center asked Democrats and Republicans to rate a bunch of different groups and professions on a scale from zero to 100, where zero represents the most negative rating and 100 is the most positive. Partisans from both sides liked teachers and the military but disliked each other (Democrats disliked Republicans, and vice versa). The two professions they disagreed about most were the police, whom Republicans on average rated an 84 and Democrats a 62, and college professors, whom Democrats on average rated a 71 and Republicans just a 46. Not surprising, but still a sign of the times.
  • Bernie leads, though not with African-Americans — A Zogby Analytics poll published this week puts Bernie Sanders ahead of the very preliminary 2020 pack with 28 percent in a hypothetical Democratic primary. Although I’m not the biggest fan of Zogby, the poll generally matches previous surveys of the early 2020 field. Notably, former Vice President Joe Biden is in second overall, with 17 percent, but among black voters, he is ahead of Sanders, 31 percent to 19 percent. This suggests that Sanders still has some work to do among a key Democratic constituency.
  • Jews don’t like Trump — A new survey from the American Jewish Committee finds that Trump’s favorable rating among Jewish Americans is just 21 percent; 77 percent of respondents saw him unfavorably. Indeed, Trump lost the Jewish vote by a significant margin in 2016. But the Jewish vote isn’t monolithic. Trump’s favorable rating among Orthodox Jews is 71 percent, while it’s just 11 percent among Reform Jews.

Trump’s job approval ratings

Trump’s approval rating is 38.5 percent. His disapproval rating is 55.6 percent. Last week, those ratings were 38.4 percent and 56.4 percent, respectively. Why has Trump’s disapproval rating improved? As always, it could just be noise. It’s also possible that some Americans who disapproved of Trump are now unsure as the media focus has shifted away from Trump to hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The generic ballot

Democrats hold a 45.5 percent to 36.0 percent lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. That’s little different from the 46.1 percent to 36.7 percent advantage they had last week.


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Posted by Ella Koeze

2017 has been a bad year for peaches in the Peach State. Georgia’s disruptively warm winter caused the loss of an estimated 85 percent of the peach crop. “We had fruit here in Georgia from the middle of May to about probably the first week of July, and after that we didn’t have anything else,” said Dario Chavez, an assistant professor in peach research and extension at the University of Georgia.15

As temperatures rise globally because of climate change, Georgia is not the only part of the country where warm winters are causing trouble for farmers. California’s cherry crop took a hit in 2014 because of a warm, dry winter. And in 2012, after a warm February and March brought early blooms, Michigan’s apple crop was decimated by an April frost. Farmers have always been at the mercy of the environment, but now agricultural catastrophes brought on by warm winters seem likely to occur with greater frequency.

For trees that fruit each year (such as peaches, cherries, blueberries, almonds and other fruits and nuts), cool weather is as important as warm. Cold air and less sunlight trigger the release of chemicals that halt trees’ growth, prepare them to withstand freezing temperatures and enable them to resume growing the following spring. When a tree enters this dormant state, it sets a kind of internal seasonal alarm clock that goes off once the tree has spent enough time in chilly temperatures.16 This countdown is measured in so-called chill hours — the amount of time the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.17 When crops don’t get the chill hours they expect, they can’t properly reset. Buds are delayed, and instead of ripening into juicy, delicious fruit, they remain small and underdeveloped.18

This last winter, middle Georgia got about 400 chill hours during what Chavez described as the usual dormancy period for peaches (roughly Oct. 1 to Feb. 10). The winter before, while still on the low side, had closer to 600 chill hours. But that 200-hour difference meant several peach varieties that had produced fruit in 2016 never bloomed this year. There are products and techniques that can help stimulate delayed crops, but this year the deficit in chill hours was too large to overcome, Chavez said.

A chill-hour deficit hits places with milder climates, such as the southeastern U.S. and California, especially hard because they get fewer chill hours to begin with.

But Georgia was not the only place with a chill-hour deficit in the last year. According to an analysis by the Midwestern Regional Climate Center’s Vegetation Impact Program, most of the U.S. got fewer chill hours than the average from 1998 to 2013.19

Climate change, and the loss in winter chill that can come with it, poses a particular threat to fruit and nut trees and the farmers who depend on them, said Eike Luedeling, a senior scientist at the University of Bonn’s Center for Development Research. Farmers who grow annual crops, such as corn and wheat, replant every year and might be able to adapt more nimbly to a sudden change in the environment, by changing their planting schedule or switching crops (though doing so may be costly). But fruit and nut farmers rely on plants that take much longer than a single growing season to be productive. “You really have to plan for several decades ahead when you plant a tree,” said Luedeling, who has modelled what winter chill hours may look like in the future. “It’s a huge investment.”

Looking ahead, the experience of Georgia peach farmers this year might become more common. Luedeling predicts only about a quarter to a half of California’s Central Valley, which produces much of America’s fruit and nut crops, still will have enough chill hours by the middle of the 21st century to grow walnuts, apricots, plums and most varieties of peaches and nectarines.20 A separate, global projection from Luedeling shows that while colder areas may not change much over the next century (or may even gain winter chill hours, thanks to more days above freezing), warm areas are likely to see dramatic reductions in chill hours.

Though concerning, these projections are far from certain, Luedeling said. There is still a lot we don’t know about winter chill. Anything above 45 degrees does not count toward the chill hour total in most models, but that threshold is almost certainly not as firm for plants themselves. As Luedeling put it, the cutoff doesn’t “have much biology in it,” but he hopes to build a better model soon that will help fruit producers plan for the future.

Meanwhile, farmers must make decisions now about their plans for the next few years. Peach growers and researchers, for their part, are focused on moving toward varieties that need fewer chill hours to thrive. Chavez, who works closely with growers, some of whose families have been growing peaches in Georgia for three to four generations, said that the time to make changes is now. “The weather is something we cannot control,” he said, but peach farming “is part of the region…. We have to address [it] sooner or later.”

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Posted by Rob Arthur

When Angels star Mike Trout went down for six weeks with a thumb injury at the end of May, it suddenly looked like the American League’s most valuable player title was anybody’s to claim. Would it be rookie sensation Aaron Judge? Or perhaps diminutive Astros sparkplug Jose Altuve would claim his first MVP crown. Could Boston’s strikeout machine Chris Sale work his way into the conversation? The race seemed wide open.

Four months later, it’s becoming clear that we may have underestimated the best player in baseball.

Trout returned from his first career DL stint after the All-Star break and started knocking home runs like he’d never left. In 51 games since his recovery, Trout has slashed .305/.457/.563, accruing a total of about 21 runs above an average player. Trout’s hitting has been so otherworldly that he has almost entirely closed the gap between himself and the best offensive players in baseball. Here’s a chart showing Trout’s Weighted Runs Created, which quantifies a player’s total offensive value, relative to the rest of the league since the start of the 2017 season.

Throw in Trout’s decent defense and proficient base-stealing, and you have the league’s fourth-highest WAR total. And he’s gaining fast on current AL leader Altuve, who slowed down his pace of production slightly as the summer wore on, posting his worst on-base plus slugging rate in September. It’s a long shot, but Trout could pass Altuve in the next couple of weeks.

Trout has been among the best players in baseball each full season he’s played. But he’s not only the best in his generation, he’s also the best player in history through ages 21-24. He’ll have to make up a little ground on Ty Cobb to extend that streak to age 25, but there’s no doubt that he’s on his way to an inner-circle Hall of Fame career.

Even if Trout doesn’t manage to catch Altuve (or Cobb), he still has a legitimate shot at his third AL MVP award. While the WAR leaderboard doesn’t care about how good your team is, the same cannot be said for MVP voters. And that may be the best argument for Trout’s claim: The Angels are unexpectedly in the running for a wild-card spot, and they owe much of their success to Trout’s bat. To the Angels’ credit, they managed to slightly improve their playoff position in Trout’s absence, but their chances didn’t really take off until he came back.

In retrospect, perhaps it was inevitable that Trout would make a run at league MVP. He is the king of consistency, after all. We can just add “injury” to the long list of factors, such as aging and opponent adjustments, that could end a mortal man’s career but barely seem to slow Trout.

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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

For the second week in a row, President Trump is working more closely with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer than his own party.

Last week, in a meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, the president agreed to a Democratic proposal to extend government funding and raise the debt ceiling for three months, even though House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed that deal. On Wednesday night, Trump met with Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at the White House — without inviting McConnell and Ryan.

Pelosi and Schumer said that Trump agreed to legislation that would codify former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action, which shields undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and which Trump rescinded last week. In a series of tweets Thursday morning, Trump said no formal agreement was reached. He did, however, seem open to some kind of DACA law, praising the program’s recipients as “good, educated and accomplished young people.”

