Posts made in March 2019

Calling the shots: Study finds that coaching can win the day for collegiate and pro sports teams

March 19, 2019

You can’t win them all—but a good coach can help a collegiate or professional sports team rack up points on a regular basis. Those are the findings of a University of Chicago study on the importance of leadership in athletics.

Scholars at the university’s  Harris School of Public Policy analyzed hundreds of seasons of data—including wins and losses, and sports scores and statistics— and found that coaches account for 20 % to 30% of the variation in team outcomes.

To reach their findings, Professor Christopher Berry and Associate Professor Anthony Fowler looked at the impact of coaching in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, college football, and college basketball.

“Coaches are often credited or blamed for their team’s success or failure, and are compensated as if they are among the most important assets a franchise possesses,” said Berry. “We find that coaches do, in fact, matter—and suggestions that coaches are interchangeable, which has been the dominant view in the sports analytics community, are not true. In every sport we studied, we found that coaches impact variables that contribute to a higher winning percentage.”

The study came up with a number of findings, which Berry and Fowler presented March 1 at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston—among them:

  • MLB managers affect runs scored, runs allowed, run differential, and victories. They have greater impact on runs allowed than on runs scored.
  • NFL coaches affect points allowed and the point margin. They significantly affect the number of fumbles and penalties a team commits.
  • Coaches matter more in college football than in the pros. They significantly affect points scored, points allowed, point differential,  and victories.
  • Coaching is highly significant in both NBA and Division I college basketball outcomes—influencing points scored, points allowed, point differential and victories.
  • NHL coaches matter, although they matter much more for goals allowed than for goals scored.

“Although virtually every aspect of player performance has been examined since the recent emergence of sports analytics, we wanted to bring the same level of rigor to coaches as there is for everyone else on the field at a major sporting event,” Fowler said.

The study was conducted with a method called randomization inference for leadership effects, which accounts for player quality and strength of schedule. Berry and Fowler first created the approach to estimate the effects of political leaders on various economic and policy outcomes. The method holds promise for additional research to assess the impact of individual coaches, as well as better understand why and how coaches matter.

Research contact: crberry@uchicago.edu

IKEA Israel offers 3D-printable add-ons to adapt its furnishings for the disabled

March 19, 2019

IKEA—a global retailer that is nearly as famous for its Swedish meatballs as it is for its self-assembled, affordable home furnishings—has started an initiative that will make its products more accessible and adaptable to customers with disabilities.

This month, Goodnet reports, IKEA Israel has teamed up with two NGOs, Access Israel and MILBAT—both of which focus on increasing accessibility for and inclusion of people with disabilities—to create the new ThisAbles line of furnishings.

The line comprises 13 add-ons—designed to be created on a 3D printer—that:

  • Make doors and closets open more easily,
  • Extend the legs of sofas and chairs to better accommodate sitting and standing,
  • Offer a place to attach walking sticks or canes to beds so they are easily accessible,
  • Make shower curtains easier to open and close with a large handle, and e
  • Protect other household furniture with special bumpers to attach at wheelchair levels.

“There is a large population of people with disabilities who cannot enjoy and use a variety of products, furniture and household items that we and our retail colleagues offer to the public,” CEO of IKEA Israel Shuki Koblenz told the Jerusalem Post in an interview, adding, “IKEA has vowed to create a better daily life for as many people as possible, and we feel it is our duty to create this initiative and allow people with disabilities to enjoy a wide range of products, furniture and household items.”

Before starting the new line of accessories, Access Israel conducted a survey in cooperation with IKEA—and found 130 furniture and household items that could be improved for people with disabilities. The accessories were designed by MILBAT, an organization dedicated to increasing the independence of disabled people by means of assistive devices and technology. it was a perfect fit, the three partners say.

In all four of its Israel-based stores, IKEA now has placed special tags that detail the suitability and benefits of the add-ons for people with different disabilities on the 130 items that can be modified by the ThisAbles.

