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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Freakonomics: How to Live Longer (Get Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame!)

Kenny! You bastards!

 

” cols=“100” rows=“20”>

DUBNER: Thank you — to you as well.  Today, big news: the baseball Hall of Fame voting was announced — I don’t know if you caught that — and a grand total of zero people were elected to the Hall of Fame this year.

RYSSDAL: Now, were you surprised?

DUBNER: I was a little bit surprised.  It’s the first time since 1996.  You know, all the talk was about the fact that because the steroid age is happening now and guys like Clemens and Bonds, who deserved to be in, but won’t be elected …

RYSSDAL: Oh, oh!  Wait a minute.  Are we going to have to have that conversation?  You think they deserve to be in?

DUBNER: Well, no.  I’m not having that conversation — that’s another conversation.  But the argument was that because those guys are not going to get elected, it would free up a little bit more space, potentially.  But, as it turns out, nobody got in.  And, I gotta tell ya – this is what I’m here to talk about today – this is bad news. If you get nominated to a Hall of Fame and don’t get in — not only do you not get in, but I hate to tell you this, Kai, you actually might die a little bit sooner.

RYSSDAL: Ow!  Because?  Because?  Why?

DUBNER: Well, there’s a growing body of research that looks at the relationship between what we call “status,” generally, and life expectancy. So the economist David Becker – he looked at Baseball Hall of Fame data and he found that while a player who gets elected to the Hall of Fame doesn’t necessarily outlive the average baseball player, he does live a couple years longer than a player who gets nominated for the Hall of Fame but, year after year, gets rejected. Here’s David Becker:

David BECKER: “This seems to suggest to us that it’s really the story that getting close but not winning is what’s really bad for health, which we think is potentially a really profound point about the nature of status competition more broadly in our society.”

RYSSDAL: So actually it’s not “an honor just to be nominated.”

Oh my god, they killed Kenny! You bastards!

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 15, 2013 at 12:57 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: freaknomics, hall of fame

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   1. Weeks T. Olive Posted: January 15, 2013 at 03:30 PM (#4347647)
*grumblegrumblegrumble* Poor Ron Santo *grumblegrumble*
   2. SoSH U at work Posted: January 15, 2013 at 04:09 PM (#4347687)
*grumblegrumblegrumble* Poor Ron Santo *grumblegrumble*


I wonder how much of this average is based on poor Ron Santo and even poorer Gil Hodges and Nellie Fox? I suppose it's possible the pain of rejection caused Hodges' heart attack, but I'm pretty damn positive the BBWAA and Vets committees didn't give Santo diabetes or Fox skin cancer.
   3. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: January 15, 2013 at 04:19 PM (#4347699)
Sounds like typical Freakonomics - superficially clever misuse of data to support a weirdly regressive thesis.
   4. AROM Posted: January 15, 2013 at 04:26 PM (#4347705)
So yes, steroid moralists, you ARE imposing capital punishment on Bonds and Clemens.
   5. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 15, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4347714)
   6. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: January 15, 2013 at 05:33 PM (#4347771)
At least some of the data for the paper is here (link is to a PDF).

I listened to this live, when Dubner was talking to Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace. Dubner said that the same effect occurs in other areas -- Oscar winners outlive Oscar nominees, Nobel Prize winners outlive top researchers who don't win Nobel Prizes. The idea that acclaim and status helps you live longer isn't terribly bizarre, because we're social animals and social things can have physical effects. It's just not proven from just these samples. I mean, maybe Oscar winners are on the whole slightly more physically vigorous than their peers, and this extra vigor helps them win more awards and live longer as well. Maybe guys who miss the Hall just lacked 1% of the health of the guys who made it. Maybe it's just flukes or poor controls or sample size noise.

On a related note, is there anyone on the planet as pleased with himself as Kai Ryssdal? Kai Ryssdal loves being Kai Ryssdal more, I think, than anyone else loves anything.
   7. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: January 15, 2013 at 05:35 PM (#4347776)
Freakonomics: Hey check out this weird correlation that we're going to imply is causation because we think you don't know any better and because we're too ####### lazy to do real work.

Seriously. Stephen Levitt is one of the biggest wastes of talent in the history of academia. What a ####### maroon.
   8. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: January 15, 2013 at 05:45 PM (#4347792)
Seriously. Stephen Levitt is one of the biggest wastes of talent in the history of academia. What a ####### maroon.


Well, Levitt is at the University of Chicago, so of course he's a Maroon.
   9. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 15, 2013 at 05:50 PM (#4347796)
I listened to this live, when Dubner was talking to Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace.