Even without a DACA deal, Trump meeting alone with the Democrats is unusual. What is he doing? The president largely shunned Democrats and governed solely with the GOP for the first eight months of his presidency. Here are four theories about what’s going on:

1. He is mad at McConnell and Ryan

Remember last month when McConnell and Trump were feuding publicly, with the president blaming McConnell for the failure of the Obamacare repeal effort while the Senate leader suggested that the president didn’t fully understand the legislative process? If you don’t recall, I’m sure the president does. Maybe the president is engaged in a kind of payback against McConnell, cutting him and other Republican party leaders out of key decisions.

A related but slightly different version of this theory is that Trump — having watched congressional Republicans unsuccessfully try to pass the Obamacare repeal — doesn’t think McConnell and Ryan are up to the job of getting major legislation done. That was the spin on Wednesday night from Fox News host Sean Hannity, perhaps the president’s most loyal supporter in the media:

2. He doesn’t care about caving to the Democrats on DACA or the debt ceiling

Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony to personally announce that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement. In contrast, he left the announcement that the administration was rescinding DACA to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and only hours after Sessions spoke, the president seemed to open the door to restoring DACA by letting Congress pass a law to codify the policy. Trump’s hardline immigration stance helped win him the GOP nomination in 2016, but he certainly isn’t acting as though killing DACA is a personal priority for him.

Similarly, using the debt ceiling as leverage for federal spending cuts is a big priority of Republicans in Congress, particularly the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but perhaps not for Trump.

So, Trump may not care about these issues that much. And he may have a higher priority ….

3. Trump may be trying to focus his party and Congress on tax reform

Trump and his staff seemed at times disengaged from the Obamacare repeal process. But the president has given speeches in Missouri and North Dakota to tout tax reform in the last few weeks. He tweets about it often. His top aides, such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are heavily involved in trying to draft a tax reform bill on Capitol Hill. Trump dealing with the debt ceiling and DACA largely on his own allows congressional leaders to spend the majority of their time on taxes.

Are we watching Trump begin to behave more like a normal, modern president, setting a major legislative priority and trying to direct his staff, Congress and the public to focus singularly on that goal? Maybe, maybe not. After the meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump was tweeting about Hillary Clinton and her new book.

4. Trump is now governing from the center

This is the most radical theory: Trump, after a dismal seven months that left him as the most unpopular first-year president in modern history, has decided to change course. He’s looking to cut deals and govern in a bipartisan manner or at least act in a way that will get him good press and approval from Washington elites.

We have way, way too little evidence to take this idea too seriously, at least for now. And this would be a major shift for the president. Trump has picked some deeply conservative Cabinet members, relied on the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to help him figure out who to appoint to federal judgeships and rolled back a slew of Obama administration initiatives. His controversial response to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, happened less than a month ago.


I could come up with a few more theories. But here’s the thing: We don’t know yet. No one does. Trump cutting deals with Democrats this month could be the start of a new political strategy. Or maybe it’s just an aberration — the product of a unique set of circumstances and incentives. The Republicans, the Democrats, the media and even Trump’s own staff have been confused by the last two weeks, and no one can tell you where it’s all going.

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Posted by Oliver Roeder and Julia Wolfe

Let’s all be thankful that FiveThirtyEight readers don’t control America’s nuclear arsenal.

Last week, we published an article on the game theory of nuclear standoffs. That article included an interactive game meant to let readers pretend they were themselves participants in a showdown in which something could be gained, and much more could be lost. The rules were simple:

Imagine that a crisp $100 bill lies on a table between us. We both want it, of course, but there’s no chance of splitting it — our wallets are empty. So we vie for it according to a few simple rules. We’ll each write down a secret number — between 0 and 100 — and stick that number in an envelope. When we’re both done, we’ll open the envelopes. Whichever of us wrote down the higher number pockets the $100. But here’s the catch: There’s a percentage chance that we’ll each have to burn $10,000 of our own money, and that chance is equal to the lower of the two numbers.

So, for example, if you wrote down 10 and I wrote down 20, I’d win the $100 … but then we’d both run a 10 percent risk of losing $10,000. This is a competition in which, no matter what, we both end up paying a price — the risk of disaster.

In the real world, the $100 is analogous to some international concession and the $10,000 is the high cost of all-out nuclear war. The two players are bidding for the “$100” in the currency of nuclear risk.

As of Wednesday afternoon, FiveThirtyEight readers had played this game nearly 200,000 times and the results are in. They are calamitous. The median submission was 33, the mean was 43 and the most common entry was 100 — in other words, uncompromising aggression. Disaster occurred over 20 percent of the time and nearly $2,000 was destroyed, on average, per game.

This game was make believe, of course. None of our readers, hopefully, burned $10,000 of their real money. And readers’ fingers, presumably, weren’t hovering over the nuclear launch button. (President Trump, if you’re reading, holler.)

“This is a common problem when trying to do illustrative games in classes. The mental frame people usually bring is that it is a ‘game,’ and so just like other games (poker, football, etc.), the point is to win,” James Fearon, a political scientist who teaches this game to his Stanford students, said. “So people often play very aggressively, probably much more than they would if they actually had $10,000 of their own money at stake.”

We can only hope our world’s leaders have taken a proper accounting of the stakes.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

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


32 inches

Imagine a person on an airplane bracing for impact and assuming the position where their head is between their legs. Department of Transportation documentation indicates there has to be a 35 inch axis from the bottom of the seat back in order to have a clear head strike zone. According to a court briefing, the most generous axis in coach seats right now is 32 inches after years of cramming more seats on to planes, meaning no seat meets the standard in coach. [The Daily Beast]


44 minutes

Time spent on advertisements during the Raiders-Titans game on Sunday, a low for the weekend. Looking at the NFL opening weekend games in the aggregate, games had about 10 fewer minutes of commercials compared to last year. [Sports Facts]


46 percent

Percentage of NFL offenses that gained fewer than 300 yards in week one, up from 22 percent of offenses in the previous three season openers. This may underscore a league-wide problem developing offensive line talent. [The Washington Post]


$5,000

Martin Shkreli, the widely reviled pharmaceutical representative convinced of fraud, has had his $5 million bail revoked after he used his pre-sentencing time as a free man to put up a $5,000 bounty for one of his fans to grab former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hair. This was considered bad behavior by the judge. [CNBC]


$25,000 per hour

Hourly cost of the U.S. Air Force jet that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, independently wealthy from his time at Goldman Sachs, asked the government to use to fly him to his honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy. The request to have the taxpayers fund the vacation was declined. [ABC News]


$500,000

Minimum amount that Equifax spent on lobbying Congress and regulators in the first half of 2017, including pursuing legislation that would limit the liability of credit reporting companies in the courts. Given that Equifax oversaw the personal financial data of 143 million Americans that was hacked in a cyberattack, that sure would be a useful law to have on the books so they wouldn’t have to pay victims all that much. [The Wall Street Journal]


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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

Sometimes it seems as though President Trump is rapidly reversing much of what Barack Obama did as president. But he really isn’t — at least not yet.

The Trump administration recently rescinded an Obama program that shielded young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation (known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and announced that it would overhaul the Obama administration’s guidelines on how universities investigate accusations of sexaul assault.

But we can only really determine whether Trump is tearing down the Obama legacy if we have some way of measuring that legacy in the first place. Obama signed more than 1,000 provisions into law during his eight years as president. His administration created more than 7,000 “significant” rules and regulations through its executive power, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And he reached several major agreements with nations abroad.

I tried to come up with a list of Obama’s most important accomplishments as a way to more systematically explore whether Trump is gutting his predecessor’s legacy. This is admittedly a subjective exercise — there is no real quantifiable measure for determining whether one policy achievement is more important than another. And I opted to focus on what might be defined as “positive achievements,” the kinds of things that Obama and his supporters would point to as goals that they wanted to achieve and did, regardless of how others might view them. (In other words, a Syria policy that even some liberals consider a failure is a legacy of Obama’s presidency, but not really an achievement.)

To create this list, I first consulted a letter that Obama wrote to the American public and posted on the website Medium on Jan. 5, just before he left office. It was essentially a laundry list of policies that he had enacted and that he seemed to be proud of, although the letter did not specifically number or rank these accomplishments. I also looked at a few detailed lists of Obama’s accomplishments that were compiled by media outlets (here are Teen Vogue’s top 21, GOOD Magazine’s 28 Obama accomplishments, and Washington Monthly’s top 50).21 I also consulted with New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait and Politico reporter Michael Grunwald, who have written books on Obama’s policy legacy.