The smart additions also will be displayed in a special area so that shoppers can view the items and see how they connect to existing products.

The full series of additions and the IKEA products that can be modified are available on the ThisAbless website along with helpful product training videos.

In addition, the ThisAbles line of products can be purchased on the MILBAT website—or people can scan the barcode of the new products to print independently in a 3D printer. This makes them readily available to people who live in other countries.

Today, according to Access Israel, over 1.6 million people—8% of the population—live with disabilities; around 700,000 of them, severe.

“I am convinced that this initiative will actually improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in Israel and around the world,” Yuval Wagner, president and founder of nonprofit Access Israel, told the Jerusalem Post.

Research contact:  #ThisAbles

Beto in talks with Dem strategist for campaign manager

March 19, 2019

Newly announced Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is looking for a campaign manager, CNN reports; and he has begun discussions with veteran Democratic strategist Jen O’Malley Dillon, who previously served as deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and as a top political consultant for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.

O’Rourke told reporters in Milwaukee on Sunday that he is “in talks” with someone to become his campaign manager and has offered the job to one person. He did identify that person, CNN said.

O’Rourke and O’Malley Dillon met at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival in Austin  to discuss the role on March 16, aides told CNN, and they talked about the possibility of her joining the campaign in a subsequent call. She remains uncertain about the role, a source said, but is likely to decide this week.

It is unusual for a high-profile campaign like O’Rourke’s to launch without a campaign manager—but the former Texas congressman has seen great enthusiasm for his run, having raised $6.1 million in contributions from the public during the first hours after he announced he was in.

He has met with several people, aides said, but has yet to be successful in hiring someone to lead the campaign efforts from its headquarters in El Paso, Texas.

“I’m working with an extraordinary team right now, some of whom helped me in the amazing Senate race that we ran in Texas, some of whom are new to this campaign,” O’Rourke said Sunday, CNN reported. “I am in talks with someone who might be very excited to lead this effort, but at the same time that I say that, I want to give my thanks to the team that has started this up and allowed us to have such a strong start three-and-a-half days into this campaign.”

Asked how many people he has offered the job to, O’Rourke said, “I have made one offer.”

O’Rourke’s campaign declined to comment to CNN and O’Malley Dillon did not return requests for comment.

Research contact: @ericbradner

Snap plans launch of gaming platform in April

March 18, 2019

The U.S. technology and camera company, Snap, finally will introduce its widely discussed (but never-disclosed) gaming platform at a summit for content and developer partners in Los Angeles on April 4, Cheddar has reported.

The mobile game platform, internally code-named “Project Cognac,” will feature several games that outside developers have designed specifically to work in the multimedia Snapchat app, according to a person familiar with the matter, Cheddar said.

In addition, the company will launch more videos similar to the augmented reality Snap Originals that it began posting last October.

An invitation to the event that was seen by Cheddar includes the tagline, “Less talk. More play.”—a nod to the gaming platform.

To help bolster its push into the games sector, Snap last year acquired a small Australian gaming studio called Prettygreat for $8.6 million, according to financial documents obtained by Cheddar. One of the employees of Prettygreat was behind the hit mobile games “Fruit Ninja” and “Jetpack Joyride.”

Snap also already has demonstrated its interest in gaming by launching a handful of its own lightweight, augmented reality games—called Snappables— early in 2018.

A year earlier, the Chinese tech giant Tencent—known for its popular messaging platform WeChat, as well as such games as “League of Legends”—acquired roughly 10% of Snap’s publicly traded shares.

Games could provide a new source of revenue for Snap, Cheddar notes—either through in-app purchases or advertising.

A Snap spokesperson declined to comment on the record for the Cheddar story.

Research contact: @cheddar

Trump must “VETO!” as Congress votes against him

March 18, 2019

Just say no.” While that slogan is most-often associated with former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign, it also represents what Congressional Democrats have been articulating for the past two years to the G.O.P.