Me too. The first thing I thought of was "this sample size is too small." The second thing I thought of was that Atlantic piece a few months ago about academics fudging the numbers to come up with a provocative eye-catching thesis.
   10. Mess with the Meat, you get the Wad! Posted: January 16, 2013 at 02:36 AM (#4347967)
But what if the story in the Atlantic was fudged?

*head explodes*
   11. The District Attorney Posted: January 16, 2013 at 02:58 AM (#4347971)
I dunno about that, but I saw a Scientology story there the other day that was eye-opening!
   12. Dr. Vaux Posted: January 16, 2013 at 03:03 AM (#4347972)
It's hilarious that this study got published, and yet as soon as it was posted here it was thoroughly debunked within 7 posts.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: January 16, 2013 at 08:07 AM (#4347983)
How'd that work out for Roberto Clemente, huh? Or Kirby Puckett?

So yes, steroid moralists, you ARE imposing capital punishment on Bonds and Clemens.

Au contraire, it's "close misses" that kill ya apparently and that's over 50%. The anti-roiders are truly following the "love the sinner" edict and trying to keep all the real roiders alive longer.

But look what's being done to poor Jack Morris -- Murray Chass, serial killer!

Santo was 70 when he died -- I know, I'm hoping to make it way past that but he wasn't exactly young. I'd guess 70 years is a pretty long life for a diabetic born in 1940. Also he wasn't a close miss.

#5: I just get the abstract.

Study seems meh enough. They control for b-r height/weight (that's useful!), whether the guy went to college (although this too is from b-r so it's whether he played baseball in college), CoD. It's not clear how they handle guys who died while still eligible. And of course some guys might have "near misses" precisely because they're getting votes due to being in ill health.

I am trying to figure out who these "close misses" are. Hodges, Fox, Bunning, Cepeda. Bunning (81) and Cepeda (75) are still going. Did I miss anybody who got 50% but didn't make it by the writers? OK, I missed Enos Slaughter who made it to 86. Sam Rice lived to 84. Eppa Rixey lived to 71.

Holy crap, it really could be this bad. From the abstract:

Life expectancy falls by 3 percent for each ballot with a vote share over 50 percent but below the 75 percent threshold required for induction

Hodges died in 1972. He hit exactly 50% in 1971, fell back in 72 then back over 50% after he died. There's a good chance they're estimating his life expectancy after he's dead. Fox died in 75 and didn't hit 50% until 1984.

I'm now guessing they wrote a terrible abstract or don't fully understand their own model. This is probably comparing BBWAA-inducted HoFers with lots of "close misses" to other players. Their abstract strongly implies that's not what they mean by a near miss but unless they completely mis-modeled this and Hodges and Fox do count as deaths due to near miss, I can't see how else they could have gotten these results.



It's hilarious that this study got published

The abstract is to a conference abstract.

   14. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: January 16, 2013 at 08:52 AM (#4347988)
I'm pretty damn positive the BBWAA and Vets committees didn't give Santo diabetes or Fox skin cancer.


You underestimate the BBWAA.
   15. BDC Posted: January 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM (#4348075)
Oscar winners outlive Oscar nominees

I am so not a statistician, but it seems to me there'd be a built-in bias to these numbers, at least. You have people like Martin Landau, Alan Arkin, and Christopher Plummer, honored as much for a lifetime's work as for a single late-career performance, who wouldn't have won without surviving that long to begin with. By the same token you have people like James Dean and Montgomery Clift, who might very well have won Oscars had they lived, but naturally weren't going to do so dead. (Well, I suppose Heath Ledger is an exception.) Anyway, if your chances of winning something increase with age, then of course the winners are going to live longer on average.
   16. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: January 16, 2013 at 11:17 AM (#4348080)

I'm pretty damn positive the BBWAA and Vets committees didn't give Santo diabetes or Fox skin cancer.


We still don't know the full health effects of having that absurdly bright green website background on at the BBWAA site.
   17. kthejoker Posted: January 16, 2013 at 11:32 AM (#4348096)
Bob: If it makes feel you better, actual statisticians agreed with you, and did their own study which proves exactly what you suggest:

The statistical method used to derive this statistically significant difference gave winners an unfair advantage because it credited an Oscar winner's years of life before winning toward survival subsequent to winning. When [we] reanalyzed the data using methods that avoided this "immortal time" bias, the survival advantage was closer to 1 year and was not statistically significant. The bias in Redelmeier and Singh's study is not limited to longevity comparisons of persons who reach different ranks within their profession."


