The Yankeesâ longstanding self-important and overpaid ways have been pushed aside by a plucky band of youngsters and rising stars. So is it now fair to say that the franchise once proudly known as the âEvil Empireâ is no longer baseballâs most hated team?
Nope. As far as most Americans are concerned, the Yankees are still plenty hateable, thank you very much. In fact, theyâre the most hated MLB team.
Thatâs according to a FiveThirtyEight-commissioned SurveyMonkey Audience poll of 989 self-described baseball fans, conducted June 30 to July 8.1 The poll does provide the Yankees with one talking point: They received more votes as peopleâs favorite team than any other franchise. But a deeper look at the results reveals that the Cubs are a much better fit for the title of Americaâs best-liked team (if such a thing even exists).
Because baseball fandom is highly regional, Americans have many favorite teams. The Yankees top the national list of favorites, but with just 10 percent of the vote.
|TEAM||SHARE FAVORITE TEAM|
|1||New York Yankees||10%||
|2||Boston Red Sox||8||
|5||Los Angeles Dodgers||5||
|6||San Francisco Giants||5||
|8||St. Louis Cardinals||4||
|12||New York Mets||3||
|19||Los Angeles Angels||2||
|Kansas City Royals||2||
|23||Chicago White Sox||2||
|25||San Diego Padres||2||
|27||Tampa Bay Rays||1||
|30||Toronto Blue Jays||<1||
The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves come very close behind at 8 percent, while the West Coastâs bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, arenât far behind at 5 percent. The difference between the top teams is so small that the Yankees would tie for third place (with the Braves), trailing the Cubs and Red Sox, if you exclude fans from the state of New York.
Breaking down the favorite-team results by census region we can see that, unsurprisingly, different areas of the country prefer different teams. While the Yankees are in a tight fight for first place with the Red Sox in the Northeast,2 they don’t come anywhere close to being the favorite team (or even breaking 10 percent) in any other region.
|White Sox||1||Reds||3||White Sox||4||Athletics||5|
The Braves are first in the South, with the Texas Rangers second.3 The Midwest is dominated by the Cubs, trailed by the Detroit Tigers, the Minnesota Twins and the Cubsâ arch-rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, all in double digits. Meanwhile, the Giants are just ahead of the Dodgers and the Seattle Mariners in the West.4
What isnât regional is how well the Cubs are liked — that finding came up pretty much everywhere. We often think of fandom as stopping at oneâs favorite team, but fans can like (or dislike) more than one team. So in addition to asking fans who their favorite team was, we also asked each fan whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of 10 randomly assigned teams. That means the sample size for each teamâs favorable or unfavorable rating was a little over 300 fans. For most teams (19 of 30), 67 percent or less of the fans we polled felt they could offer an opinion — again, suggesting the regionality of baseball. But more than 80 percent of fans had a rating for the Cubs, and they were well-liked by nearly everyone.
|TEAM||RATED BY||FAVORABLE||UNFAVORABLE||NET FAV.|
|St. Louis Cardinals||69||50||19||+31|
|Kansas City Royals||64||47||17||+30|
|Boston Red Sox||84||56||28||+28|
|San Francisco Giants||69||46||23||+23|
|San Diego Padres||61||41||20||+21|
|Los Angeles Angels||63||40||23||+17|
|Chicago White Sox||69||43||26||+17|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||73||44||29||+15|
|Tampa Bay Rays||57||34||23||+11|
|New York Mets||78||43||35||+8|
|Toronto Blue Jays||58||33||25||+8|
|New York Yankees||92||44||48||-4|
Sixty-seven percent of baseball fans nationally had a favorable view of the Cubs, while just 14 percent had an unfavorable view. Amazingly, this gave the Cubs the highest favorable rating in the poll in addition to a tie with the Colorado Rockies for the lowest unfavorable rating. In every region of the country, the Cubs had a favorable rating of above 60 percent and an unfavorable rating of 20 percent or less. The Cardinals (at +31 percentage points) were a distant second to the Cubs (at +53 percentage points) when it came to net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating).
The Yankees are an entirely different story. While a fairly high 44 percent of fans have a favorable view of the Yankees, they are the only team in the country for which more fans hold an unfavorable view (48 percent) than favorable view. (For the sake of context, no other team has an unfavorable rating above 35 percent.) Yankee fans will be particularly stung by the fact that more fans have a favorable view of the rival Red Sox (56 percent) than the Yankees.
Not only are the Yankees generally disliked, theyâre also outright hated by more fans than any other team. When asked to give their least favorite team, an astounding 27 percent of fans said theirs was the Yankees. The Red Sox were a distant second at 10 percent.
|TEAM||SHARE LEAST FAVORITE TEAM|
|1||New York Yankees||27%||
|2||Boston Red Sox||10||
|3||Los Angeles Dodgers||5||
|9||Chicago White Sox||3||
|New York Mets||3||
|11||San Francisco Giants||3||
|13||Toronto Blue Jays||3||
|14||St. Louis Cardinals||2||
|21||Los Angeles Angels||2||
|25||San Diego Padres||1||
|26||Tampa Bay Rays||1||
|29||Kansas City Royals||1||
The Yankees were the least favorite team in every region in the country, and it wasn’t a particularly close race anywhere.
|Red Sox||17||Red Sox||10||Cubs||11||Dodgers||12|
|Nats||3||Blue Jays||4||D-Backs||4||White Sox||4|
Interestingly, we do see that there is at least some correlation with being well-liked in a region and having haters. The Red Sox are the second-most disliked team in the Northeast,5 the Cubs are the second-most disliked team in the Midwest, and the Dodgers are the second-most disliked team in the West. Perhaps fans of other teams are just jealous of these teamsâ popularity, or perhaps thereâs a rivalry element to this finding. All of these teamâs top rivals (Yankees for the Red Sox, Cardinals for the Cubs and Giants for the Dodgers) were fairly popular in their own right, and each fan base listed the rival as their least favorite team.
Of course, I donât think any of these disliked teams in each region are going to be crying about being hated. Ownerships donât care whether you watch a team to root for or against it — they just care that you watch. Each regionâs most and second-most disliked team also ranks among the top 10 in MLB attendance this season. As Oscar Wilde wrote, âThere is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.â
Still, these numbers suggest you shouldnât mistake notoriety or ticket sales for being well-liked. In some cases, well-known teams (like the Cubs) are also well-liked — but in others (cough, Yankees), these teams can be better described as ânotorious.â
What’s different – and what’s the same – in a world where the 2016 election went the other way? Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, 2016 Election
Greetings, citizens of Earth 1! I’m filing this dispatch from Earth 2, where Hillary Clinton got just a few more votes last November than she did in your world. And I really do mean just a few more: On Earth 2, Clinton won an additional 0.5 percent more of the vote each state, and Donald Trump won 0.5 percent less. That was just enough for her to narrowly win three states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – that she narrowly lost in what you think of as “the real world.” Races for Congress turned out exactly the same here on Earth 2, so Clinton is president with a Republican Congress.
Things are really different on Earth 2! Merrick Garland is on the Supreme Court instead of Neil Gorsuch. Clinton didn’t enact a “travel ban.” The United States didn’t withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Kellyanne Conway has a CNN show.
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
It’s summer, and how we use energy to cool our homes is of paramount interest to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. All told, 87 percent of homes use air conditioning, and 65 percent of homes use central air conditioning. Now here’s where things get interesting: Most of those central air homes have a programmable thermostat, an essential tool for efficiently using energy. Still, two-thirds of those homes with a programmable thermostat don’t bother using it. All told, the percentage of U.S. homes that have central air, have a thermostat that can program the use of that central air, and actually use the thermostat — ideal energy consumers — represent only 12 percent of homes. [EIA]
Percentage of Trump voters who believed that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the election, which is very low given that Donald Trump Jr. personally tweeted out the emails detailing the planning of the meeting, discussed attending the meeting at length in an interview with Sean Hannity, and also that the president discussed the meeting which definitely happened, in print yesterday. [The Independent]
Placebos work, and faking a surgery may be the greatest placebo of all. A 2014 knee pain study comparing elective surgical procedures and sham surgeries — fear not it was all on the level people knew what they were potentially getting into — found that faking a surgery (doing all the fasting and knocking them out and fake incisions and the whole routine) provided some benefit to the ailment in 74 percent of cases and was just as effective as the actual elective surgery roughly half the time. [FiveThirtyEight]
A CBO score of the latest GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act found it would leave 32 million more people uninsured by 2026 compared to current law. This straight repeal, no replace legislation compounds the uninsured more than other recent plans and could see a vote next week. [CNN Money]
Back in March the New York Power Authority was reportedly presented with a preliminary plan from the Cuomo administration that would fund a light show on a bunch of bridges by raiding $216 million from the MTA. Now that New York City is bordering on open rebellion with the wretched state of the MTA’s subway system during the “summer of hell,” the Cuomo administration is reportedly distancing itself from the light-show plan. [POLITICO Pro]
6,400 million metric tons
Amount of plastic that has become waste since we started doing stuff with plastic in the fifties. So far 9 percent of that was recycled, 12 percent was incinerate, and 79 is just doing it’s own thing in nature or a landfill. Earth made as much plastic in the past 13 years as it did in the rest of human history. [The Atlantic]
If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.
Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, racial discrimination continues to have a serious, measurable impact on the choices our society makes about criminal justice, law enforcement, hiring and financial lending. It might be tempting, then, to feel encouraged as more and more companies and government agencies turn to seemingly dispassionate technologies for help with some of these complicated decisions, which are often influenced by bias. Rather than relying on human judgment alone, organizations are increasingly asking algorithms to weigh in on questions that have profound social ramifications, like whether to recruit someone for a job, give them a loan, identify them as a suspect in a crime, send them to prison or grant them parole.
But an increasing body of research and criticism suggests that algorithms and artificial intelligence aren’t necessarily a panacea for ending prejudice, and they can have disproportionate impacts on groups that are already socially disadvantaged, particularly people of color. Instead of offering a workaround for human biases, the tools we designed to help us predict the future may be dooming us to repeat the past by replicating and even amplifying societal inequalities that already exist.
These data-fueled predictive technologies aren’t going away anytime soon. So how can we address the potential for discrimination in incredibly complex tools that have already quietly embedded themselves in our lives and in some of the most powerful institutions in the country?
In 2014, a report from the Obama White House warned that automated decision-making “raises difficult questions about how to ensure that discriminatory effects resulting from automated decision processes, whether intended or not, can be detected, measured, and redressed.”
Over the last several years, a growing number of experts have been trying to answer those questions by starting conversations, developing best practices and principles of accountability, and exploring solutions for the complex and insidious problem of algorithmic bias.
Thinking critically about the data matters
Although AI decision-making is often regarded as inherently objective, the data and processes that inform it can invisibly bake inequality into systems that are intended to be equitable. Avoiding that bias requires an understanding of both very complex technology and very complex social issues.
Consider COMPAS, a widely used algorithm that assesses whether defendants and convicts are likely to commit crimes in the future. The risk scores it generates are used throughout the criminal justice system to help make sentencing, bail and parole decisions.