Below is a kind of top 10 Obama accomplishments, focusing on achievements that were cited in all the lists and could reasonably be attributed to him.

A few notes on what I included: While the list-makers and the president himself all noted that same-sex marriage became national law under Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court made the consequential ruling. Also, the president and some list-makers referenced his historic Supreme Court picks (the third and fourth women to serve on the court and the first Hispanic), but those justices essentially maintained the status quo of the court from a policy perspective, since they both replaced liberal-leaning predecessors. So my list doesn’t have either of those.

Conversely, the media lists and the president’s letter did not feature what is perhaps Obama’s most important and obvious achievement: being the first black person to win the nation’s highest office. While his election and re-election are hugely important in American history, I left them off because they were not at root policy achievements. I similarly omitted the other inclusion achievements of the administration, almost too numerous to count, that include the first openly gay Army secretary and first and second black attorneys generals.

The achievements in my top 10 are ordered chronologically, although some did not have a clear start or end date:

  1. The 2009 economic stimulus and the drop in the unemployment rate that followed it.
  2. The bailout of the auto companies.
  3. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
  4. The Dodd-Frank bill that increased regulation of big banks and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  5. The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” that allowed openly gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the U.S. military.
  6. The killing of Osama bin Laden.
  7. The drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
  8. The agreement reached between Iran, the U.S. and five other nations to attempt to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
  9. The normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba.
  10. The 200-nation Paris climate change agreement that Obama helped negotiate and the slew of additional environmental initiatives that were promulgated through new rules and provisions in the stimulus.

A review of this list shows how much of what Obama achieved can’t be unwound by Trump simply because we are in a different time in history:

  • The stimulus was a specific policy in response to the economic crisis.
  • Ditto for the auto bailout.
  • The country has moved leftward on gay rights, with gay marriage now recognized as a constitutional right. So it’s very unlikely that Trump will try to reimpose the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (In a sign of that shift, Trump is instead seeking to limit new recruits to the military who are openly transgender.)
  • Osama bin Laden isn’t coming back to life.
  • It’s difficult to see Trump returning the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to anywhere near the levels — 140,000 in Iraq and 33,000 in Afghanistan — that existed when Obama took office. Although Obama didn’t succeed in his stated goal of bringing all the troops home, he lowered the numbers to about 6,000 in Iraq and 8,400 in Afghanistan by the time he left. Trump has recently committed to boosting the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, but there are now only about 11,000 U.S. troops there.

That’s five of 10 major Obama accomplishments that are more or less etched in stone. The other half could in theory be unwound. Indeed, it is the official policy of the Republican Party, as stated in the party’s platform, to reverse Obama’s initiatives on Cuba and Iran, end U.S. participation in the Paris agreement, and repeal Dodd-Frank and Obamacare.

But so far, even the easier achievements to get rid of haven’t gone anywhere. The new president is essentially 0 for 3, with two incompletes.

You’re familiar with the Republican failure to repeal Obamacare. Trump has also spoken of his dissatisfaction with the Iran deal but has not withdrawn the U.S. from it. In June, Republicans in the House passed a bill to roll back parts of Dodd-Frank, but that provision has little chance of becoming law, because that would require 60 votes in the Senate and Democrats oppose it. So that’s three areas in which Obama’s legacy, at least for now, remains in place.

In June, Trump declared, “I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.” But the policy that Trump announced that day was far short of a full reversal of Obama’s moves: Embassies in Havana and Washington remain open, new flights and cruises to Cuba are still operating and formal diplomatic relations between the two governments continue. (Trump did make it harder for American tourists to go to Cuba and U.S. businesses to operate there.) Trump seems potentially headed toward a full reversal of that major Obama initiative. But he’s not there yet, so that one is incomplete.

Similarly, on the environment, Trump made a much-ballyhooed announcement that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris agreement. But he didn’t totally unwind Obama’s work there either. First, Obama and his administration worked hard to make the Paris agreement a worldwide deal, so the U.S. withdrawal does not by itself destroy the agreement. Trump’s announcement has not yet caused a stampede of other nations to pull out, with China, France and Germany in particular recommitting to the agreement even after the new American president declared his opposition to it. Secondly, because of the rules of the agreement, the United States cannot officially withdraw from the Paris deal until Nov. 4, 2020. Trump could withdraw that day, but a President Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders might be elected the day before, on Nov. 3, 2020, on a pledge to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

And the wind and solar power initiatives that Obama championed appear not to be under any threat from Trump’s team, probably because these policies aren’t viewed as punitive, unlike the perception of Obama’s regulations on coal.

I don’t want to deny what you are seeing with your own eyes: Trump is unwinding many, many Obama policies. DACA is suspended; Trump’s Department of Justice is pulling back from some of the aggressive scrutiny of voter ID laws and police departments of the Obama era; and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama opposed, has been green-lighted.

But there are two important caveats. First, there’s a reason you might think Trump is unwinding a great deal of Obama’s legacy: media coverage. The press generally covers stories of conflict and stories of change, not stories about the status quo being maintained with little drama.

Secondly, it’s important to think precisely about Obama’s accomplishments. If Obama’s team adopted more than 7,000 rules and regulations in eight years, Trump’s team would have to stall or slow about 900 initiatives every year over the same number of years — meaning Trump would need two terms — to really destroy Obama’s regulatory efforts.

I would not say DACA is just one of 7,000 regulations. It was an important policy of the Obama administration. But in his Jan. 5 letter, the president himself did not describe DACA as an accomplishment. Instead, he wrote that “commonsense immigration reform” was something “I wish we’d been able to do.”

Indeed, Trump was able to unwind DACA so easily because it was not signed into law. Four of the 10 major accomplishments of Obama on our list were passed by Congress, which means they are harder to get rid of than executive actions.

To roll back Obama’s more durable accomplishments would require political skill and stamina from Trump, with assists from others. Right now, it’s hard to envision that from the Republicans in Congress, who are struggling to get anything done; Trump’s own top national security aides seem to disagree with his inclination to gut the Iran deal.

So Obama’s legacy seems pretty safe right now. Maybe that’s why the former president looks so chipper whenever he emerges in public.

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Posted by Wil

It was an incredible honor and privilege to contribute a story to this anthology. We were given the opportunity to write a story about a minor character in the Star Wars universe, and I chose the guy who watches ships fly away from the rebel base.

My editor pointed out that one of the guys (who I call Rebel Base Bucket Guy, because that amuses me) is already named, so my Rebel Base Bucket Guy is a different guy. I have to point this out, because the Star Wars Nerds are going to force choke me if they think I renamed their canonical Rebel Base Bucket Guy.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun to write, and I titled it for my friend, Laina, who is best known for her hilarious YouTube videos.

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Posted by Neil Paine

The Cleveland Indians are officially on baseball’s greatest hot streak in more than eight decades.

With 21 consecutive victories, they’re now tied for the longest winning streak in MLB history with the 1935 Chicago Cubs, moving one game ahead of the 2002 “Moneyball” Oakland A’s for the American League’s all-time record.22 If the Indians tack on another win, they’ll break a record older than the franchise’s World Series drought — perhaps a portent of more history to be shattered next month.

And yet, even after all that winning, the Indians’ record still (still!) masks a much better ballclub underneath it. That’s right, the team that has won 21 straight is better than you think.

Back in early July, we noted that Cleveland’s then-mediocre record belied the team’s stellar underlying stats, including its outstanding run differential and expected record from BaseRuns (a formula that predicts how many games a team “should” win, given neutral luck within innings and late in close games). At the time, the Indians were struggling to fend off the upstart Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, despite vastly superior metrics. Common sense said Cleveland’s record was bound to catch up with its stats eventually, but in a sport like baseball, you never know.

By now, of course, the Indians have erased all doubt about their standing within the division; they lead the Twins — who are themselves clinging to the AL’s final wild-card spot — by 14 games. (Twenty-one straight wins do have a tendency to boost a team’s division lead.) But according to BaseRuns, Cleveland still should have more wins than they do. In fact, the Tribe’s six-win shortfall between their predicted and actual records23 is the second-biggest such margin in baseball behind the Yankees (who should have nine more wins).24 The same story goes for Cleveland’s record as predicted by run differential; they’ve fallen six wins short in that department as well.

In other words, as good as the Indians have looked this year, they’ve also been incredibly unlucky. Yes, this is akin to saying the person who drew an ordinary straight flush really deserved that royal flush.

