Saturday, October 12, 2013

NYTranslated: Does music make you successful?

Is Music the Key to Success?
by Joanne Lipman, translated by Steve White

Condoleeza Rice, the chief advisor to George W. Bush, the least successful president in recent memory, was a trained concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, the man who inflated the housing bubble as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, also played music as a child. Other people you have never heard of, the fat numbers gay at MSNBC, and the least deserving Best Director winner of all time also play or played music.

I know correlation is not causation, but in this case we'll just assume it is: music training makes people successful. I know because I asked a bunch of successful people who played music if music made them successful. They said maybe it had something to do with it now that I mention it.

You might ask why I asked people I knew were successful and who play music. Doesn't that beg the question on the correlation. Yes, but I was scared that if I asked successful people who didn't play music (most of them) that they might not attribute their success to music. I was even more afraid to talk to average people who played music (i.e. the vast majority) because it might force me to change my mind.

So, yes, I can't offer evidence for why music makes you smart, but I can offer a half-baked theory filled with buzzwords. Music is about collaboration, except when you play solo like most of the people I talked to. It focuses your mind, like mindfulness training except not as well. And it to play you have to listen and listening is good. I'll stop because you are probably convinced at this point.

Mr. Greenspan told me that the probability that so many high achievers played music in school is unlikely to be coincidence. Sociologists I consulted pointed out that everyone on my list was white or from an affluent household, and in most cases both, but I'm pretty sure that has nothing to do with their success.

So let me clarify. Music won't turn you into a star in your field. That probably requires hard work . . . in your field. But music education should be subsidized heavily so rich white kids can attribute their success to their violin and ignore the underlying social inequalities it represents.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Is a home run just a home run?

In sabermetrics, the statistical analysis of baseball, there is a lot of work done to estimate the value of players to team. How valuable is a player who hits .330 with an OBP of .387 with 12 HR? Is he more valuable than someone hitting .347 but with just a .365 OBP and 2 HR?

To make life simple sabermetricians generally try to answer questions like this by focusing on the player and his hits, walks, etc. and ignore what team he plays for and where he bats in the lineup. Stats like RBIs and runs depend on what other players do--unless you hit a home run someone needs to bat you in, and likewise you need someone on base to generate RBIs.

Traditionally this criticism is brushed aside as unimportant. The goal of asking "who is more valuable?" is to find our who is better and that question doesn't hinge on how good the other players are, does it?

But a home run isn't just a home run. The more people who are on base, the more runs you score when you hit a home run. Whether you play for a good offensive team or a bad one could have a big impact on how many runs a home run tends to be worth.

In fact, it DOES have a big impact on how valuable a player is by up to 40%. Replacing a replacement level hitter with Mike Trout would turn the Marlins' terrible offense (515 runs) into a merely bad one (584 runs predicted) for a gain of 69 runs. Doing the same trick for the Red Sox's potent offense could push a strong offense (853 runs) into the stratosphere (949 runs) for a gain of 96 runs.

96 runs is not "approximately" the same as 69 runs. It's important to take context into account when thinking about value.