At first glance, COMPAS appears fair: White and black defendants given higher risk scores tended to reoffend at roughly the same rate. But an analysis by ProPublica found that, when you examine the types of mistakes the system made, black defendants were almost twice as likely to be mislabeled as likely to reoffend — and potentially treated more harshly by the criminal justice system as a result. On the other hand, white defendants who committed a new crime in the two years after their COMPAS assessment were twice as likely as black defendants to have been mislabeled as low-risk. (COMPAS developer Northpointe — which recently rebranded as Equivant — issued a rebuttal in response to the ProPublica analysis; ProPublica, in turn, issued a counter-rebuttal.)
“Northpointe answers the question of how accurate it is for white people and black people,” said Cathy O’Neil, a data scientist who wrote the National Book Award-nominated “Weapons of Math Destruction,” “but it does not ask or care about the question of how inaccurate it is for white people and black people: How many times are you mislabeling somebody as high-risk?”
An even stickier question is whether the data being fed into these systems might reflect and reinforce societal inequality. For example, critics suggest that at least some of the data used by systems like COMPAS is fundamentally tainted by racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.
“If you’re looking at how many convictions a person has and taking that as a neutral variable — well, that’s not a neutral variable,” said Ifeoma Ajunwa, a law professor who has testified before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the implications of big data. “The criminal justice system has been shown to have systematic racial biases.”
Black people are arrested more often than whites, even when they commit crimes at the same rates. Black people are also sentenced more harshly and are more likely to searched or arrested during a traffic stop. That’s context that could be lost on an algorithm (or an engineer) taking those numbers at face value.
“The focus on accuracy implies that the algorithm is searching for a true pattern, but we don’t really know if the algorithm is in fact finding a pattern that’s true of the population at large or just something it sees in its data,” said Suresh Venkatasubramanian, a computing professor at the University of Utah who studies algorithmic fairness.
Biased data can create feedback loops that function like a sort of algorithmic confirmation bias, where the system finds what it expects to find rather than what is objectively there.
“Part of the problem is that people trained as data scientists who build models and work with data aren’t well connected to civil rights advocates a lot of the time,” said Aaron Rieke of Upturn, a technology consulting firm that works with civil rights and consumer groups. “What I worry most about isn’t companies setting out to racially discriminate. I worry far more about companies that aren’t thinking critically about the way that they might reinforce bias by the source of data they use.”
Understanding what we need to fix
There are similar concerns about algorithmic bias in facial-recognition technology, which already has a far broader impact than most people realize: Over 117 million American adults have had their images entered into a law-enforcement agency’s face-recognition database, often without their consent or knowledge, and the technology remains largely unregulated.
A 2012 paper, which was coauthored by a technologist from the FBI, found that the facial-recognition algorithms it studied were less accurate when identifying the faces of black people, along with women and adults under 30. A key finding of a 2016 study by the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology, which examined 15,000 pages of documentation, was that “police face recognition will disproportionately affect African Americans.” (The study also provided models for policy and legislation that could be used to regulate the technology on both federal and state levels.)
Some critics suggest that the solution to these issues is to simply add more diversity to training sets, but it’s more complicated than that, according to Elke Oberg, the marketing manager at Cognitec, a company whose facial-recognition algorithms have been used by law-enforcement agencies in California, Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“Unfortunately, it is impossible to make any absolute statements [about facial-recognition technology],” Oberg said. “Any measurements on face-recognition performance depends on the diversity of the images within the database, as well as their quality and quantity.”
Jonathan Frankle, a former staff technologist for the Georgetown University Law Center who has experimented with facial-recognition algorithms, can run through a laundry list of factors that may contribute to the uneven success rates of the many systems currently in use, including the difficulty some systems have in detecting facial landmarks on darker skin, the lack of good training sets available, the complex nature of learning algorithms themselves, and the lack of research on the issue. “If it were just about putting more black people in a training set, it would be a very easy fix. But it’s inherently more complicated than that.”
He thinks further study is crucial to finding solutions, and that the research is years behind the way facial recognition is already being used. “We don’t even fully know what the problems are that we need to fix, which is terrifying and should give any researcher pause,” Frankle said.
The government could step in
New laws and better government regulation could be a powerful tool in reforming how companies and government agencies use AI to make decisions.
Last year, the European Union passed a law called the General Data Protection Regulation, which includes numerous restrictions on the automated processing of personal data and requires transparency about “the logic involved” in those systems. Similar federal regulation does not appear to be forthcoming in the U.S. — the FCC and Congress are pushing to either stall or dismantle federal data-privacy protections — though some states, including Illinois and Texas, have passed their own biometric privacy laws to protect the type of personal data often used by algorithmic decision-making tools.
However, existing federal laws do protect against certain types of discrimination — particularly in areas like hiring, housing and credit — though they haven’t been updated to address the way new technologies intersect with old prejudices.
“If we’re using a predictive sentencing algorithm where we can’t interrogate the factors that it is using, or a credit scoring algorithm that can’t tell you why you were denied credit — that’s a place where good regulation is essential, [because] these are civil rights issues,” said Frankle. “The government should be stepping in.”
Transparency and accountability
Another key area where the government could be of use: pushing for more transparency about how these influential predictive tools reach their decisions.
“The only people who have access to that are the people who build them. Even the police don’t have access to those algorithms,” O’Neil said. “We’re handing over the decision of how to police our streets to people who won’t tell us how they do it.”
Frustrated by the lack of transparency in the field, O’Neil started a company to help take a peek inside. Her consultancy conducts algorithmic audits and risk assessments, and it is currently working on a manual for data scientists who want “to do data science right.”
Complicating any push toward greater transparency is the rise of machine learning systems, which are increasingly involved in decisions around hiring, financial lending and policing. Sometimes described as “black boxes,” these predictive models are so complex that even the people who create them can’t always tell how they arrive at their conclusions.
“A lot of these algorithmic systems rely on neural networks which aren’t really that transparent,” said Professor Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. “You can’t look under the hood, because there’s no such thing as looking under the hood.” In these cases, Bedoya said, it’s important to examine whether the system’s results affect different groups in different ways. “Increasingly, people are calling for algorithmic accountability,” instead of insight into the code, “to do rigorous testing of these systems and their outputs, to see if the outputs are biased.”
What does ‘fairness’ mean?
Once we move beyond the technical discussions about how to address algorithmic bias, there’s another tricky debate to be had: How are we teaching algorithms to value accuracy and fairness? And what do we decide “accuracy” and “fairness” mean? If we want an algorithm to be more accurate, what kind of accuracy do we decide is most important? If we want it to be more fair, whom are we most concerned with treating fairly?
For example, is it more unfair for an algorithm like COMPAS to mislabel someone as high-risk and unfairly penalize them more harshly, or to mislabel someone as low-risk and potentially make it easier for them to commit another crime? AURA, an algorithmic tool used in Los Angeles to help identify victims of child abuse, faces a similarly thorny dilemma: When the evidence is unclear, how should an automated system weigh the harm of accidentally taking a child away from parents who are not abusive against the harm of unwittingly leaving a child in an abusive situation?
“In some cases, the most accurate prediction may not be the most socially desirable one, even if the data is unbiased, which is a huge assumption — and it’s often not,” Rieke said.
Advocates say the first step is to start demanding that the institutions using these tools make deliberate choices about the moral decisions embedded in their systems, rather than shifting responsibility to the faux neutrality of data and technology.
“It can’t be a technological solution alone,” Ajunwa said. “It all goes back to having an element of human discretion and not thinking that all tough questions can be answered by technology.”
Others suggest that human decision-making is so prone to cognitive bias that data-driven tools might be the only way to counteract it, assuming we can learn to build them better: by being conscientious, by being transparent and by candidly facing the biases of the past and present in hopes of not coding them into our future.
“Algorithms only repeat our past, so they don’t have the moral innovation to try and improve our lives or our society,” O’Neil said. “But long as our society is itself imperfect, we are going to have to adjust something to remove the discrimination. I am not a proponent of going back to purely human decision-making because humans aren’t great. … I do think algorithms have the potential for doing better than us.” She pauses for a moment. “I might change my mind if you ask me in five years, though.”
The margarita is one of those rare iconic cocktails that have a half-dozen recipes that can each lay claim to being the best, which poses some problems for your everyday margarita drinker. If you turn to the internet for help, you’ll find hundreds of recipes, and it can be tough to tell which ones are worth your while. The overabundance of choice means a person can find essentially any permutation of tequila, orange liqueur and lime billing itself as a marg.
We wanted to find the best margarita recipe, so we pulled 78 of the internet’s suggestions — we ignored all those lamentable sour-mix concoctions and coconut-pomegranate-passionfruit abominations, focusing just on the beverages anchored by tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur. Then we applied something called a k-means clustering algorithm to determine the four main types of margaritas. Taking a mere average would have resulted in a monstrosity of a drink that was trying to be several things at once, but the clustering algorithm gives us several distinct platonic ideals of a margarita, letting our human taster determine which one is best.
In the video above, you can see us head to Dutch Kills bar in lovely Queens, New York, to test those recipes and figure out which is the best of the bunch. Here are your contenders.
1 1/2 oz. tequila
3/4 oz. orange liqueur
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 1/2 oz. tequila
1/4 oz. orange liqueur
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/4 oz. agave nectar
The Sweet & Easy
1 1/2 oz. tequila
3/4 oz. orange liqueur
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar
1/2 oz. water
1/4 oz. lemon juice
The Limey & Tart
1 1/2 oz. tequila
1/4 oz. orange liqueur
1 1/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Watch the video to see which recipe won!
With first-time winners taking each of the last seven major titles, you might not think experience counts for much in golf anymore. But as the worldâs top players head to Royal Birkdale for this weekâs (British) Open, it serves as a reminder that the unique challenges of links-style courses still provide at least one championship showcase for golfâs greybeards.
Traditionally speaking, championship golfers do the bulk of their winning in their late 20s and early-to-mid 30s: Since 2000, about 60 percent of major winners were age 32 or younger at the time of their victory. But the big exception seems to be the British Open, whose champs are consistently much older than those of the other majors. Of the five major wins by the 40-and-older set since 2000, only one of them didnât come at The Open (Vijay Singhâs 2004 PGA Championship win). According to ESPNâs Stats & Information Group, the average age for British Open winners since 2000 was 33.7, while the average age for all other major champs was 30.7.
And the results have been even more extreme in recent years, with four 40-somethings winning the Claret Jug this decade,6 and this doesnât even count Zach Johnson (who won The Open at age 39 in 2015), nor does it reflect the heroic near-misses from old-timers this century, such as 59-year-old Tom Watsonâs playoff loss at Turnberry in 2009 and 53-year-old Greg Normanâs third-place finish in 2008 — the last time Birkdale hosted the event. Since 2011, the average age for The Open winners has been 38.5, nearly 10 years older than the average of the other three majors (28.7), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
So why do older players excel at the British? One reason might be in the way experience helps players deal with the ever-changing weather conditions that often beset The Open — and how those same atmospheric effects negate the advantages of long-hitting younger players.
