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LeBron James predicted the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, featuring himself and new Cav Kevin Love, would take a while to hit their stride. (“A couple of months and maybe a few,” as he put it last month.) He appears to have been correct: After starting 19-20 — with enough ups and downs that at times some commentators prematurely declared the Cavs to have gelled — Cleveland has won eight straight games, including impressive victories against the Clippers, Bulls, Thunder and Trail Blazers.

We’re pretty sure that when James made that prediction, he wasn’t running regressions on historical NBA data. That’s because we tried, and we couldn’t find much evidence to back up the conventional wisdom.

It makes sense that teams with lots of new players in major roles would get better during the season, as the new teammates get used to playing with one another. There just isn’t much statistical evidence to back up that theory — partly because it’s unusual for a team as good as Cleveland to rely so heavily on new arrivals.

To study whether teams like Cleveland gel later in the season than more stable clubs like San Antonio, we looked at the fate of 939 older teams — those that played 82-game seasons back to 1978. To estimate how much of their contribution they were getting from newbies, we divided the total wins above replacement (WAR) of new players by the team total, omitting players who were below replacement value. Then we divided up the first 80 games of each season into 10 eight-game buckets — omitting the last two games because some teams rest starters — and checked how each team did, in each bucket, based on their opponent-adjusted point differential.

There wasn’t a meaningful pattern. For instance, teams that peaked earliest, in the first eight games of the season, got an average of 20 percent of their WAR from new players. Teams that peaked in the middle of the season got an average of a little over 25 percent of WAR. But then teams that peaked between Game 49 and Game 80 averaged a contribution of about 21 percent of WAR from newbies.

Part of the problem we had is that there haven’t been many teams that relied on new players as much as the Cavs do. They’ve gotten 63 percent of their WAR from new guys. That’s more than all but 48 teams in our data set — a group that doesn’t include James’s first Miami team, which got 57 percent of WAR from new players (the Heat peaked between Games 17 and 24). And most of those teams were lousy clubs, presumably rebuilding with rookies and cheap castoffs. Their average Pythagorean winning percentage was 36.3 percent.

We nonetheless zoomed in on teams similar to Cleveland and found there is a small pattern of playing worse early and better at midseason, which fits the conventional wisdom. But it’s likely just noise. The only statistically significant difference was for the final 10-game chunk we studied, in which teams like the Cavs did a lot worse than average — which runs counter to the conventional wisdom of gelling and improving with time playing together.


The lesson seems to be that a team starring James, Love and Kyrie Irving playing together for the first time might really need some time to gel, but there aren’t enough teams like the 2014-15 Cavaliers to say that their experience is typical. (One other possible reason it’s hard to detect much of a relationship: Some teams — like the Cavs — get new contributors at the start of the season, while others start playing rookies and midseason trade acquisitions late in seasons that are lost causes.)

As is often the case in sports analysis, we have to trade off precision for sample size, and in this case the sample of teams like the Cavs is too small for the stats to beat the intuitive prediction of James.

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Mitt Romney’s inchoate 2016 campaign for president is dead. After learning that few Republican insiders supported what would be his third bid for the White House, Romney announced Friday that he will not be running for president again. The main benefactor is likely to be Jeb Bush, who has been scooping up former Romney staffers left and right in moving toward a full-borne campaign.

Romney’s announcement is the biggest “Who will run?” news since we last tried to divine who was serious about 2016 — compiling the potential candidates’ statements, visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, and inclusion in polls — but other possible contenders have also been busy.1

Mike Huckabee’s recent statement that “if I don’t run for president, I’ve got to be the dumbest man alive to give up that good of a gig to not run” suggests that he is likely to formally announce his candidacy soon. Lindsey Graham, who was recently added to our list, announced, “I’m going to take a look at the presidential primary on the Republican side.”