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy_Award_for_Best_Actor#Life_expectancy_of_winners

PS It is weird calling you "Bob" since your name probably isn't really Bob. Also, bob bob bob.
   18. BDC Posted: January 16, 2013 at 11:52 AM (#4348115)
Thanks, kthejoker! Which is probably not your name either :) Mine is Tim, but I don't have the status of some posters around here whose names are irrepressible behind their handles. I'm hardly anonymous, though; I just like the handle.

It strikes me that the age at which one might win an Oscar or Nobel Prize – or election to the Hall of Fame, for that matter – might vary so greatly as to make most of these status/longevity connections meaningless. (And in a Nobel field like Literature, as with Oscars, Harold Pinter wins while Sylvia Plath doesn't; so what? In fact, Harold Pinter lived a very long time as a Nobel reject, finally won the Prize, and was dead at a ripe old age a couple of years later.)

Better would be something like Rhodes Scholar finalists vs. Rhodes Scholars. They're mostly the same young age when they reach a single, one-time juncture. Do the ones with higher status proceed to live longer? Somebody may well have studied this …
   19. Der-K: Hipster doofus Posted: January 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM (#4348147)
I like Freakonomics, but you need to bring a bit more than the usual amount of healthy skepticism to the table with their stuff. This was not a compelling piece, for the reasons mentioned above.
   20. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: January 16, 2013 at 01:42 PM (#4348238)
I think people are being a bit too reflexively dismissive of Freakonomics -- or Steven Levitt, anyway. This study is silly, of course, a sort of stunt result that doesn't mean anything, but a fair amount of Levitt's work is both well-founded and insightful. The fact that it bugs people is a large part of why he gets written off by a certain sort of pseudo-smart person who thinks automatic opposition to perceived glibness isn't its own sort of glibness.
   21. Austin Posted: January 16, 2013 at 02:28 PM (#4348295)
#20 - I like the way you put that. I'd also say people think Levitt is more famous than he deserves and overcompensate by reflexively ripping apart anything he publishes. There's almost always ample room to criticize any study in any area of economics, so if you approach his work with the attitude that it's stupid and wrong, you're going to find yourself quite able to frame it in a negative light. As you say, much of his work really has been quite influential within the field. He's no worse than any other economist, but because his stuff can come off as frivolous, many people see only the worst in it and fail to appreciate the best.
   22. Random Transaction Generator Posted: January 16, 2013 at 04:04 PM (#4348373)
The Freakonomics podcast is fantastic. Their 5-6 minute pieces on Marketplace aren't that good (too short and glib), but the longer pieces (30-60 minutes) are great fun. I'd definitely recommend it for weekly listening.
   23. Dr. Vaux Posted: January 16, 2013 at 04:47 PM (#4348399)
The abstract is to a conference abstract.


That makes me feel better. I've seen some terrible things at conferences! I saw a paper a couple of years ago in which the author was analyzing the intricacies of text-setting in a song cycle, but didn't seem to understand that she was using as her text a translation that frequently resulted in changed word-order.
   24. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: January 16, 2013 at 05:00 PM (#4348405)
It strikes me that the age at which one might win an Oscar or Nobel Prize – or election to the Hall of Fame, for that matter – might vary so greatly as to make most of these status/longevity connections meaningless.

Most of the science Nobel Prize winners are going to be right near the end of their careers when they get the prize. Although there are several recent exceptions, with the Green Fluorescent Protein guys, the graphene guys, the Japanese stem cell guy.

Theoretical physics is different though. It's like mathematics. I keep being amazed that someone is deemed one of the top theoretical physicists well before age 50. This guy seems to be treated with the same reverence I would give someone like David Baltimore.
   25. Gonfalon B. Posted: January 16, 2013 at 05:57 PM (#4348452)
They control for b-r height/weight (that's useful!), whether the guy went to college

College food IS pretty terrible.
   26. Walt Davis Posted: January 16, 2013 at 05:58 PM (#4348453)
I am so not a statistician, but it seems to me there'd be a built-in bias to these numbers

Not if done right ... and #17 is scary in that the original authors could make such a fundamental and obvious mistake ... and it makes me think it more likely the HoF study made the same mistake. These guys did not do well in their econometrics classes.

That said the bias is probably less in the HoF study. Players will be about the same age when they hit the ballot. If they're in the "almost but not quite" set, they probably mostly hit 50% at about the same age too. The main problem would be Hodges and Fox ... well that and that I'm not sure we're talking about more than 8 near misses which is too small a sample to say anything sensible about and I don't care if the effect is statistically significant.

Anyway, it's pretty easy to model this sort of thing "correctly" using time-varying covariates and survival models.

There's also the problem of ascribing any effect to "status." How about just plain ol' stress. If you've ever watched "This Old Cub" (Santo's son's movie), Santo is a freaking wreck waiting for that HoF call and immediately thereafter. Oscar night may be similar for nominees. But those types of "status events" aren't that common -- i.e. you don't really know if you're up for Time's Man of the Year or a MacArthur Genius grant or whatever.

