Tuesday, December 23, 2008



I'll be over in the other half of the world for a couple of weeks; blogging will be pretty-much out of the question. Heck, I'll be happy if I'm able to check email every coupla days.

Anyways, wish you all a very happy holiday season and a wonderful new year.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Breaking the news: Sports edition


I had promised a data-backed piece on Eli Manning, so here goes. A couple of things I’d like to state before we proceed:
1) This is not a rant against Eli; it is against the so-called experts who write about him;
2) Eli is having a decent season, but it is laughable to call it a great, MVP-caliber, or even a Pro-Bowl-caliber season.

That having been said, let me mention, by way of example, some of the Eli-related journalistic plugs that have popped up in the past week or so. First, there’s this piece on how Eli finished 2nd in the MVP balloting amongst eight ESPN bloggers---these are the guys who cover the various NFL divisions and get paid by ESPN to write about them every week, so they are presumably experts. Well, their writings contribute to public opinion, at any rate. Then there’s this article by Sporting News’ NFL writer Vinnie Iyer where he puts Eli second in his NFC pro-bowl ballot---as a reward for Eli body of work---and I quote--- over the past two seasons, including the Super Bowl. Finally, there this Sporting News article naming Eli Manning SN’s Pro Athlete of the Year for 2008. Seriously. No, really. I cannot make this shit up.

Anyway, this is just an easily-obtained sampling of the general assessment of Eli Manning by many, if not most, sports reporters and analysts. As you can see from magazine articles (including the aforementioned ones) or hear on radio or TV (although my sampling size in the latter media is hardly extensive), there is this perception that Eli Manning was primarily responsible for the Giants’ Super Bowl run last year and for their continued success this year (he was, in a way, but not in the way you might think). Furthermore, there is this growing consensus that Eli is now an elite QB---one worthy of ProBowl selection and of MVP consideration. This idea is so absurd that I feel compelled to refute it. I realize that Eli is the QB of a historic franchise in arguably the biggest media market in the world and is also the scion of a famous quarterbacking clan. So there is an understandable urge in the media to hope for the Great All-American Family of Excellence Story. But the urge to fabricate that story around dubious facts?----Well, someone’s gotta smack that shit in the face with a fistful of reason. And in the apparent absence of any takers, I had to step up to be that someone.

So let us look at some numbers, shall we? (BTW, all the stats that I provide have been obtained from NFL.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com. For rankings, I referred to pages like this from NFL.com---so the rankings are for QBs who averaged at least 14 pass attempts per game, i.e. regulars. Also, 2008 numbers are through 14 games)

Since his first full year (in 2005) as starting QB for the NYGiants Eli Manning has been, by any measurable statistic, a mediocre QB. Here are his stats in all key categories.

YEAR COMPLETION%/ (NFL rank) QB RATING/ (NFL rank) TDs thrown/ (NFL Rank) INTs thrown/ (NFL rank; 1st is worst)
2005 52.8 (31st of 34) 75.9 (23rd of 34) 24 (7th of 34) 17 (2nd of 34)
2006 57.7 (21st of 32) 77.0 (18th of 32) 24 (6th of 32) 18 (4th of 32)
2007 56.1 (29th of 33) 73.9 (25th of 33) 23 (11th of 33) 20 (1st of 33)
2008 60.3 (19th of 32) 86.4 (16th of 32) 20 (10th of 32) 10 (18th of 32)

As you can see, the only category where Eli has ever cracked the top 5 is the one category where you DON’T want to be in the top as a QB---Interceptions thrown.

Note also that 2008 is Eli’s best year by far---when his overall QB rating has soared to a dizzying, career-best, 16th of 32 ranked QBs! I mean, talk about fucking mediocre!

What many people have chosen to forget about Eli is that not only did he throw more INTs than most but he threw crippling INTs. Not that there are good INTs but, you know, some are just worse than others. Anyway, in 2007 the Giants defense ranked 7th in the league for fewest yards allowed but only ranked 17th in the league for fewest points allowed. When a D allows a far greater proportion of points than would be predicted by the allowed yards, it implies that the opposition is the beneficiary of good field position. When you consistently give up good field position to the opposition, you either have horrible special teams or you have a serious turnover problem. Not surprisingly the Giants ranked a bad 26th of 32 teams in the takeaway/giveaway ratio in 2007 ---Eli ranked 1st in most INTs thrown, the offense lost 14 of 26 fumbles, and while it isn‘t clear how many of those were Eli‘s, the stats do show that Eli was responsible for 13 of the team‘s 26 fumbles.