And indeed, the Republicans long have warned the president—when he stood by Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; when he separated migrant children from their parents at the border; when he supported Putin in Helsinki; and when he declared a national emergency to pay for his border wall—that he should not push them too far.

And it finally has come to pass: This week, despite the best efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to keep them in line, Republicans broke ranks—delivering a series of “remarkable … bipartisan rebukes to the president,” The New York Times reported.

On March 13, with seven Republicans crossing the aisle, the Senate joined the Democrat-led House in voting to end American military aid to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen in protest over the killing of Khashoggi.

On March 14, the Times reported, the House voted unanimously on a nonbinding resolution to make public the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.

And hours later on that same day, 12 Republican senators abandoned the president to pass legislation, already adopted by the House, that would block Mr. Trump from declaring a national emergency to build his border wall—an act of defiance that he has vowed to overturn with the first veto of his presidency. (“VETO!” the president tweeted at 3:16 p.m. on March 14.)

“We’re saying today, ‘No, we do not acquiesce to this,’” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said after voting to block the emergency declaration, the Times reported. “We do not agree that the president should be able to come in and go against the express intention of the Congress when it comes to these appropriated funds” for his wall.

Murkowski added in a statement on her website, “”I take very seriously my oath to uphold the Constitution, and my respect for the balance within the separation of powers. Article 1 provides that the power to appropriate lies with the legislative branch. When the executive branch goes around the express intention of Congress on matters within its jurisdiction, we must speak up or legislative acquiescence will erode our constitutional authority. We can and must address the President’s very legitimate concerns over border security, but we must not do it at the expense of ceding Congress’ power of the purse.”

According to the news outlet, “The series of votes vividly demonstrated a newfound willingness to stand up to the president among some of his Republican allies on Capitol Hill. And they underscored a deep frustration in Congress about the president’s supposed scorn for a coequal branch of government.”

“We have an issue that has been litigated and adjudicated through Congress. I mean, what was more litigated than this very question? We had a government shutdown for crying out loud,” said Senator Patrick Toomey ( R-Pennsylvania) referring to funding for the border wall, which Mr. Trump is trying to secure with an emergency declaration that would circumvent Congress.

“It’s about separation of powers,” Toomey said. “It’s about respecting the principles of the Constitution.”

But for those who continue in lockstep with the president, the votes were merely a challenge to his authority that he would easily overcome. “He feels good,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a close ally of Mr. Trump who, the Times said, talked to the president shortly after the vote. “He said, ‘My veto will be sustained?’ I said, ‘Yeah, overwhelmingly.’ He feels like his commitment to build the wall is moving forward.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Researchers say wireless earphones could be a source of carcinogenic radiation

March 15, 2019

While most of us have worried at one time or another that our use of smartphones could endanger our health, it turns out that the earphones—specifically, wireless earbuds—could pose a much greater danger, News-Medical.net reports.

Specifically, medical researchers are worried about wireless earbuds, such as the AirPods introduced by Apple in 2016. These wireless earpieces transmit data using a type of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiowave via Bluetooth technology. The proximity of this radiation to the brains of the users is cause for concern, they say.

In fact, News-Medical.net notes, a group of 250 experts and researchers have signed a petition to the United Nations and World Health Organization to stop the use of these and other wireless devices.

The petition reads, “Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices.”

It goes on to say that the risk of cancer, neurological disorders, and DNA damage that have been associated with EMF exposure cannot be ignored.

Jerry Phillips, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs agrees with the medical alert. He told the news outlet, “My concern for AirPods,” he says, “is that their placement in the ear canal exposes tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation.” Phillips is one of the many scientists who have called for a restriction on use of such devices.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently confirmed that these EMF waves could be “possibly carcinogenic” to humans. These waves are similar to UV rays or x-rays—but are not as powerful. They can cause burns at high concentration but are generally of less impact. The debate about whether they are carcinogenic is still ongoing.