To test this theory, I looked at data provided by Stats & Info for the first two rounds of each British Open since 1983. For players who have birthdate information in the database,7 I broke them down into the following categories: âYoungâ (ages 28 or below — the youngest 25 percent of players), âOldâ (ages 39 or older — the oldest 25 percent of players) and âRegularâ (everyone else). I also recorded whether the average score for a given round was more than three strokes over par, considering such rounds to have âhigh-scoringâ conditions. This is admittedly an imperfect proxy for weather effects, but in the absence of tee times and climate data, it will have to do as a means of flagging rounds where conditions were challenging.
When scoring conditions were normal, old and young players shot equally well relative to the field average. (Players who fit neither category shot about a third of a stroke better on average, which makes sense given those players were in the primes of their careers.) But when conditions got bad, the young players shot worse — and the older ones shot better. In high-scoring rounds, young players lost about a third of a stroke per round relative to older players, an even bigger margin than the quarter-stroke they lost relative to prime-aged players.8
|NORMAL ROUND||HIGH-SCORING ROUND|
|PLAYER AGE||ROUNDS||SCORE VS AVG.||ROUNDS||SCORE VS AVG.||DIFF.|
|Old (39 and older)||1,616||-0.11||730||-0.28||-0.17|
|Young (28 and younger)||1,408||-0.12||726||0.00||+0.12|
Open weather can infamously turn on a dime, and it requires shots of a very different shape than the usual ones many younger Americans have spent the vast majority of their careers playing. So at least in part, this is evidence that experience — and not raw power — can help a player better navigate around such challenging conditions.
And that shouldnât be any different this time around, with typical rainy, gusty weather on the forecast for Royal Birkdale. So although this has been a great season for young players on the PGA Tour, donât be surprised if the sportâs elder statesmen take center stage in England this week.
The guyâs desperate. The pain in his knee has made it impossible to play basketball or walk down stairs. In search of a cure, he makes a journey to a healing place, where heâll undergo a fasting rite, don ceremonial garb, ingest mind-altering substances and be anointed with liquids before a masked healer takes him through a physical ritual intended to vanquish his pain.
Seen through different eyes, the process of modern surgery may look more more spiritual than scientific, said orthopedic surgeon Stuart Green, a professor at the University of California, Irvine. Our hypothetical patient is undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, and the rituals heâll participate in — fasting, wearing a hospital gown, undergoing anesthesia, having his surgical site prepared with an iodine solution, and giving himself over to a masked surgeon — foster an expectation that the procedure will provide relief, Green said.
These expectations matter, and we know they matter because of a bizarre research technique called sham surgery. In these fake operations, patients are led to believe that they are having a real surgical procedure — theyâre taken through all the regular pre- and post- surgical rituals, from fasting to anesthesia to incisions made in their skin to look like the genuine operation occurred — but the doctor does not actually perform the surgery. If the patient is awake during the âprocedure,â the doctor mimics the sounds and sensations of the true surgery, and the patient may be shown a video of someone elseâs procedure as if it were his own.
Sham surgeries may sound unethical, but theyâre done with participantsâ consent and in pursuit of an important question: Does the surgical procedure under consideration really work? In a surprising number of cases, the answer is no.
A 2014 review of 53 trials that compared elective surgical procedures to placebos found that sham surgeries provided some benefit in 74 percent of the trials and worked as well as the real deal in about half.9 Consider the middle-aged guy going in for surgery to treat his knee pain. Arthroscopic knee surgery has been a common orthopedic procedure in the United States, with about 692,000 of them performed in 2010,10 but the procedure has proven no better than a sham when done to address degenerative wear and tear, particularly on the meniscus.11
Meniscus repair is only one commonly performed orthopedic surgery that has failed to produce better results than a sham surgery. A back operation called vertebroplasty (done to treat compression fractures in the spine) and something called intradiscal electrothermal therapy, a âminimally invasiveâ treatment for herniated disks and low back pain, have also produced study results that suggest they may be no more effective than a sham at reducing pain in the long term.
Such findings show that these procedures donât work as promised, but they also indicate that thereâs something powerful about believing that youâre having surgery and that it will fix what ails you. Green hypothesizes that a surgeryâs placebo effect is proportional to the elaborateness of the rituals surrounding it, the surgeonâs expressed confidence and enthusiasm for the procedure, and a patientâs belief that it will help.
Weirdly enough, surgeryâs invasiveness may explain some of its potency. Studies have shown that invasive procedures produce a stronger placebo effect than non-invasive ones, said researcher Jonas Bloch Thorlund of the University of Southern Denmark. A pill can provoke a placebo effect, but an injection produces an even stronger one. Cutting into someone appears to be more powerful still.
Even without a robust placebo effect, an ineffective surgery may seem helpful. Chronic pain often peaks and wanes, which means that if a patient sought treatment when the pain was at its worst, the improvement of symptoms after surgery could be the result of a conditionâs natural course, rather than the treatment. That softening of symptoms from an extreme measure of pain is an example of the statistical concept of regression to the mean.
And then thereâs what Thorlund calls âcar repairâ logic — something looks broken, so you try to fix it. A patient comes in with knee pain, and an X-ray or MRI exam shows a tear in the meniscus. The tendency is to assume that the torn meniscus is the cause of the pain and so should be fixed. However, studies show that MRIs can find all kinds of âabnormalities,â such as cartilage damage, even among people without knee pain. One such study looked at the MRI scans of more than 300 knees and found no direct link between meniscus damage and pain. âYou can have a meniscal tear without having any problems,â Thorlund said.
Back pain follows a similar pattern. Studies that examined MRIs of peopleâs backs show that things like slipped, bulging or herniated disks correlate very poorly with pain. Herniated disks and other supposed abnormalities are also common in people without back pain, and itâs telling that studies find that spinal fusion, another popular back surgery used to address disk problems, does not produce better results than nonsurgical interventions.
Given these results, why do these surgeries remain so widespread? Because the ineffectiveness of these procedures can be hard for doctors to see. âLargely, surgeons believe that they are doing the right thing,â writes surgeon Ian Harris in his book âSurgery, the Ultimate Placebo.â Yet in many cases, âthe real benefit from surgery is lower and the risks are higher than you or your surgeon think,â he writes. Itâs not always a matter of surgeons ignoring the evidence. In some cases, thereâs simply a lack of high-quality studies, and that âallows surgeons to do procedures that have always been done, those that their mentors taught them to do, to do what they think works, and to simply do what everyone else is doing,â Harris writes.
Surgeons who perform only real surgeries never see the benefits of sham procedures and so may falsely attribute their patientsâ success to the surgery without recognizing that regression to the mean and the placebo effect might also contribute. Patients can also be fooled, Green said, recalling how in one arthroscopic surgery experiment, patients in the placebo group improved so much that they were âflabbergastedâ to learn that theyâd received the sham treatment.
Could the placebo effect be harnessed for good in the same way that some researchers have used placebo pills to treat ADHD and irritable bowel syndrome? When I posed that question to Thorlund, his answer was a resounding no. Even sham surgery could pose the risk of serious, life-threatening complications. âI donât think itâs ethical,â he said.
Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. The Hot Takedown crew is out of the office this week, so we’re bringing you a special blast from the past: our very first Stat School. In this episode, Neil dons the Stat Man cape, explaining the three ways to measure batting in order of increasing complexity: batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus). Will Chad and Kate absorb all of his information and receive their certificates at the end of the course?
Here are links to the things we discussed during the show:
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
A study from Ball State University reports that a quarter of U.S. jobs are vulnerable to offshoring, but the stunning statistic is an estimate that half of net business formation in the United States since the recession has happened in 0.64 percent of U.S. counties. That’s 20 of the 3,100 U.S. counties. [U.S. News & World Report, CBER]
Several people reportedly got sick after eating at the same Chipotle in Sterling, Va. This could not be worse news for the company that has seen previous outbreaks of food-borne illness. Chipotle’s stock price plunged 8 percent on Tuesday over a matter of hours, wiping out all its gains for the year. [Bloomberg]
Percent of female comic book characters with a gendered name that had a diminutive in it — think names like “Wonder Girl,” “Wonder Lass” or “Wonder Doll” rather than “Wonder Woman” — compared to 12.6 percent of male characters with a gendered name. [The Pudding]
With the support of seven Assembly Republicans and one Senate Republican, California’s Democratic-controlled legislature successfully passed Assembly Bill 398, which extends the state’s cap-and-trade program. [The Los Angeles Times]
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed HB 640 and made New Hampshire the 22nd state to decriminalize marijuana. The “live free or die” state was slower than the likes of Mississippi and Nebraska in making this change. [Cannabis Now]
Annual U.S. health spending on chronic physical and mental conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Controlling those illnesses — and staving off the deleterious and far more expensive health maladies that they can lead to — could save the U.S. health care system a lot of money. [U.S. News & World Report]
If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.
So you wake up one day, get on Twitter and find everyone buzzing about some story in The New York Times or The Washington Post about some associate or friend of President Trump’s who has some connection to Russia. You read the story, but not only are the sources unnamed, they are unnamed in all kinds of different ways — an “intelligence source” in paragraph three, “administration officials” in paragraph seven, “people familiar with the investigation” in the next one and “law enforcement officials” at the end. You understand all the words on the screen, but you don’t really understand who’s telling you what or why.
In the first part of our guide to unnamed sources, we laid out some general tips for making sense of these kinds of stories. In this part, we want to get more specific, to help you to essentially decode these stories. We also want you to be able to know which stories you should rely on based on the different kinds of sourcing used.
So we’re going to divide anonymous sources into six general types and give the pros and cons of each, in terms of reliability. We ordered the types of unnamed sources, roughly speaking, from most reliable to least reliable (at least in my experience):
1. Organization sources
Why you should trust these sources: Close to 70,000 people work at the State Department, so there’s a huge number of potential “State Department officials” to be quoted anonymously. But in reality, most beat reporters aren’t talking to people up and down a department at every level. A story attributed to a large federal department and published in The Washington Post will almost certainly have been run by the department’s spokesperson, giving him or her the chance to rebut it. If a story includes a line like “State Department officials said X” but no spokesperson is directly quoted in the story, you should generally assume that this is a disclosure authorized by the top officials in that agency. Maybe the State Department wants the secretary, Rex Tillerson, and not a spokesperson to announce a policy publicly, so the members of the press team opt to confirm the story but not use their names. An unnamed source isn’t always a whistleblower or someone talking behind the boss’s back.
Be wary, however, of putting too much trust in adjectives such as “senior” or “high-ranking” when applied to a source. These are organizational sources, sure. But there is no technical definition of “senior White House official,” so this person could be press secretary Sean Spicer or Trump himself.
Why you shouldn’t trust these sources: Sometimes departments want to float ideas that a spokesperson would not want to put his or her name behind. CBS News, for example, ran a story in May in which unnamed White House officials were quoted calling the leaks about the various Russia controversies “coordinated and timed” to hurt Trump. Trump White House aides may think that is true. But suggesting that leaks and stories about Trump and Russia are somehow coordinated and timed by sources and journalists, as opposed to going through the normal process — sources giving journalists tips, reporters trying to verify them and then putting out stories after confirming the information — sounds a bit conspiratorial. Going unnamed allows these sources to bash the Russia coverage in a way that White House aides might not be comfortable doing with their names attached.