By comparison in 2008, the Giants D ranks 6th in the league in fewest yards allowed (similar to 2007) and 4th in fewest points allowed (a bit different from 2007, eh?). Not coincidentally, Eli has only thrown 10 INTs, the offense has lost only 3 fumbles all year and the Giants rank 3rd best in the league in the Takeaway/Giveaway ratio. More significantly, while the Giants passing game is producing about the same yards (210.2 yds/game in 2008 vs. 211 yds/game in 2007) and their running game is producing somewhat better (148.7 yds/game in 2008 vs. 134.3 yds/game in 2007), the Giants offense ranks 4th in the league in total points and 8th in total yards in 2008 compared to 14th in total points and 16th in total yards in 2007.
(Giants 2007 stats here, and 2008 stats here)

Amazing what happens when you don’t turn the ball over huh? And that, in a nutshell, is why Eli is getting all the love. It’s not that he’s raised his QBing to great heights a la Montana or Marino or even his own brother Peyton. Eli finally stopped fucking up!
And that was basically why the Giants succeeded in their playoff run last year---Eli didn’t have significantly better numbers in the 2007 postseason than he did before; he had basically the same mediocre numbers. In the 2007 postseason Eli completed 60.5% of his passes, threw for 213.5 yards/game, and averaged 1.5 TDs thrown per game. But herre's the key stat---he threw only one INT in four games. This is doubtless creditable, but it is hardly great. The Giants win in the Super Bowl was due primarily to its ferocious defense that physically dominated the game. They held the highest-scoring offense in NFL history to 14 points. Yes, Eli did lead a drive in the end to give the Giants the lead, but that was not a high-efficiency surgical drive that is the stuff of Montana legend. Indeed, the signature play in that drive was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime catch by David Tyree that answered an Eli Manning Hail Mary prayer. Eli wasn’t without credit in the postseason and the SuperBowl, but the Super Bowl MVPs were, in order, the Giants D-line, David Tyree, and then Eli.

But for whatever reason, the bar for Eli is low when it comes to most in the media. For him apparently, not fucking up equals greatness.

One last thing---people come up with arguments like the “Stats aren’t everything, there are intangibles to the QB position”. To them I present QBs who have far fewer weapons at their disposal than Eli but have lead their teams to impressive success with modest individual stats (although these guys do have better overall ratings than Eli!), but who yet do not get as much pub and accolades as Eli does. Qbs like Matt Ryan---a rookie who stepped into a horrendous situation in Atlanta and has them at an impressive winning record while playing in an NFC South division where no team has a losing record--- and Chad Pennington, who stepped into an equally horrible situation in Miami and has them contending for the lead in their division.

I could go on---with examples and with stats. But I’ll stop here. Eli may yet turn into a great QB. But in his career thus far he has done nothing extraordinary. He has been surrounded by a great team with pro-bowl talent at every offensive position. He finally stopped holding his team back.

But hey, if and when Eli ever makes the top five in QB rating for the year, the media will probably be clamoring for him to be first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bad move, President-elect Obama


It is not a cabinet appointment or anything like that, merely a symbolic selection. But by picking a bigoted asshole like Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural, the Obama camp has made a very important (and dangerous) concession to tens of millions of subscribers of organized religious wackaloonery. Apparently the Obama camp is spinning this as being inclusive despite having differences of opinion etc etc. Bullshit.

You want to spread a message of inclusiveness? I have an idea---how about letting the misogynistic bastards who have ruled organized religion for centuries be inclusive for a change? How about giving the stage to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA?

Pandering to bigots does not constitute inclusiveness, Mr. President-elect.

Update: For those who don't know, or think, that Rick Warren is a bigoted asshole, please check out Mike the Mad Biologist's piece and links therein.