Which brings us back to that 2002 Oakland A’s squad. As the subject of Michael Lewis’s book (and, later, its movie adaptation), their chase for 20 straight wins got the Hollywood moment it deserved:

Ironically enough, however — for a team deeply associated with the spread of advanced metrics across baseball — that team’s stats couldn’t really hold a candle to those of this year’s Indians. The 2002 A’s ranked fourth in MLB with a .598 BaseRuns-predicted winning percentage, and also came in fourth with 49.7 total wins above replacement (WAR).25 The 2017 Indians, meanwhile, lead the league in both BaseRuns winning percentage — Cleveland’s .654 clip is well clear of the second-ranked L.A. Dodgers’ .622 mark — and WAR (with 59.3, prorated to 162 games).

2017 Indians vs. the 2002 A’s

Key metrics and American League ranks for both teams, as of Sept. 12

2002 ATHLETICS 2017 INDIANS
METRIC VALUE AL RANK VALUE AL RANK
Batting average .261 8 .263 3
On base percentage .339 5 .340 2
Slugging percentage .432 7 .450 2
Weighted Runs Created Plus 106 4 106 2
Base running +10.1 5 +9.4 3
Defense -26.8 11 +20.6 3
Adjusted ERA 84 3 75 1
Adjusted FIP 88 3 76 1
Wins above replacement 49.7 3 59.3 1
Winning percentage .636 2 .614 1
Pythagorean winning percentage .591 4 .657 1

Counting stats for 2017 Indians prorated to 162 team games.

Source: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs

On offense, the two clubs were roughly equivalent; Oakland ranked fourth in the AL with a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 106, while Cleveland currently ranks second with an identical 106 wRC+. But in terms of pitching and defense, the Tribe dominate. They easily lead the 2017 AL in earned run average26 and fielding independent pitching, and are third in FanGraphs’ defensive value metric. (By contrast, the 2002 A’s ranked third in ERA, third in FIP and 11th in defense.) That’s why the Indians have already allowed 217 fewer runs than an average team would in the same park, through 145 games; by comparison, Oakland “only” allowed 115 fewer runs than average in a full 162-game slate.

These are all reasons to think this year’s Indians can fare better in the postseason than the Moneyball A’s, whose season ended with a heartbreaking five-game division series loss to the Twins. The Indians had their own share of heartbreak last season (to say nothing of 1997), but they’ll be back again and even better than before. The win streak has only helped validate what was always a scary talented team underneath, waiting to break out.

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Posted by Neil Paine

Well, that didn’t take long. We’re just one week into the 2017 NFL season, and there’s already a new team atop FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings. The Kansas City Chiefs rose to the top slot after beating the preseason No. 1 New England Patriots 42-27 in last Thursday’s season opener, and now Elo gives them a league-best 14 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

OK, so maybe you shouldn’t bet the farm on that Chiefs championship just yet. (The Vegas books still list K.C. in a tie for the seventh-best Super Bowl odds of any team, alongside the Atlanta Falcons.) But Kansas City occupying first place in an NFL power ranking is a pretty rare sight nonetheless. Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, the Chiefs have only held the No. 1 slot for eight total weeks,27 the same as the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Compare that with the team the Chiefs beat — the Pats, who lead all post-merger franchises with 137 total weeks at No. 1 — and you start to get a sense for just how unusual a top-ranked K.C. squad is.

The last time the Chiefs ranked first in Elo? Week 11 of the 2003 season, when Kansas City had just crushed the Cleveland Browns to move to 9-0 on the year. It was K.C.’s fourth consecutive week at No. 1, but the celebration wouldn’t last: Dick Vermeil’s Chiefs were upset by Cincinnati on the road the following week, part of a 4-3 stretch to close the regular season. And in the playoffs, they lost an epic shootout with Peyton Manning and the Colts in which neither team punted. K.C. fell to 7-9 the next season, and the offensive firepower briefly captured with Trent Green and Priest Holmes was never quite achieved again.

Most weeks spent at No. 1 in NFL Elo Ratings, 1970-2017
RK TEAM WEEKS LAST YR AT NO. 1 RK TEAM WEEKS LAST YR AT NO. 1
1 New England 137 2017 17 L.A. Chargers 14 2009
2 San Francisco 114 2013 17 Jacksonville 14 1999
3 Dallas 108 1996 19 N.Y. Giants 11 2008
4 Green Bay 67 2011 20 Baltimore 9 2009
5 Pittsburgh 59 2009 21 Tampa Bay 8 2003
6 Indianapolis 52 2009 21 N.Y. Jets 8 2010
7 Washington 51 1992 21 Kansas City 8 2017
8 Miami 50 1985 24 New Orleans 6 2010
9 Oakland 43 2002 25 Cincinnati 4 1982
10 Minnesota 42 2016 25 Buffalo 4 1991
11 Chicago 40 1988 27 Carolina 2 2015
12 Denver 37 2016 28 Arizona 1 2015
13 Seattle 30 2016 29 Atlanta 0 —
14 L.A. Rams 27 2002 29 Detroit 0 —
15 Philadelphia 22 2004 29 Houston 0 —
16 Tennessee 17 2008 29 Cleveland 0 —

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Kansas City is far from being the franchise with the least time spent in first place. Among teams that have reached the top slot, five — New Orleans, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Carolina and Arizona — have spent fewer weeks in first than K.C. Four other teams — Detroit, Houston, Cleveland and (amazingly28) Atlanta — have never made it to No. 1 in the post-merger era.

Maybe the Chiefs will have the staying power of the Patriots, whose 11-week reign at the top K.C. snapped this week. Or maybe they’ll be like last year’s Minnesota Vikings, who spent one solitary week at No. 1 (Week 6, if you’re keeping track) before fading away.

 

FiveThirtyEight vs. The Crowd

Last week, we rolled out a new game in which we invite you, the readers, to make picks against our Elo algorithm — as well as each other. (The more confident you are in your choices, the more points you win.) After each week, we’ll tally up everyone’s scores, and you can see where you stand relative to Elo and your fellow players.

As a side benefit of this exercise, we can also use the results of your picks to figure out which games and teams the crowd most disagreed with Elo about — and who was right. For instance, in Week 1, readers were all over the woefully high 57 percent win probability Elo gave the Andrew Luck-less Colts on the road against the L.A. Rams. (In Elo’s defense, it doesn’t factor in key injuries like Luck’s.) Los Angeles ended up crushing Indy 46-9, costing our algorithm a lot of points in the process.

Here are all the games from the opening week of the season, in order of how much readers outsmarted Elo:29

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 1

Average difference between FiveThirtyEight reader points won and Elo points won per matchup

538′S PICK WIN PROB. READERS’ PICK WIN PROB. ACTUAL WINNER READERS’ NET PTS
IND 57% LAR 53% LAR +8.2
CIN 63 CIN 58 BAL +4.6
WSH 58 WSH 52 PHI +4.6
BUF 64 BUF 71 BUF +2.6
ATL 72 ATL 80 ATL +1.9
PIT 76 PIT 86 PIT +1.9
CAR 65 CAR 71 CAR +1.4
OAK 51 OAK 54 OAK +0.5
HOU 74 HOU 75 JAX -3.1
GB 61 GB 56 GB -6.6
MIN 59 MIN 54 MIN -6.7
DAL 65 DAL 60 DAL -6.7
DET 54 ARI 52 DET -8.3
DEN 74 DEN 66 DEN -8.5

 

The Week 1 winner is…

Congratulations to Dante Sblendorio of Livermore, Calif., who absolutely humiliated Elo with this week’s high score of 225 points. Dante, a 25-year-old physicist, went for an extremely aggressive approach that paid off: He picked 12 of 14 games correctly, all at 100 percent confidence. Too bad he wasn’t in Vegas.

Remember: You can start playing the prediction game this week, even if you didn’t get your picks in last week.

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FiveThirtyEight
 

Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s episode (Sept. 12, 2017), we discuss an American tennis champion finally not named Williams — Sloane Stephens, ranked 957th in the world earlier this summer, won the U.S. Open last weekend. We break down what her victory may mean for U.S. tennis and whether Serena Williams’s absence from the tournament played a role in Stephens’s win. Next, we discuss two remarkable streaks in the MLB — the 20 wins in a row by the Cleveland Indians and the recent stretch of 11 losses by the Los Angeles Dodgers — and whether we should take baseball more seriously just because it’s September. Plus, a significant digit on the MLB playoffs.

If you have suggestions for what we should call our new NBA podcast, please drop us a note at podcasts@fivethirtyeight.com.