The World Health Organization developed guidelines that regulate the amount of EMF the devices are allowed to emit. The petition adds, “The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF. By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the preeminent international public health agency.”

The guidelines insist that phones should be kept away from the body when not in use. Sleeping with the phone is not a good practice and usage of headsets or headphones to conduct phone calls is suggested as a good option.

Research contact @AzoNetwork

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight colleges snared in admissions bribery scandal

March 15, 2019

As if top U.S. colleges are not charging enough, parents are bribing industry officials to get their kids into the “right”schools.

Among the high-profile moms and dads who now are being hit with federal criminal charges for providing monetary inducements—some of them, six figures high—to college advisers, test proctors, admissions officers, or athletics coaches to admit their children are actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as top business and legal executives nationwide.

Now, a class-action civil lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by two Stanford University students, Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, against eight top universities in connection with the massive college admissions bribery scandal, which hit the news on March 12,

The defendants in the lawsuit are Yale University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas, Wake Forest University, and Georgetown University. Federal prosecutors have said the schools, themselves, were victims of the scam,l according to a report by CNBC.

Indeed, the suit accuses each of the universities of being “negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures in places to guarantee the sanctity of the college admissions process.”

And the suit, which claims more than $5 million in damages, alleges that, as a result of the payoffs, “unqualified students found their way into the admissions rolls of highly selective universities, while those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission.”

Although the only two named plaintiffs to date are Olsen and Woods, the action would ultimately include potentially thousands of students as complainants—if not more, if the case is granted class-action status by a judge.

Also named as a defendant, according to The New York Times, is William “Rick” Singer, 59, the owner of a  college preparatory business, the Edge College & Career Network, who masterminded and profited from the scheme.

The suit claims that the universities named as defendants “knew or should have known of these corrupt practices because the funds” that were being used as bribes to gain admittance for the children of wealthy parents “were often going into university accounts; and to prominent figures, such as coaches and directors in charge of university accounts.”

The suit alleges that the plaintiff, “Olsen has also been damaged because she is a student at Stanford University, another one of the universities plagued by the fraud scandal. Her degree is now not worth as much as it was before, because prospective employers may now question whether she was admitted to the university on her own merits, versus having parents who were willing to bribe school officials.”

And it says that her co-plaintiff, Woods, at the time she applied to USC for admission, “similarly was never informed that the process of admission at USC was an unfair, rigged process, in which parents could buy their way into the university through bribery and dishonest schemes.”

Wake Forest’s president, Nathan Hatch, in a letter made public said that “the university has cooperated fully with the investigation.”

Hatch said he “to make abundantly clear that Wake Forest is considered by the U.S. Department of Justice to be a victim of this fraud. In no way has it been suggested that the university was involved in the deceitful practices, nor were any employees, other than [Wake Forest volleyball coach Bill] Ferguson, accused of wrongdoing.”

Ferguson has reportedly been placed on administrative leave by the institution.

Lawyers for Olsen and Woods, as well as spokesmen for the other universities, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNBC.

Research contact: @_DanMangan

Yea or nay? Pelosi’s equivocation on impeachment splits House Democrats

March 15, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chooses her battles carefully—and she sure knows how to pick her way through a G.O.P. minefield.

In a March 11 interview with The Washington Post Magazine that has since gone viral, Pelosi said that she is “not for [the] impeachment” of President Donald Trump because “it divides the country … And he’s just not worth it.”

However, her statement—which was well-received by the president and his Republican posse during a time of partisan division—only has widened the fissure among House Democrats.

On the one hand, she reaffirmed what many cooler heads in the caucus are saying: That impeachment should be based solely on facts and evidence—not political considerations. And that the evidence of criminal conduct should be so unassailable that it inflames bipartisan censure.

On the other hand, many of the party’s newbies—elected in 2016—think there’s already evidence of malfeasance and it should be acted on immediately.

