Numlock News: July 15, 2022 • Lottos, ShotSpotter, Mathletes
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
A single, otherwise unremarkable public high school in Florida has won 13 out of the most recent 14 National Math Championships, a staggeringly successful dynasty for an otherwise average school. It’s accomplished this through treating math competition as any other sport, identifying talent as early as elementary school and developing them over the course of several years through a completely redesigned curriculum. An emphasis on speed also is crucial, and the results are pretty inarguable: The margin of victory at the national title over the past 14 years has averaged 315 points, which in 2021 jumped to 920 points.
In the United Kingdom, the ruling conservative party is about to embark on a leadership election, and the polls are showing many contending candidates with significant ways to go when it comes to name recognition. About 60 percent recognized the name of Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt was recognized by 40 percent of respondents, and Liz Truss by 33 percent of respondents. According to the survey of 1,000 British adults, 12 percent reported knowing a great deal or a fair amount about MP Stewart Lewis, which is particularly interesting because MP Stewart Lewis doesn’t exist and was made up by the pollsters to figure out how many respondents were just making it up as they go along. Indeed, 6 percent of respondents said they knew a “great deal” about MP Lewis, which is incidentally more than actual contenders Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat.
Over 200 jurisdictions use ShotSpotter products, which purportedly can triangulate the location of gunshots within a city. This is expensive tech: Chicago added an additional year to their $33 million contract with ShotSpotter for another $5.7 million, and New York signed a $22 million contract with ShotSpotter in December that gives them access through 2024. The issue, though, is that a new study has found that there’s not a ton of evidence the tech actually works as hoped, and that it’s a very expensive set of technology that doesn’t materially improve outcomes. An audit done by Chicago’s Inspector General found ShotSpotter only resulted in evidence of a gun-related offense 9.1 percent of 50,000 alerts for probable gunshots. Police were more likely to stop people based on the frequency of ShotSpotter alerts, and when you put the ShotSpotters in poor neighborhoods the result can be disproportionate policing.
Lots of states have lotteries, but the actual dirty business of running the statewide gambling operation is delegated to third-party companies, specifically one of two big lotto firms: Scientific Games Holdings and International Game Technology PLC. In 2020 they dominated the $82 billion lotto ticket sale market, which grew during the pandemic while other gaming businesses crashed. Scientific Games revenue from the lottery business hit $918 million in 2020, up from $911 million in 2019, while IGT saw only a mild 5.6 percent dip in their lottery revenues ($2.2 billion) while its gaming operations as a whole fell 45 percent. This industry consolidation and a lack of competition between the five largest lotto firms also means that there isn’t actually a single American company operating an American lottery: Scientific Games and Pollard are Canadian, IGT and Camelot are British, and Intralot is Greek.
Inflation is affecting lots of things in the energy business, but fossil fuels more so than renewables. This means that while costs for renewables have gone up in general, the cost difference between burning coal or gas and running solar and wind is actually widening. For instance, it’s $27.80 cheaper to produce a megawatt-hour of electricity by onshore wind over coal, and $28.30 cheaper to produce it with solar over coal, a savings that grew from $19.10 and $11.40 respectively three years ago. Gas, too, is much more expensive to use for electricity generation than renewables than it was three years ago: Onshore wind’s value over gas grew from $10.20 a megawatt-hour three years ago to $35 a megawatt-hour this year, and solar’s value over gas jumped from $2.50 three years ago to $35.50 now.
Conceptually, antibiotics work really well to treat disease: You’re sick, you take some antibiotics, you beat the bug, you stop taking antibiotics. The issue is that means there’s little money for drug companies in developing new ones, as the treatments that deliver the biggest bang for the buck are pills that people take indefinitely to treat disease. As a result, major drug manufacturers don’t really have a financial incentive to develop new antibiotics — since 1990, 78 major drug companies scaled back antibiotic research — which is an issue as antibiotic resistance is making the antibiotics we do have less effective. In the U.S., it’s estimated that the cost to fix the broken market would be $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year, but that would involve overhauling how we handle the drugs — as a common good like infrastructure — rather than a for-profit system.
Last winter was a volatile one for homes heated by propane or heating oil, with a study projecting U.S. households heated with natural gas would spend 30 percent more than the previous winter’s average, homes with oil heating would spend 43 percent more, and propane-heated homes would see their costs jump 54 percent. Meanwhile, households using electricity-powered heat pumps saw their costs increase 6 percent. A greener grid reduces those costs: In Quebec, for instance, which is largely powered by hydroelectric dams, they saw some of the largest savings.
In the Sunday edition, I spoke to Alexander Kaufman, who wrote The Netherlands, Facing Energy And Climate Crises, Bets On A Nuclear Revival for HuffPost. We spoke about what’s going on in the Netherlands and how nuclear is revolutionizing how countries like Finland, Romania and Japan address a dire global moment for energy needs. He can be found at HuffPost, on Twitter and he’s got a really great newsletter that you should check out that updates when he drops a new big story.
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