Here are links to things we discussed this week:

  • For quality John Starks content, be sure to follow Kate Fagan on Instagram.
  • Kate’s Starky Bear.
  • FiveThirtyEight’s MLB predictions.
  • FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine writes that September baseball doesn’t matter more than any other month’s.
  • Victor Mather in The New York Times tells a tale of two MLB streaks.
  • Significant Digit: Zero, the number of teams supported by Chad, Kate and Neil — all devoted Mets fans — that will make the MLB playoffs this year. Is your favorite team out? We discuss strategies for how to choose the best bandwagon to join.
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Posted by A FiveThirtyEight Chat

In this week’s politics chat, we talk about Hillary Clinton’s new book. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Today’s chat topic: The media reaction to Hillary Clinton’s new book, released on Tuesday, “What Happened.”

We’re going to do this in two parts. First, we’ll talk about how the media has covered Clinton’s book. Then we’ll go through the various factors that Clinton points to in the book to explain her loss in 2016.

Sound good?

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): So we’re covering the coverage of the coverage? Got it.

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): We will tell you WHAT HAPPENED — no question mark.

micah: The headline for this will be WTF Happened!

OK, so first up: How would you describe the general coverage of Clinton’s book? As an opener (and Clare has talked about this): I’ve been struck by how much coverage there’s been of the very fact that she wrote a book.

clare.malone: Yeah, I tweeted about this.

But I’ll say again here: People who are out there saying that she should go quietly into the night are sort of being intellectually dishonest about what happens after campaigns. She was one of the major players in the election, she’s entitled to her telling of things, she is the Democrat who got more votes, so she represents a sizable ideological chunk of the party, etc. etc. etc.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): I expected there would be a lot of coverage. There are lots of reporters who covered her. Lots of opportunity for reporters who have slammed President Trump to now slam Clinton to show that they are balanced, will criticize both sides, etc.

clare.malone: Yeah, it’s totally fashionable to slam her on Twitter in a way that I do understand — she’s been around a long time, etc. But it’s out of whack.

natesilver: Are we talking about coverage of Clinton overall? Or, like, reviews of the book itself?

micah: Well, the latter has ballooned into the former, right?

natesilver: On the latter front, The New York Times published a review that was fairly gracious — considering that Clinton (mostly deservedly, IMO) criticized the NYT a lot in the book. Although, that review mostly sidestepped the media criticism parts of Clinton’s book, I think that this quote from Clinton — via Brian Stelter — gets at a key dynamic here:

micah: Clinton’s book may be a more accurate 2016 postmortem than most media postmortems.

Before we get to what the book itself lays out, though: How much of the “why won’t Clinton go away?” convo would be happening if Clinton were a man?

That has felt to me like it infuses a lot of the chatter surrounding the book.

clare.malone: Yeah, so I have some thoughts! Some of it has to do with political reporters explicitly; she’s been around a long time, it’s fashionable to hate her, etc. And I think she gets less respect from political reporters than say, John McCain or John Kerry did in the aftermaths of their campaigns. Female reporters play into this too.

But, in part, that’s because politics in general and political journalism in particular has a really … how you say? … masculine energy.

It picks up the inherent biases that we all have — women included — from being shaped in a patriarchal culture.

micah: I mean, Al Gore made a freaking movie after he lost and no one was like, “Why is he making this movie?” (At least, as far as I can remember.)

And Gore is a good comp because he too won the popular vote.

natesilver: There’s something about the overlap between Clinton being representative of the establishment — she is nobody’s idea of an underdog — and her being a woman makes it especially tough for her.

perry: The “she should not write a book because she is distracting from the Democrats’ strategy” crowd is making such a dumb argument that it’s not really worth debating it.

micah: A lot of the criticism of the book goes something like “Clinton is blaming everyone else for her losing” instead of taking responsibility. Now, she very much does take responsibility for losing in the book. But she also points to other factors that helped Trump and hurt her.

clare.malone: “natesilver is typing”

natesilver: That criticism is such a dumb argument that it’s not really worth debating it.

To repeat the quote I linked to above, the media doesn’t want to debate the reasons for Clinton losing because it potentially makes them look really bad. Or some of them, anyway, since there was a lot of variation in how Clinton was covered from outlet to outlet.

micah: Let’s take this tweet from a Washington Examiner reporter:

clare.malone: It’s the tenor of these tweets that are the problem. Because, to use a favorite Nate Silver metaphor, it takes a lot of things to go wrong in order for a plane to crash.

micah: How dare Clinton do a reasonable postmortem on the 2016 election instead of nailing herself to a cross!

clare.malone: “Blame” vs. “causes of loss” are tonally different.

natesilver: Yeah. Tweets like these are implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) mocking Clinton for blaming all these other factors, apart from herself. And yet, if you look at the list — it’s a pretty darned good list! A lot of those factors were really important!

clare.malone: So, I used to be a fact-checker, and one of the things we would do when we would call around and make sure information was correct was include the context of a quote in a piece, give a person a fair shot at saying, “Hmm, that could be out of context.” And that’s what is really irritating about this kind of coverage — it’s really disingenuous to say she’s not taking responsibility AND it makes the discussion dumber and more boring.

micah: Co-sign.

But let’s go through each of the reasons for Clinton’s defeat listed in that tweet and answer this question: How big of a factor was this?

natesilver: Do we want to use a scale? Like 1 to 5?

perry: Can I reject the premise of this scale and propose my own? (kidding)

micah: lol

OK, first up: “The audacious information warfare waged from the Kremlin.”

There’s been some recent reporting fleshing out the extent to which Russia was playing a media game.

perry: 4. I feel like the whole Russian interference, the release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked e-mails was a huge factor in October. Maybe a 5 even.

Podesta’s emails were covered massively.

clare.malone: There’s almost two levels to this, right?

  1. The effect of media coverage.
  2. The effect that Russian interference/hacking/bots or whatever might have had on influencing disinformation to voters, etc.

micah: Yeah, we probably have to include the media’s amplifying effects for each of these.

clare.malone: I would agree with Perry that it was important from that email coverage angle.

natesilver: I’d say more like a 2.5 or a 3, on the Kremlin.

perry: Interesting. Say more, Nate.

natesilver: It’s certainly hard to prove the connection, in part because it may have occurred in a lot of small ways, not all of which are necessarily uncovered yet.

Harry wrote about this in December.

clare.malone: I’m not sure that we know enough yet to know how influential the bots actually were in changing votes.

micah: But it being hard to measure doesn’t mean it didn’t have a big effect.

That’s some version of the availability heuristic, right? We’re assigning importance to the things we happen to be able to measure well.

natesilver: I mean, I agree. And giving it a 2.5 or 3 isn’t saying it’s nothing.

clare.malone: Now I’m interested to see what Nate gives a 5.

natesilver: I’m just saying — there are a lot of things that had a much clearer effect on the outcome.

clare.malone: Yes, I agree.

natesilver: Some of which are also … problematic. Problematic in the sense of implicating other people’s judgment.

clare.malone: But this is the problem with numbers! (She says to numbers people.)

micah: Clare has always hated numbers.

clare.malone: There are some squishy things that affected people in this election that we can’t quantify.

natesilver: Russia could have been a 1.5, or it could have been a 4.5. I suppose we don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know.

clare.malone: Nate’s gonna give the Comey letter a 5.

micah: Speaking of … next: “The unprecedented intervention in our election by the director of the FBI.”

Nate: 5

natesilver: 4.5

micah: lol

clare.malone: Contrarian

perry: 5

natesilver: It was a big deal. And because it was a discrete event — it happened at one time — it’s relatively easy to measure.

There’s still a range of impacts, from maybe 1 percentage point of the national popular vote on the low end to 3 or 4 points on the high end. But you really have to twist yourself into a pretzel to conclude that the impact wasn’t large enough to cost Clinton the election.

clare.malone: I cosign with the above views.

natesilver: With that said, if the impact was only like 2 points in the polls — that was enough to swing a close election, obviously, but it also isn’t that large. Clinton’s gender could have had a larger impact, for instance. But that’s harder to quantify.

micah: We’ll get to that!

OK, next: “A political press that told voters that my emails were the most important story.”

For context, from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, here’s the amount of coverage of various topics on social media and top media outlets:

natesilver: 5

clare.malone: 4

3.5/4

(I hate the numbers scale.)

natesilver: Granted, this overlaps with the Comey letter. The Comey letter was a huge story in part because of the importance the press placed on “email stuff.”

clare.malone: It was important, in part because we have a media environment fed by social media that plays up the easily understood, salacious stories, and this was the salacious story for Clinton, although it obviously didn’t compare to the norm-busting GOP nominee.

perry: 3.5

Yeah, these things are all related. But I happen to think the Russia-related stuff (bots, Podesta emails) and Comey were more damaging than the controversy over Clinton’s private email server as secretary of state. She would have won, I think, if Podesta/Comey hadn’t revived the Clinton e-mail/scandal in the final weeks.