And as I mentioned in the first part of this series, outlets aimed at politicos — such as Axios and, well, Politico — frequently publish claims that the administration will do X or Y. Often, these are trial balloons — the White House or a federal agency wants to see how the press and public react to something — and they never come to pass.
2. “Familiar” people
Why you should trust these sources: Quotes attributed to sources “familiar with the thinking” of a person are often quite reliable.
Why? A major newspaper like The New York Times or The Washington Post is not going to suggest that a source is familiar with someone’s thinking without being pretty sure of it. This is a fairly precise term. It also puts the news organization at a clear risk, as person X can obviously deny what an article has said he or she is thinking.
Generally, these kinds of source descriptions mean that the reporter spoke either to the actual subject (meaning that “a source familiar with the thinking of Chief Justice John Roberts” is Roberts) or to a person designated by the subject to give his or her account to the reporter.
In the wake of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the “associates of” Comey who gave accounts of his interactions with Trump and his aides to The New York Times and other news outlets were obviously authorized by Comey and essentially telegraphing the story that he would eventually testify to publicly.
Why you shouldn’t trust these sources: By going unnamed or relying on allies, the subject of these stories (say, Comey before his testimony) is unwilling to commit publicly to whatever narrative he or she is telling. So while the broader outlines are likely correct, the narrative could be exaggerated or misleading in some ways.
Secondly, this kind of sourcing has the potential for abuse. Other reporters can call the State Department to check the veracity of a story attributed to “State Department officials.” But it was not obvious that “associates of Comey” would lead to a Columbia law professor named Daniel Richman. (Comey testified that he gave a friend one of his memos describing his interactions with Trump and that the friend, a professor at Columbia law school, read some of the details of the memo to a journalist. Comey did not name the journalist. The first story about the Comey memo was written by Michael Schmidt, a New York Times reporter who has covered Comey extensively.)
Another reporter could contact Comey to confirm this kind of story, which is something, but if Comey refused to talk, there wasn’t a clear second option.
Also, there is one person causing some specific problems with this kind of sourcing: Trump. The president seems to speak with a wide range of people, both inside and outside the White House. And many of these people then tell reporters that they talked to the president. That leaves a lot of people for journalists to credibly say are “familiar with Trump’s thinking,” but that does not necessarily mean that these sources give an accurate picture of what the president will do. The constant stories about staff shake-ups at the White House may indeed come from people who have heard Trump muse about changes that he will never actually follow through on.
3. The Law
Why you should trust these sources: In my experience, in national news stories, “law enforcement sources” usually means representatives of the Department of Justice or FBI (technically, the FBI is part of DOJ), making the general principles described in the “organization sources” section above applicable here too. In particular, look for the plural “officials” over the singular “official.”
Why you shouldn’t trust these sources: This kind of sourcing is relatively opaque. The Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Capitol Police, the D.C. police department, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C. would all count as law enforcement agencies based in Washington. If you were a reporter trying to check out a story attributed to “law enforcement officials,” you would need to call all these agencies.
And sometimes these agencies disagree with one another. At his Senate hearing, Comey described his discomfort (and disagreement) with the terminology that the previous attorney general, Loretta Lynch, wanted to use when publicly discussing the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of e-mail as secretary of state. (According to Comey, Lynch wanted to refer to the probe as a “matter,” not an “investigation.”) So a story referring to “law enforcement officials” about the e-mail controversy could have had different takes, depending on whether the sources were aligned with Lynch or Comey.
4. The spies
Why you should trust these sources: The number of publications with intelligence community reporters is very small. You are unlikely to read a story quoting unnamed intelligence officials outside of the big papers, like the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and the major television news networks. So the general reliability of those outlets helps gives these stories credibility.
Why you shouldn’t trust these sources: As is the case with law enforcement sources, “intelligence officials” could refer to many agencies in the U.S. government: the FBI, CIA, NSA, the intelligence departments at the Defense and State departments. The U.S. Senate and U.S. House also have intelligence committees with staffs, so those people could also be described as intelligence officials. And some reporters have sources within intelligence agencies in other nations, and they would also fall under this category. So this sourcing is opaque.
Also, even if the intelligence sources are accurately reporting their own views, the intelligence itself could be wrong or overhyped (see weapons of mass destruction in Iraq). And there is very little ability for a reporter to push back. A political reporter can travel to Ohio and look for signs that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump has a strong organization in the Buckeye State. It is much harder for an intelligence reporter to verify, outside of using his sources, Russia’s hacking efforts, for example.
5. Politicians and their staffers
Why you should trust these sources: Generally, the term “administration officials” is used by journalists to refer to political appointees. So “Trump administration officials” means people who are aligned with the administration, not just federal workers. When sources ask for this designation, they are often trying to shield their identity more carefully (“State Department officials” narrows down the universe of sources) or may be trying to downplay the role of their department (Treasury, State, etc.).
Why you should not trust these sources: This sourcing is opaque and has potential for errors. A White House employee, for example, could be describing something that he or she expects the State Department to do, and State may not be in line with the White House view. Or vice versa.
And Congress is, technically, a organization, like State or Defense. But Congress is really a body of 535 independent entities loosely aligned under two parties. A source in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office will have different information and a different agenda than one in the office of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. “Congressional sources” is better than nothing, but only barely.
6. Sourcing that tells you nothing
“People familiar with the investigation,” “U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports,” “current and former officials familiar with the investigations,” “one current and one former American official with knowledge of the continuing congressional and F.B.I. investigations,” “Republican strategist,” “Democratic strategist,” “senior Republicans”
Why you should trust these sources: The first several phrases here come from stories about the interactions that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has had with various Russian figures. Phrases like “senior Republicans” and “Democratic strategist” come from political coverage.
This style of sourcing has a “just trust us” quality to it, and the descriptions of the sources are essentially meaningless. A “former American official” could be anyone who ever worked in the U.S. government. “People familiar with” the Russia investigation could range from low-level officials at the Department of Justice to former President Barack Obama. One assumes that the lawyers, consultants and others employed by the various people being written about in Trump-Russia stories are “familiar with the investigation.” They could be the sources for some stories.
(The difference between “sources familiar with Comey’s thinking” and “sources familiar with the investigation” is that the former is both more verifiable and more risky for the news outlet. You can contact Comey to check his thinking, and he can call the Times to say if his thinking has been described incorrectly. “Sources familiar with the investigation,” on the other hand, does not put anyone on the spot, and investigators rarely go on the record during an investigation — even to say that published accounts are wrong.)
A “Democratic strategist” could be anyone who worked in any Democratic campaign or on the staff of any Democratic office-holder, at any level of government. This type of sourcing is also often used by people who are not government officials at all, but political consultants.
So, why should you trust these stories? You are truly relying on the reporters and the outlets here — and on their records of reporting verifiable claims. Some publications and journalists have established strong reputations for trustworthiness. The Washington Post reported stories that essentially forced the resignation of Flynn earlier this year. Marty Baron, the Post’s top editor, ran The Boston Globe when it broke the stories about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests — coverage featured in the movie “Spotlight.” Earlier this year, outlets investigating Trump/Russia stories may have appeared to be pushing forward an allegation that seemed far-fetched (some kind of direct collusion, coordination or at least general prior knowledge of the Russian hacking effort by the Trump campaign). But at this point, the Flynn firing, the Comey firing, Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-associated lawyer and other events have validated the decisions by the Post, Times, CNN and other outlets to invest heavily in reporting on the Trump-Russia connection.
“One thing that I think really needs explaining to non-journalists is the number of people at a newspaper or network who will read an investigative story” before it runs, said Al Cross, who was a longtime reporter at the Louisville Courier-Journal and now teaches at the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. “News consumers say they get most of their news from television, which emphasizes the individual roles of the anchor and reporter and does little to remind people that journalism is a collective act.”
Why you should not trust these sources: The competition to get scoops among journalists and big papers creates pressure that could lead to the overhyping of certain stories or the use of weak sourcing that leads to inaccuracies.
CNN last month accepted the resignations of three journalists, including a top editor in charge of an investigative unit, after announcing that it could not stand behind a story it had published on the Russia controversy. The article, which has now been removed from CNN’s website, relied on a single unnamed “congressional source” to suggest that Congress was investigating ties between a Russian investment fund and people connected to Trump. One of the Trump allies named in the CNN story, Anthony Scaramucci, publicly denied the account.
“The zeal to break news can create haste that leads to flawed reporting,” wrote the Post’s media reporter, Paul Farhi, in the wake of the CNN resignations. “Like all major news organizations, CNN is under pressure to produce scoops that draw ratings and Web traffic, and to stay competitive with the likes of the New York Times and The Washington Post, which have been leaders on the Trump-Russia story.”
Conclusions: Caveat lector
“The whole system of anonymous sources has a flaw,” said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University. “Sometimes the name that is withheld is bigger news than the news the withheld name is offering. But there is no way for the readers to know because the name is … withheld.”
Rosen is right. But as a reader, you don’t have any other options. Washington stories have always been full of unnamed sources. But now, we are in a unique era: an administration with a lot of factions, often fighting with one another; a federal bureaucracy skeptical of its boss; a Republican majority in Congress leery of Trump but often not wanting to blast him with their names attached. So there are lots of people who want to talk to the press, but also lots of incentives for them to do so without their names attached. Heck, the former FBI director was essentially acting as an unnamed source, so you can imagine that others with fewer credentials (or more to lose) are even more afraid to go on the record.
So our advice is: Read all of these vaguely sourced stories with skepticism. But if you really want to keep up with Trump’s Washington, you probably don’t have a choice but to read some stories with unnamed sources.
For most Major League Baseball teams, the trade deadline is a chance to step back and take stock of the franchiseâs trajectory. Although only a small fraction of rumored deals actually end up happening, a teamâs willingness to swap assets — as either a buyer or a seller — says a lot about where it is in the cycle between contending for a World Series and playing for the future.
For a few teams, the choice has already been made. These are the clubs on the ends of the baseball spectrum: the bottom dwellers already committed to punting the present in order to stockpile young talent and the clear front-runners who can begin fine-tuning their playoff rosters in July.
But the bulk of the league faces a fork in the road and doesnât have the luxury of soul-searching with the trade deadline less than two weeks away. The decision to buy or sell is both critical — botched maneuvers can cripple a franchise for years — and further complicated by whether teams are getting a ârentalâ player (with an expiring contract) or someone who can help them for the next few years. But fear not, baseball general managers, we are here to help.
A few years ago, my colleague Nate Silver and I developed a statistical framework for trade-deadline strategy: the Doyle Number (named for a certain pitcher the Detroit Tigers mortgaged their future to acquire at the 1987 deadline). Doyle represents the number of future wins a team should be willing to part with in exchange for adding an extra win of talent this season. So a Doyle of 1.00 means a team should be indifferent to buying or selling — a one-win improvement this year adds as much to its current World Series odds as a future win would add over the long term.12 If its Doyle rises any higher, it should probably be buying (since wins this year are more valuable than future wins); any lower, and it should be selling.