Monday, December 15, 2008

The NFL is a rushing league


It is frequently said that success in the NFL is based on the ability to run the football on offense and to stop the run on defense. To those who follow the NFL this may be obvious. I was curious as to whether the numbers actually bore this out. So I went to the kick-ass website Pro-Football-Reference.com, took the rushing (for and against) stats for each team through week 14 and compiled the differential yards per game for all the teams. (At the time I did this, the Cleveland-Philly Wk14 game was not yet done---but the way the game looked in the third qtr it appears that its stats are going to be in line with our observations here).
Anyway, I compiled differentials for the passing stats too, and threw in (amongst a bunch of other stats) the won-loss record for good measure. Then I sorted the worksheet in different ways to see what, if anything, stood out. Well, one sort did stand out----the one sorted for rushing differential in descending order, and I have shown the table below.


































Pretty impressive correlation, huh? If you out-rush your opponent you are almost assured of having a winning record. The exceptions to this correlation are Washington (7&7; so at least they don‘t have a losing record) and Jacksonville (5&9). But Jacksonville has a positive differential of only 0.1 rush yard per game, so that is hardly a meaningful advantage and maybe their won-loss record isn‘t necessarily against the trend.

Also noteworthy--- Only four teams with a negative rush differential have winning records. They are Tampa Bay (9&5), Denver (8&6), Arizona (8&6) and Indianapolis (10&4). Of these, Denver and Arizona are the beneficiaries of playing in horrible divisions and thereby playing weak schedules. They do not fare well against good teams; indeed, in both cases, only two of their wins have come against opponents who have a winning record.

Indianapolis is a fascinating outlier. Looking at the stats one would try to explain their won-loss success with one or more of the following speculations:
1) Opponents are moving the ball really well against Indy but not scoring proportionately, i.e. the defense is keeping the team in games by not allowing TDs;
2) Indy is being very efficient with its drives;
3) Indy‘s offense is not doing very well, but shows up when it counts and manages to win close ballgames.
If you have followed the season so far, the above pretty much summarizes Indy’s season. The defense has allowed the third-fewest TDs in the league so far and has kept many games close; indeed, it has pretty much won 2 games for the team. And Peyton Manning has been responsible for some wins in other games by being absolutely clutch in the fourth quarter.

As for Tampa Bay---They had a really anomalous game that skewed their stats. A couple of weeks ago, Carolina ran for 299 yards against them. Now, 200-yd rushing games don't happen frequently and 300-yd rushing games are very rare in the NFL. If Tampa had only allowed a bad 200 as opposed to a horrible 299, they'd have a positive rushing differential (+5 yds/gm or so) for the season---more in keeping with their 9&5 record.

I guess my point is that wins and losses are decided by so many factors, and maybe every team has an anomalous game or two in some regard every season. Ultimately, the points scored vs points allowed decide the games, and important factors like turnovers, average field-position, red-zone offensive/defensive efficiency etc affect the outcome of every game. But given all this, one single stat---the rushing differential---is able to separate the good teams from the bad, for the most part.

All in all, interesting stuff. Run, and stop the run. Pretty simple, huh?

Update: Here's a follow-up article to this post.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How pathetic are we as a species?


We constantly find new ways to redefine decadence.



Monday, December 8, 2008

More NFL musings


This was meant to be a general NFL post that started out with Steeler stuff, but then I saw Scribbler50’s latest Steeler-related comment (in my previous football post) while I was halfway through this one---so I’m just gonna make this a self-indulgent Steeler post and catch up with the rest of the stuff when I get time later this week.

One general comment: The NY Giants and the Tennessee Titans had strangleholds on the #1 playoff seed in their respective conferences. Now the strangleholds are merely decent grips.

Yesterday’s Cowboy-Steeler game was pivotal.
If the Steelers had lost the game they’d be in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs (having to play Baltimore and Tennessee on the road the next two weeks). Now that they’ve won it, they have a shot at winning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Steelers need to beat Baltimore (brutal assignment, but doable) to wrap up the division. If they then beat Tennessee, week 17 becomes really interesting---The 12-3 Steelers would play Cleveland at home while the 13-2 Titans would have to play the Colts in Indy. A Steeler win and a Titan loss would mean that the Steelers would be the #1 seed in the AFC. Could happen.

The Steelers aren’t going anywhere, however, if the O-line doesn’t get some of its shit together and if the Steelers don’t stick with the running game regardless. Pick a damn RB and feed him at least 20 carries a game---even behind great O-lines, RBs take 5-10 carries just to get their rhythm and figure out the D, the blocking and the speed. You can’t (like the Steelers did yesterday) have 12 running plays split between two RBs over three quarters, and then expect to successfully run it in when you get first and ten on the 8-yard line in the fourth qtr.