But I could be convinced otherwise.

natesilver: I don’t know. The email story completely dominated media coverage of Clinton.

Every week, it was the thing people heard by far the most about. Here’s a word cloud from Gallup of what people had read/heard the most about Clinton in the media from July 11 through Sept. 18 last year:

And here’s Trump:

clare.malone: I would argue that it was the accelerant on an image problem Clinton already had, which is why I wouldn’t rate it a 5.

natesilver: But, Clare, I think a lot of that image problem was a self-perpetuating media narrative. We wrote about this way back in September 2015. It was apparent even back then.

clare.malone: Maybe you’re right, but this was an election cycle about crusty insiders vs. outsiders, and Clinton certainly falls into consummate insider camp, someone “above the rules.”

natesilver: She certainly doesn’t color strictly within the lines.

clare.malone: And that’s just because of years in the public eye, often not being viewed favorably — and, again, this is where you have to factor in some sexist societal views. But many critiques of her history in public life were also valid. We’re parsing here, I would note. I rate the emails as highly influential.

natesilver: Clinton has been viewed favorably at several points in her career. But usually they were points at which she didn’t threaten a man’s job or wasn’t otherwise being too ambitious.

clare.malone: Right.

natesilver: I’m just saying — there’s a lot of circular reasoning on the part of Clinton’s critics.

They’ll say, “She has a trust problem; therefore the public had a strong reaction to the emails.” But part of the reason that she has a trust problem is because stories are constantly framed as presenting a trust problem for her.

The Comey letter in October was a good example of this. Outlets jumped way out ahead of the story and presented it as “raising doubts” or “casting shadows” over her campaign even though it wasn’t clear what in the hell the letter was all about. It was a triumph of narrative over substance.

perry: I think we all agree about this. And my suspicion is that a lot of the bad coverage came from a desire to find a way to balance the sharp coverage of Trump with coverage that was negative about Clinton. The both-sides model of political journalism left you with 15 Trump scandals and 1 Clinton scandal, so you have to pump up the Clinton scandal/controversy/whatever to make up for that big gap since all of these outlets are obsessed with attacks from the right.

natesilver: Yeah, no doubt a lot of this stems from false equivalence.

clare.malone: Yessss … but can I say that Hillary Clinton also didn’t endear herself to a lot of “women in the center” when she made her first forays onto the national stage? She was not a very good “choice feminist” (the whole, “I suppose I could have stayed at home, baked cookies and had teas” thing), and I think, yes, people didn’t give her credit for evolving … but that’s just the breaks in public life. First impressions last.

natesilver: Basically, half the media’s problems in covering the election stemmed from actual liberal bias. And the other half stemmed from overcompensating for perceived liberal bias.

micah: Next: “Deep currents of anger and resentment flowing through our culture.”

clare.malone: Oh gosh.

natesilver: I’m not quite sure what that means — is she referring to racial resentment? The “deplorables”?

But Trump clearly became an effective conduit for people’s anger, so I have to give this one at least a 4.

clare.malone: I think it refers to that, but maybe also partisanship, right?

natesilver: Maybe that’s too low. Maybe it’s obviously a 5.

perry: 3? Those currents exist. I’m having a hard time seeing them as particularly unique or important to 2016, as opposed to being a part of every event in politics, Obama’s presidency, etc. Racial resentment may have gotten Trump the Republican nomination, but I’m not sure about the general election. (But again, I’m thinking this all through.)

micah: Let’s go to the next one!

“The media gave [Trump] free wall-to-wall coverage.”

clare.malone: 5

natesilver: A 5 in the primary, but like a 2 in the general election. Here’s primary coverage from the Shorenstein Center:

perry: 3. If I were Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, I would say 5.

Right. What Nate said.

clare.malone: Well Nate … howdya think he got to the general?

natesilver: That’s why I said a 5 in the primary!

micah: Trump also got far more news coverage than Clinton in the general, according to another Shorenstein study:

Though a lot of Trump’s coverage, just like Clinton’s, was negative:

clare.malone: The fact that Trump was Trump is more precisely what I’m talking about —

i.e., free coverage, but also a free pass when he says things about women, doesn’t release his taxes.

natesilver: I’m not sure the media’s constant focus on Trump was necessarily a bad thing for Clinton from day to day, although it did make it hard for her to drive a message. Slightly paradoxically, however, the fact that the media spent so much time focusing on Trump made it hard for anyone to focus on any one aspect of Trump’s behavior.

As you can see from the Gallup charts I posted earlier, people had lots of different feelings about Trump and heard lots of different negative stories about him. But none of them as persistently as Clinton and trust and emails.

micah: Next: “Fox News was turning politics into an evidence-free zone of seething resentments.”

(I don’t know what to make of this one.)

natesilver: Yeesh. I guess like a 2.5? I think Fox News is pretty darn important to the history of American politics since 2000 or thereabouts. I’m not convinced they were particularly important in this general election, since they had a somewhat weird relationship with Trump.

perry: 2. Just if we are ranking things, I rank this lower. Fox’s highest-rated show gets 4 million viewers; more than 60 million people voted for Trump. There is a whole apparatus of Fox-like media that has the ethos of Fox, but if Fox closed tomorrow, that ecosystem would still thrive.

clare.malone: I think Facebook probably had more influence.

micah: Next: “Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and we’re not used to women running for president.”

clare.malone: I’m sick of defending this, so someone else try.

natesilver: Shit, I was going to defer to you, Clare!

micah: I’ll happily do so. I’d rate this a 20, tbh.

perry: 4. I left this election thinking that many of the things said about Clinton would have been said, with different phrasing, about Elizabeth Warren, for example. Or any other woman.

So maybe I’m a 5.

micah: If you spent any time at Trump rallies, or watching Fox News, or reading the political web, or talking to voters at all, gender suffused EVERYTHING. You could see it in what people wrote on their signs, in the reasons they gave for disliking her, in the coverage of her speeches. It was implicit and explicit. Subconscious and conscious. I mean … good god.

perry: Exactly

micah: This is, again, an example of something that’s hard to measure, so people don’t talk about it enough.

But like … I’m as confident as I can be about anything that if not for misogyny/sexism, Clinton wins. It’s almost prima facie true. But there’s also lots of evidence for it.

natesilver: I’ll give a range of 2.5 to 5. I’m just not sure how to measure it. Which doesn’t mean it’s not important. Keep in mind that Clinton’s gender could have had some positive effects too — e.g., inspiring women to turn out. But obviously, the prior here is that it’s hard for women to advance, especially in traditionally male-dominated occupations, and no occupation has been more male-dominated than the presidency of the United States.

perry: I don’t think it’s worth ranking racism vs. sexism, but Obama, at least in 2008, was able to generate coverage that was not always infused with his race. He was inexperienced, but that was true and not really a racial critique. The things Clinton was criticized for (secretive, ambitious, untrustworthy, craven) were things that male politicians aren’t often criticized for.

micah: Yes.

perry: I want to emphasize, though, that I think a woman can be elected president, maybe as soon as 2020 and maybe in 2016 but for Russia/Comey.

clare.malone: It’s obviously a 5. And by the way, I would really urge men to think about the way that you interact with women on a daily basis as a stand-in for how you might have reacted to Hillary Clinton. Not even the women in your personal life, just take it professionally. How do you talk to women during meetings? Do you talk over them? Are you listening to what they actually say in meetings or just waiting to talk yourself? Do you take their ideas and fashion them as your own? Do you think their voices are kinda annoying sometimes because they remind you of a teacher? Are they always bringing up institutional sexism as part of the problem that they might face in day-to-day life? Do you secretly find that a little annoying to hear? It might be annoying to hear, but it’s annoying because it’s true!

Anyhow. It’s a 5. And by the way, lest anyone misunderstand me — this sexism applies to the portrayal of conservative female candidates as well. They get treated differently than men.

perry: And a 5 should be interpreted as America needs to do a lot of work on sexism — not that Democrats should run Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tim Ryan, etc., in 2020. And I feel like there has been a bit of a move in the party toward the latter.

clare.malone: For sure.

perry: If Biden was so electable, maybe he should get elected president instead of sniping about Clinton.

micah: Bam!

Second to last from that tweet: “The problems started with history. It was exceedingly difficult for either party to hold onto the White House for more than eight years in a row.”

natesilver: So, I’m gonna give this like a 4.25.