And a number of possible contenders continue to attend or plan events in Iowa and New Hampshire. In fact, 10 of the potential GOP candidates we’re tracking have announced more events in Iowa or New Hampshire since we last updated our list two weeks ago.

These include:

  • Ben Carson: one more event
  • Chris Christie: one more event
  • Ted Cruz: one more event
  • Carly Fiorina: four more events
  • Mike Huckabee: two more events
  • Rand Paul: one more event
  • Rick Perry: three more events
  • Rick Santorum: three more events
  • Scott Walker: two more events

Fiorina is clearly serious, even if she doesn’t stand much of a chance. Santorum and Perry are clearly focusing on the early states, trying to build on the infrastructure and support they had in 2012. Huckabee and Walker also seem more eager to sign up for events in the early states.

Just as interesting are the candidates who haven’t had any additional events in the early states. Bush is off raising money. Romney hadn’t made any visits, which lines up with his decision not to run.


Perhaps the clearest non-mover is Bobby Jindal. Recently, Jindal has not planned any more events in Iowa or New Hampshire. He was also absent from Rep. Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit this month. Additionally, his name has not been included in recent national polls. Whether or not polls include a politician is a measure of the conventional wisdom of who is most likely to run (which I think is generally true), and that Jindal was in most of the early polls but not recent ones suggests his stock has taken a hit. Add in his lack of visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, and it looks more and more like Jindal will stay on the sidelines.

On the Democratic side, it’s a story of static. The only person holding more events is Bernie Sanders. That makes Sanders and Jim Webb (who has formed an exploratory committee) the two most likely candidates to take on Hillary Clinton. Sanders, in fact, has announced 10 more events in Iowa and New Hampshire since we last checked-in.


Joe Biden has said he hasn’t made up his mind, though he doesn’t seem to be building infrastructure to run for president and isn’t holding any early-state events.

Martin O’Malley is a wild card. He may run, though he hasn’t touched down in Iowa or New Hampshire. That is somewhat surprising given that an upstart candidate probably should be on the ground doing retail politics.

That’s because of Clinton. The Clinton campaign has locked up so much early support that, as Bloomberg View’s Jonathan Bernstein has said, she may have already won the invisible primary. This apparently has given Clinton the belief that she might not have to announce her campaign until summer. Whether she waits or not, a primary campaign looks very strong.

So, the evolving primaries continue to tell different stories. The Republicans are quite unsettled, and the Democrats look as settled as ever.

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After wrapping up my “Kickers Are Forever” article on Tuesday, I wandered to Media Day in Phoenix, site of a sporting event this Sunday, and found Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, who — unlike a certain beastly teammate — was willing to answer a few questions.

Here’s how it went down, starting with what they were talking about just before I arrived:

Another reporter: Can you imagine Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo kicking field goals in the Super Bowl? Do you think they would be good?

Steven Hauschka: Yeah, I think Ronaldo would be really good at it. They both would. It’s a little different but I’m sure within a few minutes they could be kicking 50-yard field goals, no problem.

Benjamin Morris: Do you know how to bend a soccer ball?

SH: Yeah.

BM: What’s the longest field goal you’ve ever made in practice?

SH: 67 [yards].

BM: How often do you think you convert a field goal of 60 yards?

SH: In Arizona, I don’t know. Half the time or more.

BM: Why do you think kickers are so good these days?

SH: Because we grew up kicking. I started kicking at 3 years old. I think it’s just, we’re more athletic. I mean, not me in particular, but some of the guys out there in the league are just really good athletes who switched to kicking because they couldn’t make it as a quarterback or something.

BM: Do you think soccer has improved it a lot?

SH: Yeah, yeah I do. Most of the guys started playing soccer that ended up as kickers.

BM: Do you think punters have gotten better as much as field goal kickers have gotten better?

SH: I think some of the punters have gotten really good, but as a whole I don’t think they’re at the level of the field-goal kickers. I think there’s more put into the field goal at a younger age. I don’t think kids start learning to punt until a little later. Whereas field goal kicking, I think guys are starting pretty young.