Further, defenses are sitting on the pass and they’re killing Ben Roethlisberger. I spent a few minutes on Pro-football-reference.com…..
This is Ben’s fifth year as a starter. In his first two seasons, the Steelers had Bettis and a power running game. They also had good O-line play. In those two seasons, Ben got sacked 30 and 23 times respectively.
The 2006 season was a bad one all around---Ben got into a stupid bike accident, they didn’t have Bettis---and Ben was sacked 46 times.
In 2007, there were major coaching changes--head coach, offensive coordinator, O-line coach---but the Steelers were good and Ben was a fucking stud. He got sacked 47 times, but managed a QB rating of 104.1, a completion percentage of 65.3% and threw 32 TDs vs. 11 INTs. (By comparison, Peyton Manning, who finished 2nd in MVP voting to Brady, was sacked only 21 times, had a QB rating of 98.0, a completion percentage of 65.4 and threw 31 TDs vs. 14 INTs). Anyway, I think this success, of the team and of Ben, masked a larger problem regarding the running game and the O-line. Throw in free agency and injuries and this year that problem is coming home to roost. Ben has been sacked 38 times in 13 games, has a QB rating of 80.1, and has thrown 14 TDs vs. 12 INTs. The Steelers average 3.6 yards per rush attempt this year whereas they averaged 4 yards or more per run in each of the previous four years. This is a merciless league---if teams figure out that your running game ain’t hurting anyone, they’ll tee off on your QB. And as my good friend (and erstwhile Giants fan) Tom once told me, “Its really hard to complete passes when you’re being bounced off the turf all the time”. Ugly as it looks, I think this is one of Ben’s finer seasons. The team is 10-3 largely because in key games Ben found a way to bring it home.

Bruce Arians’ play calling is horrible. Defenses are sitting on 1st down run, and 2nd and 3rd down passes. It is freaking pathetic. If the pass rush is constantly reaching your QB, try calling a screen pass, Bruce. Mewelde Moore may surprise the fuck out of you and take it to the house. Or just hand him the ball 12 times in the first half. And then on the third or fourth carry in the second half, he’ll take it to the house. It is really that simple, especially when you have a dominant defense backing you up. You are punting the shit out of the ball anyway---why not punt while wearing down the other line a bit and giving their D something to think about for a change? And next time you are inside the opponent's 5-yard line, humor me and go for a play action pass fade to the corner of the endzone to Hines Ward on first down. I mean, what have you got to lose? At this point, we expect you to turn it over on downs in such situations anyway.

It’s getting late so I have to stop with this thought---On the final Romo INT, Jason Witten slipped a bit, but Romo threw the ball high (like he’d done a couple of times previously in the game) though not really offline. All the experts were so caught up in whether Witten blew the route or Romo blew the throw that they forgot, I guess, to mention that Romo could see Lamarr freaking Woodley bust through the line right in front of him and flicked his throw a bit offbalance and sooner than he’d have liked to. So while Romo and Witten were falling all over themselves to take the blame, maybe someone should give a bit of credit to Woodley.
Actually, on second thought, don’t. Let him get madder and madder all week thinking about how they just wont give him credit. The Steelers could use some extra red-ass in Baltimore next week.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Obama's Picks Lack Diversity, sorta---WashPo/MSNBC


From a Washington Post article featured on MSNBC.com:
(Excerpted, emphasis mine)

"While Obama's picks have been lauded for their ethnic and ideological mix, they lack diversity in one regard: They are almost exclusively products of the nation's elite institutions and generally share a more intellectual outlook than is often the norm in government."

Dammit, he is raising the intellectual bar in government by not hiring enough dumb, narrow-minded people like the "real Americans" who graduate from Regent and Liberty "Universities"!


Friday, December 5, 2008

Post-script to "FSC-Eli,QB, Part I"


Drugmonkey and Scribbler50 make a good point about John Elway, way back in 1983, pulling the same stunt as Eli did.
I think there are a couple of important differences. Before I go further, let me clearly say that
(1)I didn't respect Elway for doing that and for a long time derived major Schadenfraude at his getting his ass handed to him SuperBowl after SuperBowl, and
(2) I am not familiar with the backstory, actually even the story, of what transpired with Elway. So if I'm wrong, my apologies and please set me straight.