Thus, Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, sided with the Speaker, telling reporters, “A bipartisan process would have to be extra clear and compelling. I think the Speaker is absolutely right. In its absence, an impeachment … becomes a partisan exercise doomed for failure. And I see little to be gained by putting the country through that kind of wrenching experience.”

Conversely, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), who has been in office since 2017, told Politico that impeaching the president isn’t about “whether or not the president is worth it. The question is whether the republic is worth it and whether the public interest commands it and whether there are high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Raskin added, “We can’t get so frustrated with Donald Trump that we impeach him just for being Donald Trump, but we can’t get so frustrated with Donald Trump that we don’t impeach him because he’s Donald Trump.”

Politico noted that, while Speaker Pelosi had somewhat distanced herself from taking action on impeachment, she had not ruled it out–leaving it as a very real and possible option, should the committees’ investigations turn up any real dirt.

“I think there’s enough going on in the various committees for impeachment to take care of itself,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) told the political news outlet. “These committees have to build will in the American people for impeachment. Impeachment is a political question. I don’t care what we may feel — if the public isn’t there, we can’t go there. And I think the committee hearings and various things going on are what’s needed in order for the public to get where they need to be.”

Research contact: @sarahnferris

Double duty: Annual flu shot also may reduce risk of heart attack

March 14, 2019

Now there’s another good reason to get your annual flu shot. A study conducted at Icahn School of Medicine  at Mount Sinai in New York City has found that, not only can the vaccine protect you from influenza; it may even prevent you from having a heart attack, Medical News Net reports.

The research initiative—which will be discussed at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session, in New Orleans from March 16 to 18—involved searching through nearly 30 million hospital records.

What the clinicians found was that people who got a flu shot while hospitalized had a 10% lower risk of having a heart attack that year; compared to people who visited a hospital, but did not get the vaccine during their stay.

The study is the largest to date to investigate the relationship between the influenza vaccination and heart attacks. The findings are consistent with previous research suggesting getting a flu vaccine can reduce a person’s risk of major cardiovascular problems.

“You don’t need to be a medical professional to see this data and understand the importance of getting the flu vaccine,” said the study’s lead author Mariam Khandaker, MD, an internal medicine resident at Icahn School of Medicine. “The flu vaccine should be considered primary prevention for heart attack, just like controlling your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol.”

Drawing on a data set known as the National Inpatient Sample, the researchers analyzed the records of nearly 30 million adult patients who visited a hospital in the United States in 2014. They divided patients into those who had received a flu vaccine while hospitalized during that year and those who had not. They then analyzed the proportion of each group who, at any point in 2014, visited the hospital for either a heart attack or unstable angina, chest pain caused by a partial blockage of the heart’s arteries.

About 2% of patients had received a flu shot while hospitalized and 98% had not (the data set did not include flu shots received outside of a hospital setting). Of those who had not received a flu vaccine, 4% had a heart attack or unstable angina. Of those who had gotten the flu shot, only 3% had a heart attack or unstable angina.

This is a statistically significant difference due to the large size of the data set. In particular, the vaccinated patients had about 5,000 fewer cases of heart attacks than would have been expected without the vaccine. After adjusting for several confounding variables, vaccination was associated with a 10% reduction in the risk of having a heart attack.

Heart attacks and unstable angina occur when plaque breaks free from the lining of a blood vessel and creates a clog in one or more of the heart’s arteries, fully or partially blocking the flow of blood to the heart. Having the flu can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, which increases the likelihood that plaque will rupture. The flu can also cause physiological effects, such as decreased oxygen supply and increased heart rate, which can exacerbate existing heart conditions.

“By getting the flu vaccine, you can help to prevent this cascade of events from taking place and, thus, prevent a heart attack,” Khandaker said. “While a person can still contract some strains of influenza even after getting a flu shot, the vaccine can lower the severity of the illness and, thus, still potentially help to prevent a heart attack.”

Research contact: jamesives@azonetwork.com