For example, the Cleveland Indians currently have a Doyle Number of 1.48. With a good (though not quite great) roster and decent (but not quite ironclad) division-series odds,13 they should probably be trying to add talent over the next few weeks to bolster their chances of returning to the World Series. Meanwhile, the New York Metsâ Doyle is 0.08; their injury-riddled talent base is mediocre, and they have very little shot at the division series, so they should be selling off anyone that isnât nailed down.
With those ground rules in place, hereâs every teamâs Doyle number as of July 16:14
|SOLID BUYERS||ELO RATING||EXP. WINS PER 162 GAMES||DIV. SERIES ODDS||WORLD SERIES ODDS||DOYLE NUMBER|
|CAUTIOUS BUYERS||ELO RATING||EXP. WINS PER 162 GAMES||DIV. SERIES ODDS||WORLD SERIES ODDS||DOYLE NUMBER|
|SELLERS||ELO RATING||EXP. WINS PER 162 GAMES||DIV. SERIES ODDS||WORLD SERIES ODDS||DOYLE NUMBER|
The Doyle topples one of the most common perceptions of the deadline: The team most in need of a trade is the team that is one bat (or one arm) away from making a postseason run. By contrast, Doyle shows that the the teams who should be most willing to buy are the teams having the best seasons — not teams merely on the cusp of the playoffs. Itâs a consequence of how random the MLB playoffs are: When even the best teams have long odds of winning, thereâs practically no amount of talent a team can add that will cause its World Series probability to hit diminishing returns.
This year, the top Doyle teams are the historically dominant Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros — and, to a lesser extent, the Indians, Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. With the possible exception of Houston, each team has at least one position where it can substantially improve, and Doyle indicates they should focus on shoring up those weaknesses in preparation for a World Series run.
More interesting, however, are the clubs near the threshold between buying and selling. These are teams for whom there is less of a clear-cut direction to take — but some decision must be made, since any direction would add more total future championships than merely standing pat. One archetype for that group is the unexpected contender: Think of the Milwaukee Brewers, who find themselves in first place in the National League Central division despite a relatively unimpressive collection of talent. Milwaukeeâs 1.26 Doyle suggests it should lean toward buying, since an improved core will become much more valuable in the postseason.
The opposite model might be that of Milwaukeeâs division rival, the Chicago Cubs: an expected favorite to whom Doyle gives a disappointingly low World Series probability. The defending champs are having a well-documented down year, and although theyâre talented enough to have decent title odds if they make the playoffs, thatâs far from guaranteed no matter what deadline moves they make. As a result, their 0.66 Doyle suggests they should lean toward punting on this season.
The Cubs, however, donât seem willing to give up just yet, trading for starter Jose Quintana last week. They werenât necessarily wrong to do it, either; itâs important to remember that the Doyle Numbers above mostly apply to rental players. After I tweaked the model to account for the remaining years on Quintanaâs contract,15 Chicagoâs Doyle for this specific trade became 1.31 — meaning it was probably worth it to give up top prospects in exchange for improving its talent base over multiple seasons.
Those are exactly the kinds of extenuating circumstances a team in Chicagoâs current situation needs in order to justify buying instead of selling. Any team with a Doyle north of 0.60 or so could probably do a similar calculation, which means 11 clubs — the Dodgers, Astros, Nationals, Red Sox, Indians, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Rays, Cubs and Rockies — could reasonably call themselves buyers this season under the right circumstances.
So we know whoâs at the restaurant, and we know whoâs on the menu — but what is everyone ordering? We can also use Doyle to build a trade deadline plan for each team, pairing them with players who fit a need and make sense given how realistic a clubâs World Series chances are. For each of the 11 teams above, I gathered their current starters16 and tracked how good each is this season, according to Tom Tangoâs WARcel projections. I also pulled a list of deadline rental targets17 from the excellent RosterResource.com, calculating their WAR talent as well. Multiplying a teamâs Doyle Number by the difference in WAR talent between a rental target and its current starter at the same position, we came up with a âdeadline indexâ that indicates how good of a match the player is for the team. After assigning duplicated targets to the team whose index for the player was highest, here are the best pairings between team needs and available players, according to Doyle:
|TOP TARGET||CURRENT STARTER FOR TARGET POSITION|
|Nationals||1.9||J. Dyson||LF||+2.7||C. Heisey||-0.4||5.8|
|Astros||2.2||Y. Darvish||SP||+3.1||M. Fiers||+1.1||4.3|
|Red Sox||1.6||A. Avila||C||+2.3||C. Vazquez||-0.2||4.0|
|Indians||1.5||J.D. Martinez||RF||+2.4||T. Naquin||+0.3||3.1|
|Brewers||1.3||Z. Cozart||SS||+3.1||O. Arcia||+1.0||2.7|
|Dodgers||2.2||A. Reed||RP||+1.9||P. Baez||+0.8||2.3|
|Yankees||0.9||T. Frazier||1B||+2.3||J. Choi||+0.1||2.1|
|D-backs||1.0||C. Granderson||LF||+2.0||D. Descalso||+0.0||2.0|
|Rays||0.9||C. Maybin||LF||+1.8||S. Peterson||+0.2||1.4|
|Rockies||0.6||J. Bruce||RF||+2.0||G. Parra||+0.2||1.1|
|Cubs||0.7||C. Gomez||LF||+1.6||K. Schwarber||+0.0||1.1|
Obviously, here are other layers of complexity involved in actually pulling off these deadline deals, including the quality of the trading teamâs farm system, which of its existing players might return from injury before the playoffs, and the possibility of a contract extension with the player being acquired. But the general idea of Doyle is that it provides a flexible framework for trade-deadline decisions, based on how valuable it is to add or shed current talent with an eye on the future.
Keep that in mind as we watch whatever deals unfold over the next couple of weeks. A teamâs Doyle Number is a rough guideline, the starting point for thinking about trade possibilities. What happens after that is a combination of reading the market, picking the right moment to strike and then making endless phone calls until that forgettable middle reliever is finally yours.
In this week’s politics chat, we talk about — what else? — the apparent failure of Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Those efforts collapsed Monday night when Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah said they would vote against a procedural motion to move ahead with the bill. So is the bill really dead? And, if so, who’s to blame for the bill’s failure? The transcript below has been lightly edited.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Good morning, chatters. Sometimes we have trouble picking a chat topic. And sometimes, when we’re trying to decide on a topic … the GOP’s effort to pass a health care bill collapses! So let’s talk about that.
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Thanks to Jerry Moran and Mike Lee for allowing us to find a chat topic.
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Do we want to talk about the politics of this? The policy of this?
natesilver: Well, Clare, there are basically four questions I want to cover:
- Was this predictable? Why were Moran and Lee the ones to kill it?
- To whom should we assign blame? What could McConnell have done differently? How much did President Trump matter?
- Does McConnell’s new strategy — passing a repeal-and-delay bill — have any chance? And if not, what’s his goal with it?
- Is this good news or bad news for Republicans running for Congress next year?
Let’s start with No. 1. How surprised were you guys when you heard this news? Harry, did you snort out your diet orange soda?
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): I think the legislation falling apart was predictable. I don’t think I could have picked Moran out of a lineup before a few weeks ago.
natesilver: Perry, your sources have been skeptical of the bill’s chances of passage for a while now, no? Somewhat more than the conventional wisdom held?
perry: Yes, true. This bill was just not popular with rank-and-file senators. Very few were strongly for it.
anna (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, lead health writer): I would say I’m not very surprised. I was also surprised it was Moran, but Kansas has been interesting this year. The state legislature nearly expanded Medicaid with a veto-proof majority.
harry: To answer the question: I wasn’t surprised. There were already two senators who opposed the bill. Only three were needed for the bill to fail. As Anna touched on, Kansas is going through an anti-very-conservative period. And while Moran would have been surprising as a “no” vote a few months ago, he’d previously come out against a version of this bill. There have been more surprising political events over the last year than this bill going down.
perry: So I thought the “no” group would be Rand Paul and Susan Collins (who had already announced that they opposed the motion to proceed) and then Shelley Moore Capito and Lisa Murkowski. I thought Lee would back the bill as long as Ted Cruz did, as they have been allied on issues involving Obamacare. I thought Moran would fall in line, as he is not known as a rabble-rouser. And I thought they would wait for Sen. John McCain of Arizona to get back from his surgery.
harry: Yeah, I think the surprising thing here is that they didn’t even wait for McCain.
clare.malone: I’ve seen the theory floated that this was a coordinated effort to provide cover for other senators who wanted to vote against the bill.
natesilver: Clare, I’m a proponent of that theory! I think people are overthinking why it was Moran and Lee. If Moran opposed the bill, that probably means a lot of senators did. He was just one of the electorally safer ones to do it. (Moran isn’t up for re-election until 2022, for instance, and even then he isn’t likely to face either a serious primary challenge or major problems in the general election.)
clare.malone: It’s sort of being pitched as an anti-McConnell plot.
natesilver: McConnell apparently didn’t know ahead of time, according to CNN’s tick-tock.
clare.malone: Yeah, with people like Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin saying Friday that McConnell was being underhanded.
natesilver: The Johnson thing was a bad sign, I thought. He was basically calling McConnell untrustworthy.
Anna: I believe “a significant breach of trust” were Johnson’s exact words.
perry: The reporting on senators being mad at McConnell is interesting — the idea that they don’t trust him.
clare.malone: Guys, Washington is so Shakespearean right now! So much talk of betrayal from within!
harry: Adam Jentleson, a former aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, had a great tweetstorm on Monday night arguing that what Johnson was doing was highly unusual.
perry: Yeah, I read that. But it’s a former Reid aide, so I was skeptical.
natesilver: Meanwhile, according to CNN, Trump was dining on “lemon ricotta agnolotti with heirloom tomato ragout” (aka pasta with tomato sauce) with a group of Republicans when the bill failed.
But let me take one more run at what happened on Monday night. What does it mean that Moran and Lee did this without letting McConnell — or Trump — know ahead of time? Why didn’t they give McConnell a way to save face?
clare.malone: Seems like they wanted egg on his face.
perry: That does go to something unusual happening here that would seem to call for more reporting.
natesilver: Do we know how many firm “yes” votes there were?
harry: 14, according to The New York Times.
clare.malone: That’s not that many, given that this is a marquee piece of legislation.
natesilver: No, it’s kind of pathetic.
So let’s move on to Phase II of our chat … the blame game! I’m giving each of you 100 Blame Points. Your job is to allocate them between the following people: McConnell, Senate moderates, Senate conservatives, Lee/Moran, Trump, Democrats and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
How many Blame Points, out of 100, do you give McConnell?
clare.malone: I didn’t know there was going to be so much math on this quiz.