BM: What are the odds that an average NFL player, non-kicker, could make a 25 yard field goal?

SH: Um, low. Twenty-five percent.

BM: Do you think there’s such a thing as clutch?

SH: I think if you’re a 90 percent kicker, the best you can do under the most important situation is be a 90 percent kicker. I think if you’re trying to stretch any more than that … that’s not realistic. Obviously the clutch guys make it when it matters, but there’s still that chance.

BM: If you miss a kick, do you feel bad about it? Or do you feel like, if you’re 90 percent, you’re going to miss one in 10 kicks?

SH: Yeah, that’s the goal: to understand that it’s going to happen every once in a while because no one is perfect. The goal is consistently to play at a high level.

Some thoughts:

  • That last one may read like a fairly bland answer, but his tone reminded me of how a lot of professional poker players ideally feel about losing: that losing is part of the process. But in reality that ideal is very hard to meet.
  • He obviously has a very high opinion of soccer, saying an average NFL player (who has presumably been handling footballs his whole life) could make a short field goal only 25 percent of the time, but top soccer players could make 50-yarders with only minutes of practice. The introduction of the soccer-style kick and the influx of former soccer players into gridiron kicking ranks are both likely contributors to kickers’ otherworldly improvement.
  • His answer about “clutchness” seemed to suggest that trying too hard to be clutch could be counter-productive relative to just trying to kick the ball. That fits with one of my pet theories of clutch, which is that, rather than being some kind of superhuman ability, clutch just means being completely normal in circumstances when others might crack.

Here’s hoping that kicking plays a big role in Sunday’s game!

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This week, FiveThirtyEight launched its documentary film about Grace Hopper, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and the driving force behind the first compiled programming language. Her legacy went largely unnoticed alongside the other early computing geniuses, but as her intensely endearing appearance on Late Night With David Letterman in 1986 showed (during which she taught the young, tousled-hair Dave about nanoseconds and military time), Hopper was a brilliant and blisteringly unique character in computing history.

Now, thankfully, her story is being told. Best known as Britta, the resident subversive ditzy blonde on “Community,” Gillian (soft G, everyone) Jacobs is directing for the first time. Last week, I spoke with her about the forgotten women of computing and why the “computer geek” is always male. The transcript of the interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Allison McCann: This the first film you’ve directed?

Gillian Jacobs: Yes, I had been talking to ESPN’s “30 for 30” about potentially directing one of those, and none of the ideas were quite right. When they created this series for FiveThirtyEight, they approached me and said, “We want to make a film about Grace Hopper.” I have to confess that I didn’t know who Grace Hopper was or anything about the early computers like Mark I, so I had to educate myself about all of it. And through the process, I really fell in love with Grace. I also discovered all these other women that were some of the first programmers, and that really blew my mind.

AM: That’s OK! I studied math and computer science, and I’d also never heard of Grace Hopper. There’s a part in the film when someone says, “She’s not in the history books with Edison or Turing,” which I’d never considered but is true. Did you find this to be the case when you were making the film?

GJ: It was sad because she is one of the most famous women in the history of computer science, and even still, a lot of people don’t know anything about her. I went to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing to film, and I expected that everybody there would be encyclopedic about her. And I was shocked when we asked not just younger women but really established women in the field [about Hopper], and a lot of them knew nothing about her. I think there’s so much we can do to educate people about her story and the other women of ENIAC [Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer] and really fill in that part of the history of computer science and restore women to it.

AM: What was it like at the Grace Hopper Celebration?

GJ: It was great because some of the younger women knew more about Hopper than the middle generation of professional women in their 40s and 50s, who didn’t really know anything about her. I think there was sort of a time period there after Hopper passed away and she wasn’t being talked about in historical context yet, but now you have the youngest generation who are starting to learn about her. So it was interesting to me to see those different generations — those who had met the woman firsthand and those who are now learning about her in class.

