Inside Track

The Stories Behind the Data

The Stories Behind the Data

By Eric P. Harding

I love the game of baseball. As a seasonal proxy, it’s perfect—the lack of a clock mimics the long days of summer, and for me nothing encapsulates the spirit of leisure associated with the season like a day-night doubleheader.

Even before I knew much about the game, I was fascinated with the data. When I was a kid, I pored over the agate type on page 2 of the Evening Independent’s sports section—looking at the box scores and the AL and NL stat leaders. This was a few years before the sabermetrics revolution, so WAR and BABIP weren’t yet part of the conversation; no, I had to sate my curiosity on good ol’ RBIs, strikeouts, and home runs.

An enterprising youngster with an early bedtime could put together a pretty good approximation of a West Coast tilt that involved his beloved Indians—or so I thought.

Little did I know how incomplete a picture I was getting by just sticking to the data. Because as I’ve aged, I have come to realize that it’s the connective tissue that holds the data together that I find most alluring—the season-long storylines; the long, gutsy at-bat that tires an opposing pitcher that never makes it to the box score but nonetheless changes the complexion of the game—that’s what baseball’s about for me now.

Data gave me a way into the game, as a math-loving kid. But the stories behind that data are what grab me now and keep me loving the game. (It helps, of course, that the Tribe has been the hottest team in baseball over the past month…)

Our features this month all have a fascinating story to tell … and maybe a bit of data to boot.

Our first feature, “Bugging Out,” author Mike Malloy tells the story of the tug-of-war between antibiotics and pathogens. Drug-resistant “superbugs” have been getting a lot of headlines; the specter of a disease that can’t be stopped is indeed a scary one. Malloy goes beyond the hype, though, and delivers a hard-hitting feature on the costs and potential paths forward.

In our second feature, “Lead and Succeed,” Ari Szafranski has advice for first-time personnel managers. In 10 straightforward tenets, he lays out a vision for how to build a team, and how to get the most from the members of that team. His story of success should inspire new managers—and maybe give veteran leaders some new insights to chew on.

Finally, in “Calculating Despair,” author Jeff Reeves unpacks the costs—financial and societal—of drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. An evenhanded look at the rapid rise in death rates attributable to these scourges, this piece attempts to tell the story behind the data: why these mortality trends have come to pass, and what might be done about them.

As always, thank you for reading this issue. And please feel free to write me at editor@actuary.org if you have a story to tell.

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