Uh, 60 points to McConnell? Maybe more?
natesilver: So we have 60 points for McConnell? Anyone want to go higher?
perry: So I don’t know who (Ryan, McConnell, Vice President Mike Pence, probably not Trump) decided that this bill needed to cut Medicaid — not just the Obamacare expansion but to cap Medicaid spending overall. But whoever made that decision made this bill really, really hard to pass. The Medicaid cuts were in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, by the way.
clare.malone: Yeah, I think Paul Ryan gets the next most points. The House bill set a scene.
perry: I might just give Ryan 50 and McConnell 50. They didn’t plan this process well. They had a long time to have legislation ready, and they just didn’t.
natesilver: I’m giving McConnell 70 blame points, Trump 15, Ryan 10 and Cruz 5. (Cruz for being the ringleader of the group that wanted to push the bill to the right, but which may have cost it more moderate support than it gained in support from conservatives.)
anna: Getting through the Senate was always going to be the tough part for this bill. So fault Ryan for poor stage-setting or McConnell, who is supposed to know how to wrangle his people?
natesilver: The fact that random senators like Jerry Moran killed the bill suggest that McConnell wasn’t even close and was doing a really bad job.
clare.malone: What about Trump? Trump has been SO absent from this process — does that make him take more points or kind of excuse him from blame?
perry: This is a case where I give Trump almost no blame. He was basically not involved in the legislative process, leaving the details to Ryan/McConnell.
natesilver: I’m blaming Trump for not being more involved, especially at the early stages of the process when McConnell and Ryan drafted an approach that was going to be so unpopular and politically fraught.
harry: I was going to go with 50 points for McConnell. Ryan didn’t help because the bill he produced was too far to the right and also made Senate conservatives think they could get away with pushing the bill even further right. I’d go with 20 points for Ryan. Trump is the freaking president. I don’t care if he doesn’t know stuff. It’s not on-the-job training time. There is no curve. I’ll give Trump 20 points too.
clare.malone: The Heller stuff is … interesting strategy.
perry: Ryan wrote the initial Medicaid cuts, so I’m giving him a lot of the blame.
natesilver: Why McConnell and Ryan’s obsession — if you want to call it that — with cutting Medicaid? I wrote last month that McConnell was likely facing a very difficult path, so long as Medicaid cuts and a bunch of tax cuts (some of which were withdrawn in the final version) were the essence of the bill.
anna: That has been a longstanding Republican goal, Nate. I think they thought this was their chance.
clare.malone: I don’t think we’re giving Lee/Moran enough due here if these points are about how the bill was killed.
perry: I do wonder if Lee was going to keep opposing the bill no matter what. I feel like Lee and Paul wanted a bill that was going so conservative that it would have had a hard time getting 50 votes.
natesilver: I guess what surprises me — and it also surprised me about Paul Ryan in the House — is: Couldn’t they just have told conservatives who thought the bill wasn’t conservative enough to go eff themselves?
harry: Apparently, they didn’t think they could do that. Then again, the Freedom Caucus got rid of former House Speaker John Boehner. They may think they can get their way on pretty much everything.
perry: I actually thought telling moderates to eff themselves was the better strategy. The Senate proved me wrong.
natesilver: Everyone thought McConnell was smart to be following Ryan’s playbook. But Ryan had a much bigger margin to work with in the House than McConnell had in the Senate.
clare.malone: I think it’s difficult to tell moderates to screw off on a thing that takes away a benefit to their constituents that’s been enshrined for decades.
anna: I agree, Clare — and the funding reductions over time for Medicaid are enormous. Medicaid is the second-largest expense for most, if not all, states (behind education).
natesilver: My hot take (which comes with a dash of hindsight bias) is that the fact it was so hard to get a bill passed in the House was a bad sign for the Senate bill, and maybe McConnell shouldn’t have been inclined to emulate Ryan’s process.
clare.malone: Rightward tilt of power in the party, Nate. It’s the ideologues who are more likely to hold the normal process hostage.
harry: Funnily enough, many of the pieces written about why the House made a mistake shifting the bill too far to the right are holding up for now. I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.
perry: I found the House passage of its health care bill on May 4 so stunning that I thought it showed legislative acumen and party unity that would carry over. I was wrong.
harry: You weren’t the only one who thought that, Perry.
natesilver: Let’s move on to Phase III of our chat: What’s next?
McConnell announced that he will have the Senate vote on a “repeal and delay” bill that would eliminate Obamacare without immediately replacing it with anything, but then delay implementation of the repeal for two years while they figure out what will take its place.
clare.malone: Well, I just got a news alert saying three senators — Collins, Capito and Murkowski — have come out against the repeal-and-delay strategy. So it looks like that plan is dead already. Which maybe isn’t too surprising given that a lot of people were saying that it was irresponsible to repeal without a replacement option.
anna: Yeah, not too surprising.
First, only a quarter of people think Congress should repeal what it can now and try to write a replacement bill later.
Second, it’s worth noting that a “clean repeal” is still only a partial repeal of the full ACA. It keeps the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions, but it gets rid of the individual mandate, the subsidies to buy insurance, the requirement that employers offer coverage and the Medicaid expansion. The CBO estimated that it would leave up to 32 million more people uninsured by 2026 and that premiums would go up by 100 percent.
natesilver: And that includes something like 18 or 19 million more uninsured in the first year alone, if I’m reading that right.
So did McConnell ever actually want a repeal-and-delay bill to pass, or was he just trying to save face?
clare.malone: Feels like salty saving face? But maybe I’m being naive.
perry: I think the repeal-and-delay vote, if it had come to a vote, was always mostly about forcing the moderates to come out against it. That way, McConnell can push blame onto them.
natesilver: How wobbly is McConnell here? If the next six months go badly for him — let’s say they botch tax reform too — could his leadership be under threat?
natesilver: So Cornyn isn’t a very threatening understudy, you’re saying.
perry: Right. Whatever you think of Ryan, people thought for a while that he would be a future speaker.
clare.malone: But would it necessarily go in that order of succession? Couldn’t you put up a different candidate from the ranks of senators, someone seen as savvier?
perry: I’m not sure who that person is right now in the GOP Senate. Also, McConnell can just privately blame Trump for all that is wrong. Republican senators are leery of Trump. This could work.
clare.malone: Isn’t that a risk, though? To throw the president under the bus? He’s unpopular, but not with a core group of Republicans.
natesilver: Trump has had mixed messaging since Monday night, at least based on his Twitter feed. He’s advocated for repeal-and-delay, but he’s also tried to pre-emptively blame Democrats for the bill failing. So what does Trump want out of this?
harry: Trump wants wins.
perry: A signing ceremony.
anna: Exactly. He has made clear he doesn’t care where the policy ends up. He campaigned on no cuts to Medicaid; this bill drastically cuts Medicaid. And he celebrated passage of the House bill in the Rose Garden and then called that very bill “mean.”
natesilver: See, all that makes me want to assign more blame to Trump. I’m taking away 5 of McConnell’s blame points and giving them to the White House.
clare.malone: They might WANT to blame Trump, but will they? Nothing in the Republican senators’ past behavior leads me to believe they’ll take that stance.
But it’s time to move on to PHASE 4: Politics!
anna: Bye! (just kidding)
natesilver: As a result of Monday night’s developments, are Republicans now more likely or less likely to hold the Senate? (Note that I said Senate and not House; we’ll talk about the House later.)
harry: Minimal effect. The odds continue to be so low for a Democratic takeover that any movement is minimal in my opinion.
perry: This gets to the question of whether it’s better to be a do-little Congress or a pass-unpopular-stuff Congress. I don’t think I really know the answer to that question.
Do we think Heller is better off with this outcome? I think yes, right?
natesilver: Hell(er) yes he’s better off, although still in a very risky position.
clare.malone: I think the people whose seats were in danger are more OK after this bill dies, right?
natesilver: That’s my thinking, Clare. The bill was SOOOOOOOOOOOO unpopular that I think that unpopularity outweighs all other considerations. Cruz could be a weird exception, though. I don’t think he came out of this looking good. And I think he has both more primary problems and more general election problems than people acknowledge.
Let’s close by talking about the House. That’s a more complicated case. If you’re a member of the House in a purple district who voted for the House version of the bill, how are you feeling right now? Better or worse?
clare.malone: Worse. Because you voted for a (basically the same) bill that eventually came to be considered by Senate Republicans as far too extreme, and that can be turned pretty easily.
perry: Not sure. On the one hand, the bill didn’t pass, so you don’t have to defend it. On the other hand, the bill was so unpopular that it was pulled from the Senate floor. Why did you vote for it? The ads are going to air about how you wanted to cut Medicaid from x number of people in your state/district.
clare.malone: You’re going to end up defending it regardless. It’s going to get brought up. Again and again and again.
natesilver: That’s the question, I guess. You’re a purple-district Republican who voted for a really unpopular bill. But is health care less salient given that the GOP didn’t pass anything? (Assuming they don’t regroup.) Or is it still going to be a big issue next year?
clare.malone: Still a big issue. If the Democrats are any kind of smart (jury’s still out on that) they hang the Republicans on their “mean bill,” not on Trump being an idiot.
natesilver: You don’t think it will get drowned out in Russia and “CNN is fake news” and all the other crazy things that will happen over the next 16 months?
clare.malone: The craziness of the news cycle is certainly a thing that’s hard to account for.
natesilver: I’m still going with Occam’s razor here: The bill is SO UNBELIEVABLY UNPOPULAR that anything that puts it further from voters’ minds is a net gain if you voted for it.
I’d also say that a lot of rank-and-file members should be furious with Paul Ryan for putting them in this no-win position, though!
OK, we’re out of time, but any quick closing thoughts?
harry: Tax reform is going to be fun. That’s my thought.
perry: This is a big news event. If Obamacare repeal is dead, this is a huge setback for Republicans and Trump, who could have spent time on other issues instead of trying to pass an unpopular bill. And it’s a huge political win for Democrats.
anna: I’ll also add my usual reminder that there’s a whole lot the Trump administration can still do that will have a massive impact on the health insurance market. Will they enforce the individual mandate, for example? With or without a bill, the issues at hand aren’t going away.
Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!
My office hired a new supervisor after a much-loved one moved to a new position at a different agency. The hiring process was highly murky — no current staff members were consulted, despite it being the agency standard — and tainted by nepotism. The new supervisor had attempted to join this department over several years, and her application had been rejected by the previous supervisor, even for minor assistant positions, due to her negative personality qualities. As you can imagine, her hiring has caused significant negative effects on morale. After a month, the new supervisor seems to be dropping the ball left and right: missing meetings, never being in the office, avoiding tasks, not understanding and performing basic job duties. I’m concerned about going to her supervisor due to the favoritism-esque aspects that were shown and because it may backfire. What can I do? — Frazzled
Walt Hickey: This one is a fun question. Sounds like things aren’t going so great over there.
Morgan Jerkins: Right. So as I was thinking about this question, my initial suggestion was for Frazzled to email the new supervisor to ask if a meeting can be set up so that they can smooth out all of this tension. But if the new supervisor is never in the office, how is that going to work?