AM: I noticed that you open the film with a lot of female voices. Did you make a conscious decision to primarily feature women in the film?

GJ: Part of my desire to go to the Grace Hopper Celebration was to have a lot of women in the film talking about her. We were lucky to have people like Megan Smith, the chief technology officer of the United States, and Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College — these really established and important women in the field of computing. But we also had to balance it out with someone who could really fill in the details about Grace Hopper, and it just so happened that one of those two people was a man. I’m so glad that there are so many women in the film, but we were also really luck to get Kurt [Beyer, her biographer] because he knows so much about Grace. I feel good about the ratio of men to women in the film.

AM: The most striking thing about her story, for me, is that she wasn’t this feminist fighting to be included — even after the war ended and they wouldn’t let her teach at Harvard — she just went along to the next thing. This seems really different from the whole “lean in” situation today, where it’s like, “Sit at the table and speak up.” She seemed very opposite from that. Was that something that you noticed, too?

GJ: That was something some of the girls at the celebration mentioned to me, that Grace Hopper wasn’t a feminist. She’s being held up as this icon for women in computing, but she never considered herself a feminist. She had some contradictions in her personality, which we touch on in the film — and that makes for an interesting, rich person — but was also kind of frustrating to hear her say, “I don’t know anything about the women’s liberation movement because I was in the Navy.” The reality was she did seek out women to hire when she was at Remington Rand, but she didn’t call herself a feminist.

AM: Later in the film, Beyer says something about Hopper being a “very vibrant, beautiful young woman that was super charming.” I felt conflicted about this, like why we needed to talk about her looks or her charm. Why did you choose to put this in?

GJ: It was because of my desire to create a more full picture of her than I had been able to grasp from either watching interviews of her or reading books and articles about her. She’s almost exclusively talked about as this elderly woman wearing a naval uniform, so it was interesting to me to understand how she navigated the various cultures that she was in when she was younger. Why she was, as a woman, able to succeed in the Navy and in private industry, and why she had such a long career when a lot of the other women she started out with in World War II left the field. Regardless of how you or I personally feel about that, her personality and charm seem to be part of the puzzle as to why she was so successful. I wanted to talk about Grace Hopper in the entirety of her life, not just as an elderly woman.

AM: I wish there was video footage of her from Harvard during the war. What were her interactions like, what did she say and do in that room — I’m so fascinated by this period in her life. Do you know any more than what’s in the film about what it was like for her then?

GJ: She had some very difficult superiors working on Mark 1, men who were very demanding and not initially open to the idea of women as colleagues. There were other women who worked on Mark 1 who had a very difficult time dealing with the men, but Hopper seemed to have an easier time of it. Whatever that was, the alchemy of her personality, enabled her to move through that environment easier and become considered a valuable asset. I think that was a pretty remarkable thing — for her to become an important part of that team — when the women of ENIAC were dismissed at the same time.

AM: I think that her particular contributions to computer science are really incredible because they were designed to make programming more readable and accessible. Why do you think she chose to design COBOL?

GJ: I think it was a philosophical belief and also a savvy business decision because these computer companies were fighting for survival at this point. The company she worked for was really an underdog to IBM, and I think Grace Hopper knew that in order to keep Remington Rand’s UNIVAC out there in the market the employees at the companies purchasing these computers needed to be able to use them. So I think that was some of the thinking behind creating the compilers and later COBOL, and it was a really different idea than a lot of programmers at the time had. They viewed it as an elite profession to be a programmer, and she wanted to democratize it.

AM: Recently NPR had a great piece that tried to pinpoint exactly when women started dropping out of computer science. They found that the way personal computers were marketed in the early 80s played a huge role in why men began to dominate the field when women like Hopper had been so successful in the ’40s and ’50s. Had you heard about this phenomenon before doing the film?