Firstly, and this is a subtle point, I don't believe Elway chose any particular team. He just didn't want to play east of the Rockies or whatever. He is still an asshole for making that demand, but I don't know whether one particular team got railroaded to the specific benefit of another, directly by Elway's demand, in quite the same fashion as happened in Chargers v Giants. In principle therefore, more teams than just the Broncos (heck, any west coast team) could have tried to make a deal for Elway if they so desired. With Eli, it was Giants or bust; he hand-picked his fucking team and got away with it.

Secondly, and this I'm pretty sure about, there was effectively very little free-agency in the NFL till 1992 or so. Prior to '92, teams had to compensate other teams for signing their players as free agents, and the compensation was proportional to the money you paid the player as a free agent----so basically the cost to sign players as free agents was enormous. Free agency was effectively not very prevalent----meaning that if a team drafted you , you were probably in for indentured servitude with them. So the stakes were a bit different.
Still, that was deal for all the players then, so Elway was still a dick for making special demands.

Eli is not living in those dark ages. He could have gotten restricted free agency after 3 years and full free agency after 4. So he is, I think, a much bigger asshole than Elway was, inasmuch as we agree that both of them were assholes.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Return of the Fortunate Son Chronicles : Eli Manning, QB (Quite the Blackmailer)


It has been while since I hammered out one of these. I was tempted to recently, when the great Patrick Knight (whose classy exploits we have previously chronicled here and here) had his Texas Tech team put up 167 points in a 40-minute basketball game against some poor Division II squad. They were up 77-57 at half-time and then felt the need to put up 90 points in the second half while the opposition was putting up 58. I guess when you are up by 30 points midway through the second half (and you have already broken the all-time school scoring record of 128), using up the clock on every possession is a loser strategy . What manly-man winners do is keep scoring at a frenetic pace for the entire game. So what if the margin of victory swells to 50? The other team should have played better! Who says that having an egomaniacal arrogant prick with abusive tendencies for a father can cause any psychological harm to the son? Pat Knight is All Right!

But I digress.

This post is not about Pat Knight. It was inspired by a question recently posed to me by the talented Scribbler50 that could be summed up basically as: Whatcha got against Eli Manning? And since some football ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ are gradually beginning to bring up Eli’s candidacy for the MVP award this year, the timing couldn’t be better for Scrib50’s Ques. or for yours-truly’s Ans.

How did Eli Manning enter the NFL? This is the official record of events: Eli was drafted #1 by the San Diego Chargers in 2004, who then turned around and traded Eli to the New York Giants for their first round pick Philip Rivers as well as three draft picks (which they used to draft, notably, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding). Great! Win-win and all’s good, correct?

Well, not exactly. The story that gets buried is that before the draft Eli was the widely believed to be the #1 pick as the Chargers wanted him. But Eli didn’t want to play for the Chargers, an organization with historically dubious management. What’s more, he wanted to play for an organization with historically outstanding management, the NY Giants. Can’t blame the kid; pretty smart of him actually. By the way, the Giants reportedly also wanted Eli as their QB.

The problem doesn’t lie with Eli’s desire to play for an up and coming stud team and solid organization, or with its desire to have him. It lies, rather, with the fact that the NFL Draft is not, as Comrade PhysioProf would put it, a fucking care bears party. It is not the NFL Job Fair or NFL Open House, or NFL Buffet, where you‘d waltz in and pick your choice of team. No, it is the NFL DRAFT. Teams pick the players they want in an order that’s part of a well developed, negotiated, structured system, and then the players get paid large amounts of money in accordance with another well developed, negotiated, structured system. Then the players cash these nice fat checks, become ‘professionals’ and they shut the fuck up (or not) and play for the teams that drafted them. The NFL is set up on somewhat socialist principles (revenue sharing, draft etc) to ensure that all teams, regardless of their market-size, will have reasonably even chances to be competitive. This setup has proven to be wildly successful and is one of the main reasons why the NFL has kicked baseball’s ass and taken over as the dominant pro sport in this country.

