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HLG Notebook | September 2015

1. How Much Will Technology Reveal About Player Performance?

Two great articles about wearable technology this month show how we are on the cusp of what might become an enormous transformation in professional sports. Both the NFL and the NBA are experimenting with wearable devices that track an athlete’s every movement. But as Grantland explains, collecting data on player performance creates new issues that we will be debating for years:

There is a concern about how teams use the data, and who gets to see it. A player could lose a lot of negotiating leverage if the devices appear to reveal some underlying structural weakness in his body… Is access limited to that player’s team, or would all wearable data from every game end up in a league-wide database every team could use? What happens if the media finds out about some wearable red alert?

2. Did The EPA Make It Harder To Catch Volkswagen?

We will be reading about the “lessons of Volkswagen” for the next decade. Wired offers one of the first – and most surprising – assessments:

One of the biggest ironies of the Volkswagen case is that the Environmental Protection Agency actually fought rules that could have made it easier for independent researchers to catch the company’s cheating. The EPA reasoned that making it easier for the public to experiment with the software that runs emissions systems would make it easier for consumers to circumvent pollution controls. Clearly that approach backfired.

3. Creative Destructive And The Taxi Industry

The American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry offers devastating evidence of how Uber has undone the taxi industry. With a killer chart, Perry shows us that, after tracking the S&P 500 Index for decades, the share price of Medallion Financial – a publicly traded company that buys and resells New York taxi licenses – has fallen by 58% from its November 2013 peak during a time when the S&P 500 has increased by 7.1%.

The article is one of the most in-depth looks at “creative destruction,” candidly addressing whether we should have sympathy for the legacy taxi drivers and traditional car service chauffeurs.

4. How To Refute False Claims About Vaccines

Jen Gunter, an obstetrician, gynecologist, and pain management specialist, blogs on a variety of medical topics. This month she responded to a letter to the editor published in the Baltimore Sun that repeated many of the false claims about the HPV vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer. She dismantles the authors, point-by-point:

The authors regurgitate the same anti-vaccine fallacies that appear in almost every bit of anti-HPV propaganda….Here’s the truth about the HPV vaccine. More than 175 million doses have been distributed world-wide. No credible study has linked the vaccine with adverse events beyond pain and redness at the injection site. This is one of the most widely tested medications.

A superb example of how to refute critics with facts.

5. Can The Climate Movement Change?

Alex Evans’s speech to Save the Children argues that the climate movement has evolved from “a priesthood of experts” to a populist coalition for changing values. He makes a cogent argument, from an activist perspective, about what has improved in the global warming political strategy – and what still needs to be done:

Climate activists are now speaking with a strong, morally grounded voice that’s totally different from the old, leaden, technocratic language we used to hear. But it’s still…an “enemy narrative”. We’re the goodies, and others – Exxon, Shell, the Koch brothers – are the baddies.

6. The Vanity Of Book Blurbs

NPR launches an investigation into whether what George Orwell called “the disgusting tripe that is written by the blurb-reviewers” actually generates sales. The evidence is thin. And yet, editors and publishers keep demanding blurbs. No one is more prolific in this field than novelist Gary Shteyngart, who has blurbed more than 150 titles. He is unapologetic:

“I’ll look at a first sentence [of a galley], I’ll look at the cover and it just comes to me,” he says. “Reading randomly from a book is also very helpful. Sometimes I try to read further – but you know, how far can you get? Does anyone even read these books anymore?” That said, he doesn’t hold back. “I’ve compared people to Shakespeare, Tolstoy or whatever,” he says. “I’ll do anything.”

Shteyngart’s canon of book blurbs is the subject of a mocking Tumblr site.