GJ: There’s this writer Nathan Ensmenger who wrote a book called “The Computer Boys Take Over.” He collected images of women in computing, and there’s a lot of pictures from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that chart how women are depicted in advertisements for computers. One of the first images depicted computers as a home aid for housewives, showing a woman operating it, but eventually those ads shifted.

I also read that initially people thought that hardware was going to be the really prestigious and hard aspect of computing, and software was seen as less important and less difficult, So the men wanted to build the physical computer and the women would program it. When they realized it was actually the opposite, men became more interested in becoming programmers and they started to design recruiting aptitude tests that were geared more toward men. Nathan talks a lot about how it was during this era that they created the myth of the computer geek.

AM: The computer geek is always male. It’s so frustrating!

GJ: It was almost a created idea in that era, and I think that was another thing that drove women away because these ads said things like, ‘To be a programmer you have to be antisocial and solitary,’ all these things that stereotypically women are considered to not be as good at. Women are thought to be more social, better in groups and be more empathetic — you know all these stereotypically female qualities — and they really cut against this early notion of what a programmer was supposed to be.

AM: What about the title of the film? I kept going back and forth on whether I hated it or liked it, and I felt like you did, too, because of that last quote in the film. Why did you decide to go with “The Queen Of Code,” knowing that Hopper would’ve hated being called that?

GJ: I wanted to play with the tension of it; that’s how people see her, but that’s not how she saw herself. That difference between this static image we have of her — an 80-year-old rear admiral — and the woman herself. I loved it when Kathy [Kleiman] said she would’ve hated that title; that made me really happy when she said that, and I thought, “this has to be in the film.” It’s what Grace Hopper herself would do in these interviews — they’d present her as “grandma COBOL” or “ the queen of software” and she’d take a pin to it and deflate that balloon, and I think we were trying to do that, too, with the title.

AM: Was there anything else you learned making this film that you didn’t get to include?

GJ: I learned in working on this documentary that the UNIVAC computer that Grace Hopper worked on was actually used to predict election results to shocking accuracy. It was so accurate actually that Walter Cronkite didn’t report the results because the computer’s prediction went against what people thought was going to happen in the election, but it turned out the computer was correct. I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s so similar to FiveThirtyEight!”

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You’d think a relatively well-known, long-serving senator from an early primary state would be given some respect by 2016 handicappers. But Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who on Thursday formed a committee to explore a run for president Thursday, is not even listed on Betfair. To put that in perspective, Jon Huntsman, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump are all listed.

Why is Graham considered such an unlikely Republican nominee (by everyone except Sen. John McCain, that is)?

First, Graham is a creature of Washington in a year when Republicans are looking outside the capital. Graham has served in the Congress for 20 years (12 in the Senate and eight in the House). Every other plausible GOP nominee either serves outside of Washington or has been in Congress for just a few years (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio).

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last year, 51 percent of Republicans would rather their 2016 nominee to be a governor than a member of Congress. That’s up from 2007, when just 32 percent did, and might help explain why McCain — a close friend of Graham’s — was able to capture the GOP nomination in 2008. Even worse for Graham is that just 15 percent of Republicans say being an elected official in Washington for many years makes them more likely to vote for a candidate, while 36 percent say it makes them less likely. In 2007, it was 40 percent more likely and only 18 percent less likely.

Graham, simply put, is the wrong candidate for the current mood of the Republican Party. McCain won in a much different environment.

Second, the Republican voters who know Graham best aren’t exactly enamored with him. If Graham expects to overcome his party’s mind-set, he’d probably need to unleash some combination of charm and political skill. He hasn’t demonstrated an ability to do that.

Graham won his 2014 Republican primary against weak competition with just 56 percent of the vote. Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina’s junior senator, romped through his primary with 90 percent of the vote. Now, it’s true that Graham is more moderate than Scott, but that doesn’t come close to explaining their massive percentage of vote differential.