Year in and year out, talented players get drafted by bad organizations and teams, but they go, play out their 3-4 years as mandated by the League and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and then earn a right to free agency, i.e. they earn, in time, the right to choose the team for which they want to play. But not Eli. Eli was special. He decided that the day he entered the league he wanted to play for the Giants, and that he was never going to play for the Chargers. To top it all, his camp actually leaked all of that news and made it common knowledge. By draft day, every new outlet had reported the news that Eli would not, under any circumstances, sign with the Chargers if drafted by them. This put the Chargers in a bind. They wanted him to be their QB, but that wasn’t going to happen. They couldn’t waste the #1 draft pick by drafting him and having him not sign a contract. They couldn’t pass up on drafting him as that would be giving in to blackmail, and would also lose them value by their appraisal of the available talent. Their best hope to salvage the situation was to deal Eli in a trade and get as much as possible in return for him. Their hand was forced.

The only organization that would (/could?) really step up to a deal was the Giants as, by all accounts, they wanted Eli to be their QB too---but thanks to Eli’s blatant repudiation, the Chargers lost valuable negotiation leverage. The Giants knew they had the upper hand---they weren't desperate to land Eli whereas the Chargers had no viable option but to unload him. This vital extra leverage was probably why the Chargers settled for a trade that included draft picks but not Osi Umenyiora, the emerging stud Giant D-lineman that the Chargers originally wanted in the deal.

That the Chargers used the picks to draft Merriman who is good (but no Umenyiora) and Kaeding (their current kicker) is irrelevant; that Rivers is a better QB than Eli in any measurable aspect is irrelevant. What is relevant is that drafts are highly unpredictable and that at the time nobody knew for sure what anyone was getting. It may well have turned out badly for the Chargers----Rivers may have turned out like Ryan Leaf and Merriman like Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones. It may have also very well been that if Eli had to play for SD, he may have flamed out a la Ryan Leaf. We will never know, and I don’t care because all that is irrelevant.

What’s relevant is that if every high and coveted draft pick played this blackmail game the league would be in chaotic shambles. So the powers that be wouldn’t let it happen and they usually don’t let it happen. Furthermore, if a black athlete from a poor background had pulled this stunt, everyone would be all over what a fucking primadonna and a thug he was. For Eli though, the rules were different. He got #1 draft-pick money and got to name his team from day one. The Chargers were pressured from all sides---the league, their fans, and the media---to resolve the situation swiftly rather than having a long drawn out ugly battle for their rights. The last name ‘Manning’, representing all the credibility banked by his father and brother with the league, paved the way for Eli’s free-agency from day one. It was blackmail, pure and simple, and it should not be condoned.

It is impossible to say who would have won SuperBowls or not if the Eli blackmail-trade hadn’t occurred. What can be said is that even through the Giants’ SuperBowl season, Eli was mediocre by any measurable standard. A case can be made that if the Giants had drafted another QB in 2004 they’d have won more than one SB by now, given their talent and performance on every other facet of the team.

But the main point is that Eli Manning had no right to rob Philip Rivers, or any other potential draftee, of the opportunity of playing with the NY Giants (already a young, studly team on the rise, and one that would have had more studs joining them via the SD-bound draft picks that the Giants wouldn‘t have had to sacrifice).

But he did, because that is what Fortunate Sons do---they steal opportunity from the less pedigreed.

I have more to say (with supporting data) about (1) Eli’s Fortunate Son-hood after arriving in NY, and (2) How Peyton was overrated for a long time (one can be very good and still overrated), but all that will have to wait till another time. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Academia, Science, Business, The Economy.


This post is inspired by three excellent posts by Juniorprof and Bikemonkey.

Firstly, Juniorprof absolutely nails it when he says “……..academia, at least the academia I know, is an important cog in a giant economic wheel. The sooner you come to terms with this, the better off you will be.”
Then, he follows that up with another excellent post ---where he analyses his place and role in, and what he can do for, the economy---including this outstanding paragraph, “So here we have a bit of evolution in legacy building, from wanting to pursue science for the sake of knowledge to wanting to alleviate suffering to hoping to be a part of the rebirth of a sustainable economy by creating and maintaining a few jobs right in front of me that might eventually blossom into a series of successful careers. I may never fix my aching leg even if I dedicate every waking moment to it. However, with a bit of cooperation from the feds and a little personal creativity, I am quite sure I can create a few jobs and foster a few careers.”