And it's not clear that those events are necessarily any different (from a health perspective) than knowing you've been shortlisted for a job but didn't get it. Is that a blow to your social status? Or a blow to your future income and career prospects? Or mean you have to stay in the crappy, stressful job you've got?

And it may be just anecdotal but it's long been said that the career death sentence is winning the "best supporting" Oscar. So maybe you live longer, you just don't ever get a good role again.
   27. Zach Posted: January 16, 2013 at 07:33 PM (#4348499)
There's a clear distinction in quality between players who make the Hall of Fame and near misses. Particularly because so many near misses come down to a rapid decline in the early 30s. Are the two populations really all that comparable at age 35, say?
   28. Zach Posted: January 16, 2013 at 07:39 PM (#4348504)
Theoretical physics is different though. It's like mathematics. I keep being amazed that someone is deemed one of the top theoretical physicists well before age 50. This guy seems to be treated with the same reverence I would give someone like David Baltimore.

Just from observation, the age at which theorists make their big contributions has been creeping up. Almost all of Dirac's major contributions were made before he was 30, but nowadays the sweet spot of the career is probably 35-55.

Regarding string theory, I would place it closer to math than to physics. The problems those guys work on are extremely specialized, highly technical, and have essentially zero connection with experiment. As a theoretical physicist, I have a lot more in common with chemists or even biologists than string theorists.
   29. The Clarence Thomas of BBTF (scott) Posted: January 16, 2013 at 09:52 PM (#4348616)
The reason people tear Levitt down is because the stuff he got known for outside of the world of economics is ####### glib as all hell, and makes him come across as a smirking ####### who doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to very simple concepts that you'd expect an economist to have a handle on. And given that he's then run with that completely undeserved fame and decided to continually churn out more statistically illiterate ######## that keeps him in the pop culture eye, he deserves every last bit of hatred he gets.
   30. Walt Davis Posted: January 17, 2013 at 02:12 AM (#4348801)
There's a clear distinction in quality between players who make the Hall of Fame and near misses. Particularly because so many near misses come down to a rapid decline in the early 30s. Are the two populations really all that comparable at age 35, say?

[Note, I don't trust the summary of the results of this study or that it was well done but let's pretend it's "the truth" ...]

In terms of mortality? Probably. Even if baseball injured, few folks die from hamstring problems. :-)

Presumably a "the well-aging group is more athletic and healthier than the non-well-aging group" argument is plausible but this study finds that HoFers don't differ from the general baseball population, it's the near misses that stand out. There's even something about being inducted by the VC adding a few years back on. Why wouldn't the HoFers have an advantage over the general population if mortality was related to small differences among elite athletes?

I could see an argument for co-morbidity I guess -- the guys who collapse early might often be the actual fat ones who get fatter as time goes on. But then being overweight is not a major risk for mortality so that shouldn't matter. (Mortality risk doesn't really kick in until BMI>35)
   31. Zach Posted: January 17, 2013 at 09:58 AM (#4348876)
[Note, I don't trust the summary of the results of this study or that it was well done but let's pretend it's "the truth" ...]

Granted.

but this study finds that HoFers don't differ from the general baseball population, it's the near misses that stand out.

Isn't that what you would expect if injuries were the cause rather than status? The Hall of Famers get a boost in status relative to the rest of the population, while the near misses (again, I'm assuming) have had career sapping injuries. If the Hall of Famers are getting a boost, why aren't they living longer than the general population?

I should say that I don't believe my own hypothesis. There are too many injuries that sap performance without obviously changing life expectancy. Sandy Koufax retired early with a busted left arm, but spends his retirement running marathons. (True, he is a Hall of Famer. But the early retirement due to injury is exactly what I'm talking about.)
   32. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: January 17, 2013 at 10:05 AM (#4348879)
Also, bob bob bob.


ba ba baran.

Most of the science Nobel Prize winners are going to be right near the end of their careers when they get the prize.


Not so sure about that. You mention David Baltimore, who was 37 when he won in 1975, and everybody seemed to think that was just impossibly young. But Howard Temin was only four years older than Baltimore. Of course, they shared the prize with Renato Dulbecco, who was 61 at the time. Also, I didn't realize that Dulbecco died just last year the age of 97, so there's one data point. Sadly, Temin didn't make it to 60.

Watson was 34 when he won; Crick was 46. I checked a dozen or so other Physiology/Medicine winners OTTOMH, and there seems to be a lot of clustering right around 50 with a longer tail on the older side than the younger.

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