In the 2014 primary season, I built a three-variable model that sought to inform us why certain Republican incumbent senators did better in primaries than others by looking at the partisan tilt of the state, the ideology of the senator, and how “establishment” he or she was.2 All else being equal, more moderate and more establishment Republican incumbents do worse. GOP incumbents are also more likely to perform poorly in redder states.

Controlling for these three factors, Graham earned 21 percentage points less of the vote than expected. Of the 31 incumbent Republican senators that have ran for re-election in the Obama era, only Thad Cochran of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas and Richard Lugar of Indiana did worse than the fundamentals suggested. In other words, Graham was a far-below-average candidate.

Lastly, there is no sign Republicans nationally like Graham a lot either. Besides coming in last place with 0 percent of the vote in a YouGov poll this month, Graham’s net favorable ratings (favorable minus unfavorable) are also quite weak. In an average of January YouGov surveys, Graham’s net favorable rating was +17.5 percentage points, with 58.5 percent of Republicans being able to form an opinion of him. That’s not a good ratio. Only Chris Christie and Sarah Palin are further below expectations among the plausible 2016 candidates.

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9 communications majors

It shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that the notoriously taciturn Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is not among the nine communications majors taking the field in Super Bowl XLIX. Playboy broke down the college majors of every player in this year’s game, and communications came out as the most popular course of study, with nine players, followed by sociology and general studies, with seven players each. [Playboy]

11.8 percent

According to the NFL, concussions decreased by 11.8 percent this season compared to last year, to 202 from 229. [The New York Times]

14 percent rise

The average American office worker spends nine hours each week in meetings or thinking about meetings, up 14 percent from four years ago. [NPR]

25 megabits per second

The Federal Communications Commission raised the bar on the download speeds for “broadband” Internet to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) from 4 Mbps. Under the previous standard, 6.3 percent of households didn’t have broadband. Now 19.4 percent don’t. [Ubergizmo]


John Kerry, the United States secretary of state, owes the city of Boston a $50 fine for failing to shovel his sidewalk. Kerry was in Saudi Arabia — a nation not known for its snow-clearance legislation — as a blizzard struck New England this week. [The Boston Globe]

63.9 percent

The home ownership rate is now at its lowest level since 1994, down to 63.9 percent in the final quarter of 2014. [Los Angeles Times]

96 tons

Amount of dog poop generated in New York City each day. [FiveThirtyEight]

98 percent of scientists

About 98 percent scientists say the public’s lack of knowledge about science is a problem, so why don’t you guys go learn a book or something, geez. [Re/code]

3,000 stories

I thought I was safe in journalism — I’d picked a good field, one that couldn’t be automated. I was wrong. The Associated Press is already automatically generating 3,000 stories each quarter. Right now, those stories are about companies’ quarterly earnings, but who knows when the robots will move on to the dog poop beat. [The Verge]

$1.3 billion

New York City cultural institutions spent $1.3 billion on new construction over the past five years on projects including the expansion of the Queens Museum and the renovation of the fountains at the Met. In 2014, construction expenditures were up 46 percent from 2013 to $208 million. [Crain’s New York]

One more plea for the newsletter: Sign up for it now and be the first to learn about the numbers behind the news. And, as always, if you see a significant digit in the wild, tweet it to me @WaltHickey.

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New York just endured a substantial batch of snow — if not exactly the blizzard that was advertised. That set it up for the unfortunate defrost, leaving the city’s sidewalks covered in piles of dog crap people didn’t pick up.

This inevitability prompted a bit of speculation on my part: What would happen if nobody in New York picked up after their dog? How weird would it get and how fast? This hypothetical might seem far-fetched, but not picking up after dogs is somewhat common. A 1999 study of Chesapeake Bay area residents estimated 41 percent of people who walked their dog in public rarely or never picked up after it.