Walt: Ha! Yeah, the thing with this mess is that if it’s truly as bad as he suggests, it’ll work itself out over a long enough time span. “Never interfere with your enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself” or whatever the Napoleon quote is. I think he’s gotta lay low and wait for this person to torpedo herself.
Morgan: Ooh, I really like that quote. But shouldn’t Frazzled keep documentation of all this negligence? Not necessarily to confront the supervisor, but to have it just in case?
Walt: Yes, but Frazzled should not let anyone know he’s doing that, as it’ll just create more problems.
Morgan: Oh, absolutely.
Walt: What are some other ways he can solve the issue, though?
The morale problem makes it sound like it’s causing an issue, and Frazzled also told us this is a high-stress environment in the health care sector. If he were to try to move this along, what’s the best path of action?
Still think it’s worth emailing the supervisor? Could be a win/win. A non-response is worth noting, and a response from the supervisor could go well.
Morgan: I’m wondering if Frazzled has any other co-workers or higher-ups that he can work with to make sure that the “train,” so to speak, keeps moving. If the morale among the entire team is already low, then it sort of backs the boss’s superior into a corner. That person has to take some kind of action.
FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran April 12-13 and received 1,128 responses. We presented respondents with Frazzled’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.
Do nothing. If the manager’s that bad, it’ll work itself out at some point.
Email the manager’s supervisor and ask for a meeting to talk this over.
Email the manager to talk about it and smooth the tension.
Reach out to co-workers and try to reach a consensus on what to do.
None of the above is good advice.
Walt: This was extremely divisive, it seems, with no majority winner.
|SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY AGE GROUP|
|Email the manager’s supervisor||27||
|Email the manager||16||
|None of the above||9||
|SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY GENDER|
|Email the manager’s supervisor||22||
|Email the manager||14||
|None of the above||13||
Walt: It seems like this is much more of a question of strategy than etiquette. One plan — let the new manager implode on her own — is favored by the folks over 45. A slightly more aggressive plan — talk to co-workers about it — is more beloved by folks under 30. And then there are the most drastic plans — email the boss or, most aggressively of all, the boss’s boss — which seemed liked a 44 years and younger kind of play.
Morgan: Right. I can see why the younger crowd would have no problem with confrontation.
Walt: Interestingly, no major divisions among genders. This is an age question.
So there are three different paths favored by three different groups. Personally, I still go with the plan to wait her out. If the 45-and-up crowd says that’s the best approach, I say experience has authority.
Morgan: Same here. I think if the person is that messy, it’ll catch up.
More of our advice:
You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.
O.J. Simpson has a strong chance of getting parole on Thursday. He began serving time on a sentence of a minimum of nine years and a maximum of 33 for his part of a sports memorabilia robbery almost nine years ago. He could be out as early as Oct. 1 if his parole is approved. [USA Today]
The Texas legislature is meeting for a special session this summer to consider House Bill 2899, which would strip away school district policies allowing transgender students to use the bathroom they prefer. A Public Religion Research Institute poll found a majority of Texans, 53 percent, opposed “bathroom bills” targeting the transgender community. [PRRI]
The World Golf Ranking of Tiger Woods, the first time he has ever been out of the top 1,000 golfers on earth. [Golf.com]
Number of attempts by hackers to penetrate the South Carolina voter registration system on Election Day, according to a new report from the state. [The Wall Street Journal]
Thailand’s tourism business is booming, but the nation is trying to find out how to get tourism spending up without boosting the raw number of visitors, which this year will number 35 million foreign tourists. Namely, the nation wants their tourists to act more Australian, meaning staying longer and spending more money every day compared to their, say, English counterparts. [Bloomberg]
In 2009, $2.5 billion in subprime auto bonds were sold, a figure that jumped to $26 billion in 2016. Delinquency on paying auto loans is up as well, at 3.82 percent of automotive loans 90 days delinquent or more. Sound familiar to anyone? [Bloomberg]
If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.
The various investigations into the Trump administration and its alleged ties to Russia are hard to follow. The allegations are sometimes muddled, the probes are still ongoing, and all sides in the dispute are leaking information that favors their points of view. These stories are also hard to follow because few officials are willing to put their names behind their claims and comments, leading to a stream of stories rife with unnamed sources.
What’s a reader to do? Well, here’s a guide to unnamed sources in government/politics/Washington stories — who they are, how reporters use them, and how to tell if you should trust what they say. Having covered Congress, the White House, several presidential campaigns and briefly the Education and State departments, I have begged (usually unsuccessfully) many sources to allow me to use their names, written a fair number of stories with unnamed sources, and spent a lot of time trying to decode stories with unnamed sources written by other journalists. For this piece, I also consulted other journalists and political types who have served in senior staff roles on campaigns, on Capitol Hill and in presidential administrations.
This is part one of two. I’ll cover some general principles for reading anonymously sourced stories here and break down the different types of such sources in part two. I wrote this piece because of all the Trump-Russia stories, but the rules, terms and designations apply to other Washington stories as well.
This is not a story meant to condone or encourage the use of unnamed sources. While President Trump and his defenders have bashed the use of anonymous sources, some journalists themselves also say the practice is overused. They argue that using unnamed sources limits journalistic accountability, since readers and other reporters can’t easily check the accuracy of an account if they don’t know where it comes from. Unnamed sources are often a feature of stories that I would argue are more about reporters showing how savvy and in the know they are than truly informing and enlightening readers.
But major investigative stories, both in Washington and outside of it, are often impossible to write without unnamed sources. The alternative to stories with unnamed sources is often not having the story published at all, rather than the same story with names. Sources have a wide range of motives for not going public. Some reasons are noble (whistleblowers may face retribution for leaking details to a reporter). Some are not (White House aides, both in the Trump administration and previous ones, sometimes don’t like one another and complain anonymously about their colleagues to the press).
Either way, there are many news outlets and often very few people who know the details of White House deliberations or the state of the Russia investigation. So the sources have the power to set the terms with the journalists, and one of those terms is often, “don’t use my name.”
5 tips for reading stories with unnamed sources
1. Multiple sources add up.
When an outlet says “six White House officials” or “seven Department of Justice officials,” it’s providing a level of precision that makes me more likely to trust the story. This does not necessarily mean that the story is correct. But it does suggest it was thoroughly reported.
A recent New York Times story, for example, described something top White House adviser Jared Kushner was saying in private meetings, according to “six West Wing aides.” Six people are less likely to be wrong than one — and this also indicates that the reporter was cautious and diligent enough to seek confirmation with more than one person. CNN’s recently retracted report that Congress was looking into a Russian investment firm with potential ties to people in Trumpworld, meanwhile, cited only a single anonymous source.
And, obviously, if multiple reputable news organizations or reporters report out and confirm the same story (not just link to another outlet’s reporting), that’s a reason to assume it is accurate. Conversely, if another major publication is casting doubts on a story you read that quotes lots of unnamed sources, that should heighten your skepticism. For example, In the Iraq War era, even as The New York Times and other outlets often echoed the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq possessed large numbers of weapons of mass destruction, there were publications like McClatchy that were more skeptical of the government’s claims.
2. Unverifiable predictions are suspicious.
Trust a source who says something happened; distrust a source who says something might happen.
Axios and Politico, two publications targeted at political junkies, in particular often float “scoops” predicting that something will happen that never does. An April piece in Axios quoted “aides and advisers” to Trump who suggested that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon could soon be pushed out by Trump, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy potentially replacing Priebus. This would have been a huge shift of power on both Capitol Hill and in the White House and more than three months later has not happened. As early as February, Politico highlighted the potential of a broad shake-up of White House officials that included Priebus. Politico recently suggested that Priebus would be out of his job around July 4; that didn’t happen. The story was carefully hedged, of course, noting that Trump might not follow through on the idea of dumping his chief of staff.
I’m more dubious of stories that claim insider knowledge about future events, for three reasons.
First, they are almost impossible to disprove in any way. In the Priebus example, the reporter or news outlet (Politico) can always claim that Trump intended to fire his chief of staff around July 4 but then changed his mind.
A second concern, related to the first, is that the nebulous nature of these speculative stories creates an incentive for reporters to write them. If Trump had fired his chief of staff on July 3 or July 5, Politico would have looked very prescient. The firing did not happen, and the reporter can claim that Trump just didn’t follow through without suffering any loss of credibility. This kind of story “gives [the journalist] a provocative scoop that cannot be readily disproven, since it purports to reflect someone’s state of mind, which can always change, as opposed to an actual thing that has occurred,” said Brian Fallon, a Democrat who has served in top communications roles on Capitol Hill, as well as for the Department of Justice and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Stories like these often get tons of buzz and attention, but reporters (both those who write these pieces and those who read them) know these stories are often just speculation. I’m not sure readers do.
Thirdly, sources have an incentive to encourage these kinds of speculative stories. If you are someone in the White House who does not like Priebus or you want to take his job, anonymously leaking that Trump is considering replacing Priebus is a great tactic. Trump did not publicly commit to keeping Priebus on, and now you (the Priebus rival) have put in the minds of everyone in Washington that the White House chief of staff is on notice. “In instances like these, the anonymous report serves the source’s interests,” Fallon said. “It allows them to float a trial balloon without being accountable for it.”
On the other hand, I would be more likely to trust a piece reporting, even with unnamed sources, that Trump was considering sending 20,000 troops to Syria. Why? Because the stakes for this claim are much higher. Staffers leave administrations all the time, while the U.S. does not as regularly deploy thousands of troops abroad.
3. Specifics matter.
What information does the story give you about its sources? The more, the better. For example, trust “Department of Justice officials” more than “administration officials.” If a story includes claims from unnamed officials from the Justice Department, those claims are typically run by the department’s press office. I would interpret a story sourced to “Department of Justice officials” without a denial from the press team there to be accurate — and perhaps even leaked by the department’s press team itself. An “administration official,” on the other hand, covers a much bigger group of people with disparate interests and points of view. It’s easy for other reporters to call the Justice Department and verify the story, while it’s much harder to confirm a story attributed to administration officials, which could mean any agency or the White House.
Then there are the descriptions of anonymous sources that essentially tell you nothing. A recent Washington Post story cited “U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports” — that could be almost anyone. Or, worse still: “people familiar with the investigation.” Broadly speaking, you, dear reader, are “familiar with the investigation” — you’re reading about it after all.
4. Consider the outlet and the reporters.
If, say, Nate Silver, Harry Enten and I co-write a story with unnamed sources about Hillary Clinton’s campaign decisions in 2016, there are reasons for readers to trust that story. All three of us have long records covering electoral politics. If the three of us wrote an article claiming that Kushner had a secret meeting with a Russian oligarch, full of unnamed sources, you should be more skeptical, since we are not regularly breaking news about Kushner’s activities.
There are valid reasons to question the practices of the “establishment media,” but at least for now, I’m more comfortable with stories using unnamed sources, particularly about major national security or intelligence issues, that come from outlets and reporters who have a history of covering these issues, such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. (And, yes, I’m fully aware of the big blunders of the major papers and networks, such as CNN’s bungled Russia report.)