It’s not clear to me whether a party is actually at a disadvantage after holding the White House for two straight terms. But it’s certainly not at an advantage either, and Gore lost in 2000 under highly similar circumstances to Clinton.

perry: 3. I think this is generally true. But once the candidate was Trump, that changed the calculus a lot. Trump has governed like a traditional Republican in most ways. But it wasn’t clear that would be the case during the campaign.

natesilver: Fundamentally, the media treated the election as being Clinton’s to lose, but it wasn’t. She actually overperformed the consensus of fundamentals-based political science models by a point or two. Now, those models are very blunt instruments. But they’re worth something.

micah: OK, last one from the tweet: “There was also a ‘Clinton fatigue’ to consider.” Then I have two more quick ones (Bernie Sanders and not visiting Wisconsin).

But fatigue first.

perry: 2. This may have hurt Clinton in 2008 and in the Democratic primary in 2016. The broader electorate views her husband and his tenure pretty positively, though.

natesilver: I’m not sure about Clinton fatigue in particular, but I buy something to the idea that it was an anti-establishment/anti-incumbent climate. This is sort of tied in to the point above, actually, about it not being an advantage to run as part of the incumbent party once your party has been in power.

clare.malone: Yeah, the establishment vs. outsider zeitgeist was real.

natesilver: Also, it seems important to me that voters who disliked both Clinton and Trump — about 20 percent of the electorate — went mostly for Trump. That was worth a net swing of about 3 points to him, compared with if they’d split evenly.

Anyway, I’m giving this one like a 3.75.

clare.malone: And in that sense, she’s just been around too long if you’re, say, an Obama-Trump voter who’s telling people you’re voting for change to shake up the system.

natesilver: In practice what probably happened was: The environment was pretty neutral or maybe slightly negative for a Democratic candidate. Clinton was a below-average candidate, but not terrible. Trump was also a below-average candidate, but his weaknesses weren’t as much of a liability as the media assumed. All of those worked out to Clinton winning the popular vote, but only narrowly. And Trump benefited from the Electoral College, of course.

micah: OK, now two other “reasons Clinton lost” that have been bouncing around and which Clinton talks about in “What Happened.”

First: Bernie Sanders.

Tread carefully, folks.

natesilver: Anything about Sanders in particular?

I’d basically say like a 2, though.

micah: His “system is rigged” argument against Clinton during the primary set Trump’s message up perfectly in the general.

That’s basically what Clinton says in the book.

perry: 1. I think Sanders was simply the vessel for criticisms of Clinton from the left, the media and Republicans that would have emerged anyway.

natesilver: I agree. On that particular point, you could go to like a 3 or a 3.5. Still, almost every candidate has primary opponents, and those primary opponents usually say a few things that wind up damaging their opponents. I don’t think what Bernie did or said in the aggregate was atypical.

clare.malone: I think that’s underrating it a little. I’d call it a 3.

natesilver: He could have stood down a little earlier, once the delegate math had become hopeless for him. That period — and all the arguing over superdelegates, etc. — seemed to give more resonance to the “system is rigged” arguments.

clare.malone: Without Sanders as the personification of a movement, an explicit anti-establishment foil to Clinton, I’m not sure those feelings would have been so directly expressed. They would have been there in the electorate, but more inchoately expressed.

natesilver: At the same time, like 80 percent of Sanders voters wound up voting for Clinton — which isn’t perfect but is fairly typical for a primary opponent.

micah: Last one!

Clinton’s Midwest strategy. In the book, Clinton says her campaign did not underinvest in the Midwest.

natesilver: So, I don’t totally buy that claim. Clinton definitely did underinvest in Michigan and Wisconsin (and Minnesota).

micah: Here’s the quote:

Some critics have said that everything hinged on me not campaigning enough in the Midwest. And I suppose it is possible that a few more trips to Saginaw or a few more ads on the air in Waukesha could have tipped a couple of thousand voters here or there.But let’s set the record straight: we always knew that the industrial Midwest was crucial to our success, just as it had been for Democrats for decades, and contrary to the popular narrative, we didn’t ignore those states.

clare.malone: She also brings up outspending Obama in those states.

perry: If it is really about going physically to Wisconsin, I rank this a 1. She went to Pennsylvania plenty and lost there in a similar way to Wisconsin. If it is about writing off too many white working-class voters, then I think that’s more valid.

natesilver: Well, it wasn’t about the Midwest per se — it was about campaigning in too narrow a range of states. She could also have campaigned more in Colorado and Arizona, for example.

But in terms of evidence of this mattering? There’s very little of it, actually. There’s basically no relationship between how much the candidates campaigned in a state and how well they did there.

perry: I see their mistake in being too focused on certain kinds of voters (non-white, college-educated, suburban). That is what I came away thinking might be the case after reading the Jonathan Allen-Amie Parnes book. But her staff, when I talked to them, and maybe this is self-serving, said that Clinton visits to some areas in rural Pennsylvania turned off voters. Her campaigning more there would not have helped and may have hurt.

natesilver: Things like advertisements and rallies don’t move the needle all that much, in a race where the issues are as momentous as the ones being debated in 2016.

Also, the math doesn’t really check out. Even if Clinton had won Wisconsin and Michigan, that wouldn’t have been enough to win the Electoral College. She’d also have needed to win Pennsylvania or Florida, where she campaigned extensively.

Anyway, I give that one a 1.5. A good litmus test is that if a reporter says “But Wisconsin” when someone brings up another cause of Clinton’s defeat, that reporter doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

micah: OK, to wrap …

It seems like we thought most of these were real factors in Trump winning and Clinton losing?

clare.malone: Yes.

natesilver: You might even say, Micah, that Clinton got closer to … The Real Story Of 2016 than most of the media’s postmortems have.

perry: Ha. Yes.

micah: So, to bring things full circle, the objections to Clinton pointing them out — in addition to taking responsibility herself — aren’t about substance, they’re about theater … or “manners” … or what Clinton “should” be doing?

perry: I think Clinton, like Obama, should do whatever makes her happy and keeps the checks coming in. And if that is a book, fine. In terms of the party moving forward, fair or unfair, I’m not sure people are listening to her.

natesilver: I’m repeating myself here, but a lot of the admonitions that Clinton is getting from the press are about the media pre-empting discussions that could make them look bad and call into question their editorial decision-making.

perry: We should talk about that. Why can’t The New York Times say “we covered Clinton’s e-mails too much”? The Times admitted at some point that the weapons of mass destruction coverage ahead of the Iraq War was bad. The paper survived that, and my guess is gained credibility from it.

It’s obviously true. They must know that.

We are hinting around about the media stuff so much here that we may want to get just to the issue. I think we are really saying the Times, Politico, NBC News, etc., can’t say “Clinton is right in some ways” without saying “we were wrong.” But journalists are supposed to be for truth, not defending themselves at all costs like businesses or politicians. I should note: I covered the 2016 campaign for NBC News. In my writing and television appearances, I was critical, at times very sharply, of how Clinton handled the email controversy. I haven’t gone back and examined all that coverage, but I’m generally of the view that I personally covered the Clinton e-mails too much.

micah: To that point, and not to end on a self-deprecating FiveThirtyEight brag, but we have a history of saying “we fucked up” when we fuck up. While painful in the moment, it’s really not that hard and has long-term benefits. It’s like eating salad.

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Posted by Rebecca Boyle

Just six months after the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn, its cameras caught something spectacular. It was Jan. 16, 2005, and Cassini was zipping past Enceladus, a bright, tiny moon just 313 miles in diameter. Cassini saw a fuzzy peak, like a tuft of hair standing up. It was a vapor plume, and it meant the little moon was spurting something into space.

As Cassini flew around Enceladus, scientists turned the spacecraft’s suite of instruments and sensors to the apparent geyser and discovered that it was water ice. “To actually see this plume of water vapor and water ice particles coming out of the south pole of a moon that is only 300 miles across was absolutely astonishing,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

As Cassini prepares to end its 20-year run with a death dive into Saturn on Friday, the spacecraft’s two decades of images have made the Saturn system one of the most recognizable, most familiar and yet most breathtakingly mysterious places in the solar system. Pictures like those of the icy geyser will be Cassini’s lasting legacy.

Images from Cassini led to the discovery of a system of icy geysers on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 62 known moons.

NASA

The pictures were worth another three visits. Engineers made this movie from another flyby that November.