Let’s take this step by step:

First, how many dogs are in New York? I’m going with a 2012 estimate from economists at the New York City Economic Development Corp.: 600,000 dogs.

So, how much do they poop?

I thought about trying to find how much dog food is sold in New York, figuring inflows equal outflows. But that seemed imprecise. After a bit of digging, I uncovered some actual scholarship: A 1999 paper from the Watershed Protection Techniques journal indicates that dogs poop about 0.32 pounds per day (I assume there’s substantial variation between breeds). Seems about right.

Multiplying the number of dogs by that poop rate gives us 96 tons dropped each day in New York City.

How much is that exactly? Repeated attempts to Google the density of dog poop went unrewarded, and while I’m typically down to conduct IRL measurements, I’m not in this case. However, given that New York has 12,750 miles of sidewalk, that comes out to a pound of dog crap for every 350 feet of sidewalk every day (if we assume they only relieve themselves on sidewalks). After a week, that’d be a pound every 50 feet.

Besides the aesthetic problems — or improvement, if we’re talking Times Square — there’s a public health issue. Dog shit has 23,000,000 fecal coliform bacteria per gram, so that’s an additional 2 quadrillion coliform bacteria added to the sidewalks each day, give or take, which can’t be healthy. Studies of three midsize cities found that 10 to 50 percent of bacteria in air samples was derived from dog waste.

There might be environmental effects, too. Not that the Hudson River is exactly a paragon of cleanliness, but microbiologists suggest that dog poop can be a big polluter. The Environment Protection Agency says domestic animals — which includes cats, which at least have the decency to pick a place and stick with it — contribute nitrogen and phosphorous to ground and surface waters, and poop from pets can contribute to eutrophication and closure of shellfish beds.

Indeed, even if we let poop pile up, we’d really be in the shit when it rains. New York relies — in most areas — on a combined sewer system, which means that storm drains and residential waste water all go to the same pipe, which is then treated at one of the city’s wastewater treatment plants. The city treats 1.3 billion gallons daily and can remove 85 to 95 percent of pollutants when everything is going swimmingly.

The city’s treatment plants can handle about double the normal flow. But if they reach their limit, there’s a “combined sewer overflow” (CSO), which is when the stuff they can’t handle gets dumped into rivers. The city says plants can capture more than 80 percent of a CSO, but we can suppose about a fifth of the mess is still getting in the river. Factor in 96 tons of dog crap every day, and the East River would be slightly more disgusting than usual.

What would happen if people didn’t pick up their dog’s crap? Pestilence, plague, pollution, declining property values (I assume) and possible environmental damage. In reality, if 41 percent of New Yorkers didn’t clean up after their dog (as was found in the Chesapeake Bay study), 39.3 tons of dog crap gets left on the sidewalks each day — a little less than the weight of a subway car on the F train.

The moral of the story? First, pick up your dog’s poop, even in the snow. Second, the way New York handles its wastewater is fascinating. Third, you get really strange ads for the next couple of days if you repeatedly search for the density of dog poop.

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Scientists lament that public opinion on scientific issues is often shaped by fear and ignorance about science. A new pair of surveys, published Thursday in the journal Science, shows that there is, indeed, a large gap between public opinion and that of scientists on a wide range of scientific topics.

The surveys found broad support for government to spend money on science, but that doesn’t mean the public supports the conclusions that scientists draw. The biggest gap between scientists and the public came on issues that may elicit fear: the safety of genetically modified (or GMO) foods (37 percent of the public said GMOs were safe, compared to 88 percent of scientists) and the use of pesticides in agriculture (28 percent of the public said foods grown with pesticides were safe to eat, versus 68 percent of scientists).