Finally, Bikemonkey follows up his election-time thoughts on Obama’s Kennedian call for participation with a great post in which he exhorts his fellow PI s to examine what they can do to answer the president-elect‘s call for action…….He starts with “Buy American. Create jobs. Simple. Isn’t it?” and ends with “we’re in this together. How about it? What changes are you going to make in your PI role to help the situation? Me, I’m planning to create jobs.”

I agree in principle with what Juniorprof and Bikemonkey are advocating. I think people in science should think and act along those lines if they do not already. That having been said, I think that what JP and BM advocate will make only a small dent in the problems we face --- if there isn't also a simultaneous and serious increase in federal funding for science.

And the reason is pretty simple---most people in academia (and small life-science companies) already operate along those principles, consciously or otherwise. Pounding the e-pavement for sources of funding, conventional or otherwise, is job mandate #1 for most PIs anyway. And as far as allocation of funds go, much of grant money goes to salaries so that fraction of money largely turns right back into the American economy. And if any grantee has the funds to create another job on a sustainable basis, he or she would be trying to hire a person as we speak. Heck, who can’t use more talent and pairs of hands? But if a grantee has some money in reserve that he/she is hesitant to use on hiring, it is likely because he/she isn’t sure that the money may not be better used elsewhere or better saved for a rainy day, i.e. he/she isn’t convinced that the potential hire is sustainable. ‘Creating’ jobs is all fine and dandy, but if you hire people and it only accelerates your departure from the job-provider scene then your hires were a dumb move. Money is tight everywhere and, for the people we are talking about, surviving as a job provider is an essential prerequisite to becoming a job creator. Sustainability is an extremely important factor to consider and sustainability requires continued money and resources. Let’s say you ‘create’ jobs and hire people----unless all your hires are people who have no wish to advance in science, how do you propose for the economy to provide conditions for the growth and advancement of those people in coming years?

As far as ordering supplies and equipment. Bikemonkey encourages PIs to buy American wherever possible but that is hard to do across the board. Labs generally scout the field and go with the best option w.r.t the price-to-performance balance. In cases where the good options are many, a number of labs would opt for local/national businesses anyway. Furthermore, in all my exposure to life-science research I have found that most of the major vendors for supplies and instrumentation have significant operations in the USA and contribute to the US economy in substantial ways (jobs, tax revenue etc) even if they are foreign-owned companies. Do you think buying from Promega over Roche is really going to make a significant difference to the US economy? I don’t.

Again, I’m not saying these ideas are no good---they do have merit. What I’m saying that in the absence of sustained funding growth they amount, essentially, to a tightening of the belt---a good and necessary move, but one that's terribly insufficient in the long run.

What we can do to really help the economy through science, however, is to hammer home the point that the NIH budget needs to be increased dramatically. Not just increased, but with a plan for year-over-year budget growth that is meaningful. That is the only way to better the economy through the scientific arena. This is the time to do it. We have an administration waiting in the wings that is smart enough to recognize the importance of science and education.

Most importantly, and we should make this case in a myriad ways, the government’s investment in the form of the NIH grant-dollar consistently results in one of the best returns on investment (ROIs) for any govt. investment. What can we really show for the trillion and a half dollars we will be spending on the Iraq war?---A bunch of Halliburton and Blackwater multimillionaires! What can we really show for the $700 billion bank-bailout?---not even an accounting for that money! What can we show for the 2 trillion dollars the Fed has lent in light of the financial crisis?---not even the identities of the entities that were the beneficiaries of this generosity!

But a billion dollars in NIH money that goes to salaries immediately results in, say, an average of 15000-20000 jobs that pay an average of 50-60K a year (I think that's a fair estimate/average---If I'm way off, feel free to smack me upside the head in comments). There are no executive bonuses, no golden handshakes and golden parachutes, no creative accounting to funnel part of that to offshore shell companies and eventually into Swiss bank accounts. Just jobs that enhance the quality of everyone’s life and, not insignificantly, feed a ton of business that services the life-science industry.
And then we can we show even more, so much more, ROI for the approx 30 billion dollars the govt invests in the NIH each year. How would you like that information? In the survival stats and quality of life of cancer patients? In the survival stats and quality of life of people with cardiovascular disease? Or simply in this form---quoted from the then NIH director’s budget request for 2007----“The estimated total cumulative investment at the NIH per American over the past 30 years including the doubling period is about $1,334 or about $44 per American per year over the entire period. In return, Americans have gained over six years of life expectancy and are aging healthier than ever before.”