Later, Cassini flew directly through the plume and found evidence of a salty global ocean full of hydrothermal activity, building blocks of possible life. This discovery cemented Enceladus as one of the best places within our solar system to look for life outside of Earth — sorry, Mars. It was one of the most sensational findings in recent space history, and certainly one of Cassini’s highlights. And it happened not because of hard-to-pronounce space technology, but because of a snapshot.

Pretty space photos may captivate the public, but they’re not the backbone of modern astronomy. Given the hard limits on weight and size that space travel imposes, many scientists would rather prioritize instruments like mass spectrometers, which are chemistry workhorses, or radiometers and magnetometers, which measure radiation and magnetic fields. With those tools, astronomers can tease apart fingerprints of individual chemicals and construct detailed simulations of how planets and moons work. Cameras are often an afterthought, literally.

Take the Juno probe, which arrived at Jupiter last summer. It wasn’t originally meant to carry a camera at all. Its early designs didn’t have room for one, given all the radiation shielding required for Juno’s science instruments to survive the stupefyingly horrendous environment of the solar system’s biggest planet. Ultimately, the mission’s lead scientist, Scott Bolton, decided he couldn’t send a billion-dollar probe all the way to Jupiter and not equip it with the tool billions of Earthlings use to catalog their own planet, so the probe launched with a wide-angle JunoCam, “the people’s camera.” The images Juno produces, just like those from Cassini, are data, too.

Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, is spangled with cyclones up to 600 miles in diameter. This image combines multiple views from the JunoCam instrument in daylight, enhanced color and 3-D, taken from an altitude of 32,000 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops.

NASA

Through photos, Cassini has made clear that everything about Saturn is odd and surprising. It has a blue hexagonal hurricane at its north pole. Its biggest moon has rivers carved by liquid methane. It is swaddled in iridescent, moving rings. Images, not data sets, capture the public’s imagination.

Pictures speak to how we think about the universe — in images and narratives. We are driven by emotion and mystery, and moved by beauty. We use stories to make sense of the world. Data provides raw material for constructing those stories, but ultimately, our minds want images too. And as Cassini and Juno have shown, sometimes pictures provide the most stunning data of all, upending everything we think we know.

“Enceladus has no business existing,” said Curt Niebur, a Cassini scientist at NASA. Such a tiny moon, so far from the sun, is unlikely to be warm enough for liquid to persist; moreover, if it’s spewing liquid, it should have spent its supply a long time ago. “And yet there it is, practically screaming at us, ‘Look at me, I completely invalidate all of your assumptions about the solar system,’” Niebur said.

The Enceladean plume pictures are just one example of how Cassini’s images have brought not only Saturn but the entire Kronian system into breathtaking, Art Deco relief. The twin Voyager probes were the first to resolve the fuzzy dots of Jupiter and Saturn into swirling giant planets, but Cassini turned the planets30 and their moons into worlds — almost-homes, places we could imagine going and being, and maybe encountering other beings, too.

Cassini also brought into focus Titan, a behemoth orb with lakes and rivers of methane and ethane and wind-carved dunes made of hydrocarbon-coated ice pebbles. When Cassini deployed a lander, the Huygens probe, onto Titan’s surface in 2005, it unveiled a reddish terrain, a hazy sky and what appeared to be a dry lakebed. “I still give myself goosebumps thinking about seeing that first image — I’ll never forget it,” said Earl Maize, a Cassini project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Through Huygens, Cassini demonstrated that Titan is the only other world in the solar system, to our knowledge, where liquid flows today.

Cassini was designed as an explorer mission, which allowed its controllers to nimbly adjust its orbit to look at interesting features on its moons, in its rings and on the planet itself. Scientists affectionately call Cassini’s haphazard-looking orbital path the “ball of yarn.”

It’s fitting that Cassini’s final days will be spent in what scientists are calling “the last picture show.” First, it took one last look at Titan, whose gravity sent Cassini barreling inexorably toward a collision with Saturn. Then it will zoom in on Enceladus and watch as the tiny moon sets behind Saturn. Then it will look at “Peggy,” a moonlet in Saturn’s rings that might be breaking away and becoming a moon in its own right. It will view the inexplicable hexagonal hurricane raging at Saturn’s north pole. And, finally, Cassini will shoot photos of a “propeller,” a strange feature in Saturn’s ring system that might also be a moon being born.

This movie is pieced together from 128 images of Saturn’s north pole. Within the hexagon are several cloud structures, including a massive hurricane centered on the pole. The hurricane’s eye is about 50 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. This image includes false color to enhance detail; to human eyes, the hexagon and north pole would appear in hues of gold and blue.

NASA

The pictures will beam back to Earth on Sept. 14, and then Cassini will turn away from our planet and toward its fateful encounter with Saturn. “It’s sort of like taking a last look around your apartment or house just before you move out,” Spilker said. “You walk around the downstairs. As you walk upstairs, you run your fingers across the bannister. You look at your old room, and memories across the years come flooding back.”

Cassini’s end also marks the beginning of a transition in solar system exploration. After Cassini, Juno is next on interplanetary death row. In 2021, it, too, is slated to dive into the cloud tops of its host planet, to protect Europa and other possible life-harboring moons of Jupiter. And after that, Earth won’t have a single emissary to the outer planets.

A few new missions are in the planning stages. NASA already announced plans for a satellite called the Europa Clipper, which will repeatedly sail past the Jovian moon to study whether Europa is a livable world. The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is a European mission with similar goals. But neither will launch until sometime in the 2020s. Possible missions to Titan and Enceladus are still competing for funding.

The Voyagers launched 40 years ago, and their travels set the course for solar system exploration through two generations. Cassini launched 20 years ago next month, and it has done the same. As it falls apart and becomes one with Saturn, mission controllers will shut down their command terminals and turn to each other for hugs and high-fives. The scientists and engineers will take some time to celebrate and to evaluate all they’ve done. And then they will get to work building the next set of robot eyes.

A few years from now, peering through cameras not yet constructed, the next generation of explorers will again prepare to see something new in the cold darkness of the outer solar system. Enceladus might be in the sights again. And there we might learn, finally, that we are not alone.

Scientists have used images such as these to map the positions of features on Enceladus, in part to measure changes in the moon’s rotation. Grooves and ridges, at far left and center, suggest tectonic activity. Many of its craters have been deformed or relaxed over time.

NASA

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Posted by Walt Hickey

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


3

Number of Week 1 NFL games decided by 7 points or fewer, the worst for any season-opener since 1973. It was a week seriously short on riveting games, but let’s be real: All you people who took a fantasy football flyer on Kareem Hunt because I mentioned him this past week must be pretty cool with your subscription to Significant Digits right now. [FiveThirtyEight]


12 hours

Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened,” is out, and it’s entering the wildly varied political memoir market. Based on how long the average person actually listened to the audiobook, George W. Bush’s 20.2 hour-long “Decision Points” is the most stuck-with tome in the genre at 12.0 hours, beating Clinton’s own “Hard Choices,” which the average listener tuned into for 8.4 hours out of 27 hours in the book. [FiveThirtyEight]


25

Vitamin World filed for Chapter 11 relief on Monday, making it the 25th retail chain with over $10 million in liabilities to do so in 2017. [Reorg First Day]


38 percent

A survey of a panel of economists by the Chicago Booth Initiative on Global Markets found 38 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the rising use of A.I. and robots will lead to more long-term unemployment, compared with 21 percent who disagree and 29 percent who were uncertain. Those same economists agreed — 52 percent, and another 26 percent strongly agreeing on top of that — that the use of robots and A.I. will bring about economic benefits large enough to compensate those unemployed workers. [IGM Chicago]


130 tons

Estimated weight of a fatberg — if you’re new to sewers, I’ll explain in a moment — stretching for 250 meters underneath London. Here’s the reality: When you pour things down the drain, they go through a convoluted series of pipes underground. Sometimes people pour down liquid fat that they cooked with, not understanding that oil will solidify long before reaching its final destination. Other people flush wet napkins down the toilet that do not disintegrate but instead form a horrifying solid paste with the aforementioned fats. Over the years, these aggregate into fatbergs — an amalgamation of fat with similar blocking effects of an iceberg — and take like three weeks to remove, as is anticipated in this case. [The Guardian]


22,000

Once again, Olive Garden is selling pasta passes, which will allow cardholders to eat unlimited pasta, soup, salad and breadsticks at locations from Sept. 25 through Nov. 19 at no additional charge. The passes cost $100 this year in a first come, first served sale this Thursday at 2 p.m. Last year, Olive Garden sold 21,000 passes in one second. I picked the wrong month to quit eating carbs. [Business Insider]

CORRECTION (Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said Olive Garden sold 22,000 pasta passes last year. It sold 21,000.


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