February 3, 2017

The Guardian - How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next 17min

Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety, rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didn’t always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory. ... the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics. The image of statistics as a dispassionate science of society is only one part of the story. The other part is about how powerful political ideals became invested in these techniques: ideals of “evidence-based policy”, rationality, progress and nationhood grounded in facts, rather than in romanticised stories.

The New Yorker - The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS 75min

The SWAT team was created in 2008 and, in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, conducted raids in Mosul to arrest high-value terrorism suspects. After the American withdrawal from the country, in 2011, the unit hunted down insurgents on its own. ... In the areas it controls, ISIS typically offers Iraqi security forces a kind of amnesty by means of an Islamic procedure called towba, in which one repents and pledges allegiance to the Caliphate. But the SWAT team was not eligible for towba. ... Aside from martial aptitude, there were two principal requirements for recruits: they had to have been wounded by ISIS or its Islamist precursors—either physically, by bullets and blasts, or psychically, by the death of a loved one—and they had to crave revenge. ... For them, the Mosul offensive was merely the continuation of a war that they had been fighting most of their lives. When the men referred to older terrorist groups that had wounded them or killed their relatives—Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Jaesh al-Mujahideen, or obscurer offshoots—they always called them Daesh, the Arabic term for ISIS, even though ISIS, in most cases, did not yet exist. ... The unit was small and lacked logistical support: there was no one to bring them food, water, ammunition, or extra weapons, let alone reinforcements. They didn’t have their own medics, intelligence officers, mechanics, engineers, or bomb technicians. They had no mortar or artillery teams (or any contact with units that did have them). No one on the SWAT team was authorized to request air support. None of the American advisers embedded with the various military divisions seemed to know that the unit existed.

MIT Technology Review - Google’s Long, Strange Life Span Trip 9min

The company’s mission: to build a Bell Labs of aging research. It hoped to extend the human life span by coming up with a breakthrough as important, and as useful to humanity, as the transistor has been. ... Google’s founders created an academic-biotech hybrid they call an R&D company to follow up on such clues, providing nearly unlimited funding to a group of top researchers. ... despite the hype around its launch—Time magazine asked, “Can Google Solve Death?”—Calico has remained a riddle, a super-secretive company that three years in hasn’t published anything of note, rebuffs journalists, and asks visiting scientists to sign nondisclosure agreements. ... Right now, there’s no proven test for a person’s “biological” age; finding one would be scientifically useful and possibly lucrative. ... For all these diseases, aging is the single biggest risk factor. An 80-year-old is 40 times as likely to die from cancer as someone middle-aged. The risk for Alzheimer’s rises by 600 times. But what if it were possible to postpone all these deaths by treating aging itself? … The experiment will generate millions of readings—for levels of growth hormones and glucose, among other things. Churchill wouldn’t say how much Calico is paying, but simply feeding that many mice could cost $3 million.

Credit Suisse - Looking for Easy Games: How Passive Investing Shapes Active Management 55min

Investors are shifting their investment allocations from active to passive management. This trend has accelerated in recent years. The investors who are shifting from active to passive are less informed than those who stay. This is equivalent to the weak players leaving the poker table. Since the winners need losers, this can make the market even more efficient, and hence less attractive, for those who remain. If you can’t identify the patsy, or weak player, it’s probably you. ... Passive management has lower costs than active management and hence delivers higher returns per dollar invested than active management does in the aggregate. However, passive management introduces the possibility of market distortions, including crowding and illiquidity. Exchange-traded funds, in particular, are worth watching closely because of their explosive growth and high trading volume. ... Four drivers have led to the development of the mutual fund industry and, more recently, to the shift toward passive investing. These include regulation, the market environment, technology, and the balance between informed and uninformed investors.

Sports Illustrated - All In: Behind the scenes with the Golden Knights, Vegas's first major league franchise 10min

He flips through some speech notes. "A simple talk," he promises, though this evening is a culmination of a much longer story, which SI will cover in depth over the next 10 months. It starts with an impatient Army brat paired with a locally rooted family, both rich and motivated enough to make history. Success required the financial might of Las Vegas Boulevard's neon properties, of course, but also support from much of the area's almost 2.2 million residents: ironworkers laying rebar, electricians wiring marquees, lawyers, bartenders, singers, the Pawn Stars star.... The expansion fee alone cost $500 million—more than 1.5 times what Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota and Columbus combined paid in the NHL's last round of expansion—most of the outlay pulled from Foley's personal fortune. The ultimate reward will come next fall when the first puck drops. ... Three years ago, when expansion to Las Vegas was just talk, none of this really seemed possible. The NHL was still regrouping from its partial-season lockout of 2012--13, and business-side rumors focused more on relocation than growth. The area behind the New York-New York roller coaster contained offices and parking lots, not a $375 million arena featuring a velvet-roped nightclub in the rafters offering bottle service.