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Significant Digits For Tuesday, May 29, 2018

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news. And hello! I hope you had a great long weekend. I’m Oliver Roeder, a staff writer here and your humble new Significant Digits host. I’ll be trying to fill the large digital shoes of my friend and former colleague, Walt Hickey, who wrote hundreds and hundreds of these columns ably and entertainingly. I’ll start with this one. Please reroute all hate mail to me at @ollie. Here’s to hundreds and hundreds more. Onto today’s significance …

5:40 left in the game

Few things in sports are as tactically cool and dramatic as pulling your goalie, eschewing your last line of defense for an extra attacker. Desperation makes for great theater. But tactical drama has its place … and its time. Specifically, in hockey, when down by a single goal, you’d do well to pull your goalie with a whopping 5:40 left in the game, according to a paper co-authored by an applied mathematician at New York University and a billionaire hedge fund manager. The researchers also found that a team that practices optimal goalie-pulling gains an average of 0.02 more points per game. They then take their findings, as billionaire hedge fund investors are wont to do, and use them to teach risk management and investing lessons. [The Wall Street Journal]

66 percent of the vote

Over the weekend, voters in Ireland flocked to the polls and delivered a rebuke to the country’s history of conservative Catholicism. Turnout was 64 percent, and two-thirds of them voted “Yes” on the Referendum on the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution 2018, which repealed the country’s extremely restrictive abortion ban. [CNN]

20,000 footsteps

In song, Blondie once asked, “Why don’t you walk like me?” Well, Blondie, maybe because it’s impossible. Our personal walking styles, like our fingerprints, are unique. In fact, an artificial intelligence system has been created that can identify you simply by watching you stroll. Researchers created this highly accurate new system, called SfootBD, using data from over 120 people and 20,000 of their footsteps — “the largest footstep database in existence.” In theory, it could replace fingerprints or retinal scans for security screening. It could also, I presume, do other, scarier things. But, for now, it requires special floor pads. (Also, wasn’t this one of the security features Tom Cruise et al had to get past in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”?) [Gizmodo]

60,000 gallons of flammable liquid

In Hawaii, lava from the Kilauea volcano flowed 25 miles underground, burst through cracks and encroached on a geothermal power station that provides a quarter of the Big Island’s electricity. The lava covered a well and residents feared an explosion and the release of deadly hydrogen sulfide gas. Authorities shut down the plant and removed 60,000 gallons of flammable liquid. The scare represented a dubious first: “[L]ava has never engulfed a geothermal plant anywhere in the world,” Reuters reported. Hawaii’s governor, David Ige, called the plant “sufficiently safe.” [Reuters]

1 million French people

Thanks, apparently, to anti-smoking measures such as higher prices and neutral packaging, one million fewer French people smoked cigarettes last year, according to Public Health France. In 2017, 26.9 percent of French adults under the age of 75 smoked every day, while 29.4 percent did a year earlier. It’s potentially important news: Smoking causes one in 10 deaths globally. Speaking as someone who recently returned to the U.S. from indulging in Paris’s cafe culture, however, no meaningful absence of smoking was anecdotally apparent. [BBC]

1 billion chickens and 20 million pigs

Brazil’s truckers have been on strike. And while tensions there may be easing, fuel lines have stretched to 12 hours long and grocers have been short on perishable fruits and vegetables. The food delivery problems have extended to animals, too. Sixty-four million insufficiently fed chickens have died, according to a meat producers association, and another one billion chickens and 20 million pigs are at risk. [Bloomberg]

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

Oliver Roeder was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied game theory and political competition.