For a tenth of the cost of what an average American family spends on cable, the average American gains about 2.4 months in life expectancy, and enjoys a better quality of life (health-wise), every year. Now, the NIH alone is not responsible for this, but it is certainly the single greatest driving force behind it. Would you feel better if I gave the NIH only a tenth of the credit and said “For what an average American family spends on cable, the average American gains about 2.4 months in life expectancy, and a better quality of life (health-wise), every year.” Is even that not a pretty good return on investment?

There are lots more to say, on many fronts, but I’ll stop this here for now.

I guess what I’m advocating is to tell the government to SHOW SCIENTISTS THE MONEY. They make better use of it, and get more out of it, than most other groups of investees.

Stop the wars, stop bailing out crooks and start expanding the science. That’s what we can do to bring the economy back.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Some NFL musings


I think this scenario is certainly possible, even somewhat likely:

San Diego wins two of its next three games (beat Oakland and Kansas City, and lose to Tampa Bay) and gets to 6-9 by the final week. At the same time Denver loses its next three games (Kansas City, Carolina and Buffalo) and gets to 7-8. Then in Week 17, SD beats Denver and a 7-9 team wins the AFC West. I think SD makes the playoffs in such a scenario but I don’t care enough to go look up the tie-breakers and shit like that.

That having been said, I think Denver will win the AFC West but I really don’t see them getting to 9-7--- I think they will win it at 8-8.

While all of the above excellence will be on display, a 10-6 team in the AFC---potentially the Patriots or Jets or Dolphins or Ravens or Steelers or Colts---could miss the playoffs in order to accommodate the AFC West “Champion“.
It doesn’t matter who makes the playoffs in the NFC, I don’t see anyone beating the Giants. Well, Eli “Fortunate Son” Manning can--- and he did for 3.5 years ---but the rest of the Giants have started performing at an Eli-proof level since late last year. The Cowboys have the offense to beat the Giants, but not the defense. The Eagles have the defense, and (depending on the day) the offense to beat the Giants, but that’s moot as it doesn’t appear that the Eagles are making the playoffs. The rest of the NFC, Tampa Bay and Carolina included, have only enough to make it close for 3 quarters with the Giants. I actually thought Green Bay was good enough to take on the Giants successfully in the payoffs--- not any more, and it doesn‘t look like they‘ll even make the playoffs anyway.

But you never know, I guess.
The way things stand, I think that the only team that can beat the Giants in the playoffs is the Steeler squad. Which means the Steelers will have to make the Super Bowl. And then they’ll need all their key players healthy. And after that, they’ll need their O-line to have a GREAT freaking day. I suppose it could happen.
When a visiting team turns the ball over three times--one of which you return for a TD-- and you don’t turn the ball over at all, you would think you’d win the game comfortably. Not lose it comfortably, the way the Chargers did.

Apparently the Chargers GM has assured people that Norv Turner will return the next year as head coach. The window is closing for Tomlinson and if Norv’s back I think the current iteration of the Chargers is finished. Too bad, as the Chargers could have been dominant with their talent.

Too bad on another front too---if they fired Turner the SD job would have been, by far, the best available on the market and they could have lured Bill Cowher or another really good coach pretty easily.
Finally, in Robb's league I had to choose from 3 QBs for my team this week: Peyton Manning, Matt Cassell, and Tyler Thigpen. I went with Thigpen, who ended up with 3.64 points.

But at least Thigpen made it into the positive side. Manning ended up with -1.6 while Cassell ended up with -3.57.

I chose least unwisely.


Obama's approach to leadership


President-elect Obama, in today's presser:
(as reported by TPM)

"I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made...

"I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But understand: I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions made. So as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me."

Perfect. This is what I figured in my previous commentary on his picks. He has basically now shown and said that he is picking people based on their potential ability to get things done, not based on whether they share his vision a priori.

He has set the tone, explicitly letting all the strong personalities know that, while all opinions are welcome, he expects them to execute according to his directive once he arrives at his decision.

Looks like this country will soon have a leader again.