“Certain reporters have well-deserved reputations for being careful and not getting it wrong,” Fallon said. “Think Pete Williams at NBC in a breaking news situation when there is a major law-enforcement story.”
The big outlets also have another advantage in terms of unnamed sources: Important people come to them. If a tiny blog or a reporter you’ve never heard of breaks a story on some kind of major White House policy shift, one reason to be skeptical is that most administrations would rather leak big news to the Times or the Post than a more obscure publication.
“Top aides on campaigns or highly connected sources inside the law-enforcement community are just not spending a lot of time trusting some partisan blog or smaller digital outlet with sensitive information,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican who has served in senior press roles on Capitol Hill, in the Justice Department and on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.
5. Watch for vague or imprecise “denials” of these kinds of stories. That often means they are accurate.
Another thing to make you trust a story: When an official spokesperson offers a “denial” that really isn’t a denial. Remember when the Post published a story in May, vaguely attributed to “current and former U.S. officials,” suggesting that Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” in a meeting with Russian officials? Responding to the story, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told the paper, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” But the story had not actually claimed that the president had disclosed sources, methods or operations — only information, which McMaster did not deny. (Trump essentially confirmed that he had disclosed the information soon after the story ran.)
“If the person implicated in the report is unable to outright deny it, that’s a sign it can be trusted, even if the sources are anonymous,” Fallon said.
In conclusion, we think you should continue to read stories with unnamed sources, but carefully and cautiously. Even major outlets like CNN and The New York Times occasionally get things wrong when relying on unnamed sources. On the other hand, this article and its follow-up should help you understand why everyone in Washington knew that in February, then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was in deep trouble. He was accused of something that either happened or did not — a factual claim (talking on the phone with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and discussing sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Russia) — in a story in a traditionally reliable outlet (The Washington Post) that was written by reporters known for covering national security and intelligence issues (Greg Miller, Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima), with multiple unnamed sources making the claim (“nine current and former officials”).
A Flynn spokesman, asked to comment on the story, told the Post that Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.” That response was well short of, “no, sanctions were not discussed.”
Flynn resigned from his job within a week.
The Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare appears to be dead again. The big question is whether this death will be permanent, or whether GOP activists and President Trump will effectively force party leaders to keep pushing for repeal, as they did when the House initially abandoned its health care bill in March.
With Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran and Utah Sen. Mike Lee announcing jointly Monday night that they would not support a procedural motion to take up the Senate health insurance bill, Senate Republicans don’t have the 50 members they need to move forward. The GOP controls 52 Senate seats, and Maine’s Susan Collins and Kentucky’s Rand Paul had already signaled that they oppose taking up the bill.
After Moran and Lee’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that he would instead push for a full repeal of Obamacare — but one that is delayed for two years. This “repeal and delay” strategy is one that Republicans reportedly considered after the election and then rejected in favor of trying to craft their own immediate replacement. It isn’t clear why McConnell thinks the strategy makes sense this time around.
So this looks like the end of Obamacare repeal — for now. But you could make a case that this isn’t over.
The case that this really is the end
These four senators refused to even move the bill to the floor. That’s significant for at least five reasons.
First, McConnell announced over the weekend that the Senate would delay any votes on the health care legislation until Arizona Sen. John McCain returned after surgery. McCain was not expected back to the Senate immediately, so this vote was not imminent.
Lee and Moran could have held back on their opposition, waiting for McCain. That they decided instead to blast the legislation in public suggests that they basically could not wait to declare their opposition. It seems they really hate it. In his statement, Moran hinted that he wanted a total overhaul of the bill, saying “we must now start fresh with an open legislative process.” This could suggest that he wants an entirely new bill.
Second, these four refused to vote even for a motion to proceed, which is only a procedural step. If they had voted for the motion, these senators could have offered amendments and still voted against the bill if they were not comfortable with the final product. This is another sign that they really hate the bill.
Third, the ideological diversity of the opponents of the legislation suggests that Republicans have a huge problem getting to 50 votes. Collins and Moran have criticized this legislation from the left, arguing that it cuts Medicaid too deeply. Lee and Paul, by contrast, have suggested that the legislation leaves too much of Obamacare in place. Such opposition from both poles of the GOP complicate the chances of passing any bill.
Fourth, Lee, Moran and Paul come from solidly red states. In theory, they should feel political pressure to back this legislation. That all three were willing to openly oppose a priority of Republican congressional leaders (as well as the Republican president) is telling. There’s an obvious reason why they are not worried about a backlash: This legislation is deeply unpopular with the public, liberals are aggressively organized against it, much of the medical community opposes it, and GOP-leaning voters are lukewarm in support of it.
Other Republicans have expressed reservations about the Senate bill, including West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Ohio’s Rob Portman. But only Collins and Paul had said directly that they wouldn’t vote for the motion to proceed, and perhaps some GOP senators weren’t willing to be the third vote against this repeal bill. This could be why Lee and Moran, not known as allies in the Senate, jointly announced their opposition.
Fifth, Republicans would like a major accomplishment during Trump’s first two years in office. There is no guarantee that the party will control the House come 2019. So at some point, Republicans probably need to consider whether tax reform is a likelier accomplishment than repealing Obamacare — and whether that should take priority.
Moran seems to be pushing for a slower process, with hearings and writing legislation in committees. That could take months and drag into next year.
The case that this is not over
First, we’ve been through this before. When the House version of the health care bill collapsed in March, I wrote a very detailed article about how the failure potentially portended bigger problems for Trump’s presidency. That conclusion did not hold up well, and the House passed a bill on May 4.
The House had essentially two versions of its health care bill, the one that failed and the one that passed. If McConnell abandons this version, he will need to write a third bill. But this is not an unimportant issue where it make sense for party leaders to give up easily. It is the repeal of Obamacare, one of the defining issues of the Republican Party since 2010. Many of these senators campaigned on repealing Obamacare, as did Trump.
Secondly, many of the more moderate Republicans, such as Capito and Portman, didn’t emerge as opponents of the legislation in the initial days after it was unveiled. Republican leaders could still be very close to the 50 that they need.
I’m struggling to come up with a third reason why the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare will ultimately succeed. Remember, on the eve of the successful House vote in May, House members were openly saying that the Senate could fix any problems with their legislation, so that in effect gave them permission to vote for a bill that they believed had some flaws. Everyone assumes the Senate bill is the final version of this legislation — most experts expected the House to pass whatever the Senate came up with. That has made this a harder fight than in the House. And so far, it’s one where it looks like McConnell will keep coming up short.
This week on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the team examines the most recent version of the Senate Republicans’ health care bill. Then, the group revisits Nate’s “14 versions of Trump’s presidency” and judges which path Trump is most likely on. Plus, Gallup conducted a poll asking respondents who disapprove of the president’s job performance why they disapprove. Was that a good use of polling or a bad use of polling?
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
By now, it’s pretty commonly suspected — and not just by bitter pitchers, either — that MLB’s recent home run surge can be traced back to a supply of zippier-than-usual baseballs. The research of our colleague Rob Arthur and The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh backs up that theory, regardless of what Commissioner Rob Manfred has to say on the matter.
And with apologies to those poor, beleaguered pitchers, we say: Good! Who doesn’t enjoy the old-fashioned fun of watching baseballs be launched into the atmosphere? (Judging from the ratings for last week’s Home Run Derby,18 nobody — that’s who.) As a celebration of the long ball, then, we used data from ESPN’s Home Run Tracker to plot out just how far MLB’s hitters have bashed the ball over the years.
(All data in this story was up to date as of the All-Star break. Inside-the-park home runs and homers without distance information have been excluded from the data.)
Anyone who watched Aaron Judge’s performance at the Derby could be excused for thinking that baseballs can, in fact, exit the solar system. The true distances that home runs travel are less than interstellar, of course — though still impressive. According to the Home Run Tracker, which has data going back to 2006, major league batters have crushed 56,785 tracked homers over the last 11.5 seasons, adding up to a grand total of 22,599,628 feet — or 4,280 miles.
To put that number in perspective, let’s do a little geography experiment. If we started in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and laid the distances of every home run in that span end to end heading east across the Atlantic Ocean as the crow flies, we would reach the border of Mali and Mauritania in northwestern Africa. Head south and the homers reach the northern corner of Chile, near its borders with Peru and Bolivia. Head north, the homers easily clear the pole, with the last one landing somewhere near Russia’s Bolshevik Island.
Because of the home run surge, that circle is growing more rapidly than ever. Already this season, hitters have driven the ball 1,337,266 feet, or 253.3 miles. That’s 69 percent of the yearly average distance between 2006 and 2016, and as of the All-Star break, we were only 55 percent of the way through the schedule. At that pace, this season will eventually see 466 miles of home runs be hit; that would easily be the most in any season since 2006, and it would be a 10 percent increase over the previous high of 425 miles, set in 2016.
Among players whose entire body of homering work falls within the Home Run Tracker era, the biggest bopper is Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Cruz has mashed 297 tracked home runs over a cumulative distance of 121,805 feet, or a hair over 23 miles. String those together, and that’s enough to travel from Safeco Field in downtown Seattle south to Tacoma.
At age 37, Cruz is the elder statesman of this era’s long bombers. But it might not be long before he is surpassed by Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, who’s already hit nearly 18.5 miles’ worth of home runs in just 7.5 seasons of action. Stanton’s average homer has traveled 414 feet — tops among anyone with at least 100 home runs in our data set — helping him rack up enough total distance to reach from Marlins Park to the Everglades or Biscayne National Park. (Sadly, though, even Stanton is unlikely to hit the 90-plus miles of home runs necessary to reach Cuba.)
Across the country, Mike Trout has been busy trying to make his team’s “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” moniker legit with his home runs. With a little over 14 miles’ worth of bombs to his name, Trout has already homered enough distance along Interstate 5 to land in Los Angeles County — and about halfway to downtown L.A. Only a guy who might end up being baseball’s greatest player could reconcile the most absurd team name in sports back to some semblance of reality.
No discussion of Trout would be complete without a comparison to Bryce Harper, his longtime rival. At 24, the Washington Nationals right fielder is the youngest player with at least 10 miles of career home runs, and he’s on pace to add nearly three miles this season alone. He’s already hit enough to reach the D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, to the north or Mount Vernon to the south; give him enough years, and he might get to Baltimore. (Or — if the rumors are right — Staten Island.)
Speaking of New York City, we don’t have a Judge map yet because he’s only hit 34 career home runs (for 2.7 miles — basically the distance from Yankee Stadium to Central Park). We’ll have to wait and see just how far he can mash the ball in the years to come.
Likewise, we don’t have data for most of Barry Bonds’s record-breaking career, either. But if we assign each of his 762 career dingers the 2006-17 MLB average of 398 feet (which, given homers like this, might be far too conservative an estimate), Bonds would have ended up with about 57 miles of homers in his career. (That’s roughly the distance between AT&T Park and Santa Cruz, California; it’s also over 10 times the height of Mount Everest.)
Cruz, Stanton and company still have many more miles to go before catching up to that lofty total. But the way today’s hitter-friendly baseballs have been flying out of parks, maybe we’ll see somebody get to 60 miles of home runs before too long.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.