There was also disagreement over the cause of climate change (50 percent of the public said it is mostly due to human activity, compared to 87 percent of scientists). Here’s a full list, via Pew Research Center, of the scientific issues the survey asked about:


Juxtaposing the public’s view against scientists’ could imply that one is right and the other wrong. But science can’t provide hard and fast answers on all of these issues. Some of these questions — are GMOs safe? — can be answered scientifically. But others (e.g., is animal research defensible? Should we frack more?) combine scientific information with value judgments. Science can provide data on risks and benefits, but ultimately these decisions require human judgments that often involve politics and ethical considerations too. Experts, even scientists, may disagree on the answers, even when they agree on the underlying science.

Researchers involved in the surveys hope the results will inspire more scientists to speak publicly about policy issues involving science. “Science issues are increasingly civic issues,” said Lee Rainie, director of Pew’s Internet Project in Washington, D.C., during a media briefing Wednesday. “They’re at the center of what defines the culture and the society and how people live their lives.”

But it’s important to note that the scientists who responded to the survey weren’t always commenting on issues they were expert in. Given the broad range of questions, most of the scientist respondents probably answered questions regarding issues outside of their specialty. Members of AAAS include scientists from all fields, but half of the survey’s respondents came from agricultural, biological or medical specialties.

In an editorial accompanying the report, Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of Science encouraged scientists to engage with the public, “even on the most polarizing science-based topics.” Surely, the public discourse could use more science — scientists in the survey reported that the best scientific information guides government regulations regarding land use, clean air and water and food safety less than half of the time.

But it’s important that scientists don’t simply dismiss public concerns as unscientific when they involve value judgements that may add extra considerations to policy questions. Science has shown, for instance, that pesticides can be safely used to grow our food, but food safety is only one consideration. Other issues, such as farmworker safety and land use practices, may also factor in, and implying that science provides easy answers can build a sense that scientists are elitist and out of touch with the public’s concerns. The public needs to understand the underlying science to form good judgements, just as scientists need to understand the public’s values if they’re to make good policy recommendations.

A methodological note: The two surveys were conducted by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of Science. The public survey involved telephone interviews with 2,002 people from 50 states and the District of Columbia, while the survey of scientists was conducted online with a sample of 3,748 AAAS members based in the U.S.

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Sarah Palin is a more conservative version of Chris Christie — at least as far as the 2016 Republican nomination contest is concerned.

After the revelation that she was thinking about running for president, and after her much-panned speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Palin has re-entered the presidential spotlight. But if she were to run, she would almost certainly go nowhere.

I say this on the basis of her net favorable rating (favorable minus unfavorable rating) among Republicans: It’s not very good. Although no live interview polls have tested Palin’s popularity in the past year and a half, surveys in 2013 found that Palin was almost universally known (average name recognition of 89 percent) but not universally beloved (net favorable rating of just +24.3 percentage points) among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

As I wrote this week, this compares miserably with past presidential nominees for the two parties at this point in the process (since 1980, not including incumbent presidents). Eventual nominees start the campaign either well-known and well-liked in their party, or not well-known. Palin, like Christie, isn’t in either category.


Given her name recognition, Palin’s net favorable rating should be about +54 percent; she’s about 30 percentage points, or three standard deviations, off the pace. Christie’s net favorable rating, by comparison, is 25 percentage points below what you’d expect from an eventual nominee. No previous nominee has been more than 10 percentage points or one standard deviation below what would have been expected.

Palin’s big problem, not surprisingly, is from the moderates in her party. In a July 2013 Gallup survey, her net favorable rating among moderate and liberal Republicans stood at a bargain-basement low of -11 percentage points. No matter how strong Palin is among conservatives, it’s pretty much impossible for her to overcome her unpopularity with the GOP’s center.

Palin is stronger than Christie in one respect. Christie’s net favorable rating in a June 2014 Gallup survey was only +19 among moderate and liberal Republicans, and just +5 among conservative Republicans. That is, he wasn’t popular with either wing of the party.

Palin, by contrast, is a star with conservatives; she has net favorable rating of +45 percentage points. Palin is still a player, but only with one slice of her party.

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