In defence of Statistics Canada’s request for financial data

In defence of Statistics Canada's request for financial data statistics, nevin manimala

Statistics Canada’s proposal to collect a range of detailed financial data from 500,000 Canadians has certainly touched a nerve.

Many commentators argue this invades privacy and is overreach, while only a few brave pundits defend the plan. The tide of public opinion has turned and our system of official statistics is under serious threat.

Three questions need answering.

First, why does Statistics Canada need financial transactions data?

Second, how does direct access to financial records make official statistics more reliable and efficient?

Third, are the financial data that Statistics Canada wishes to access all that different from the information already shared by the financial industry?

The origins of the census

To answer the first question, let’s go back to before Confederation. Legislation passed in 1847 specified the need for population counts and the collection of criminal statistics. It directed the government (at that time the Province of Canada) to complete a census of population and to:

“…institute inquiries and collect useful facts and statistics relating to the Agricultural, Mechanical and Manufacturing interests of the Province…to promote improvements in the Province and to encourage immigration from other Countries.”

The present-day Statistics Act closely reflects the sentiments of this initial legislation.

Official statistics, comprising the census and other “useful facts and statistics,” serve both public and private purposes.

Public purposes include diverse activities like allocating government grants for arts and sports, calibration tax revenue models, planning major infrastructure and calculating key economic indicators such as the unemployment rate and consumer price index.

Private uses include special extracts from the census to target postal codes to locate boomers or millennials in direct mail campaigns. Population projections are basic to business planning. Elsewhere, I have argued that reliable and valid official statistics are essential to combating fake news in our post-truth society.

In other words, official statistics are a public good serving Canadian society.

‘Methodological innovations’

Second, to understand why it’s important to have direct access to financial data, we need some context on the many methodological innovations that have maintained our official statistics as population grew and Canada expanded.

One notable innovation directly related to the current controversy was the Corporation and Labour Unions Returns Act of 1964 (CALURA) that replaced business surveys with direct access to corporate tax returns.

In addition to eliminating response burden, such direct access to tax data improved response rates, accuracy and timeliness of reporting.

In defence of Statistics Canada's request for financial data statistics, nevin manimalaScandinavians share lots of data, including financial information, and it’s replacing census surveys. Here’s the Danish Danske Bank, the largest in northern Europe. Shutterstock

Direct access to administrative data is the future for official statistics, including the census, as the Scandinavian countries have demonstrated. In those countries, administrative data such as tax files, health records and school enrolments are replacing census surveys — they are faster and more accurate.

Finally, what’s so special about accessing financial transactions?

Let’s be clear, arms dealers and drug cartels do not use credit unions. What Statistics Canada wants is the humdrum of everyday existence. Payments for groceries, rent, utilities and online shopping and other routine financial transactions data will supplement and perhaps eventually replace the Survey of Household Spending (SHS), an expenditure diary maintained by a small random sample of Canadians.

Market researchers have long experienced falling response rates in their private surveys, but now official surveys are encountering it, and policy-makers are worried.

The household survey underpins the consumer price index, a core economic indicator needed to set interest rates and to index many types of public and private payments. Household expenditure data also forms a basis for the proposed market basket measure of poverty. Quite simply, these are data we need to get right to support public policy.

Read more: The promise and problems of including ‘big data’ in official government statistics

Banks routinely share customer data. Those zippy ads showing millennials using an app to check their credit scores fail to mention that these scores rely on financial institutions sharing customer information with Equifax and other clearing houses.

Statistics Canada also collects our income data directly from Canada Revenue Agency for the census and without our prior consent.

Why all the turmoil?

So why the turmoil over this latest proposal? Three reasons appear plausible.

First, in the face of regular data lapses like the Equifax breach of 2017 and the recent massive cyber-attack on Facebook, Canadians are justifiably skeptical about any promise their data are secure within any system.

Second, management at Statistics Canada, despite claims of extensive consultations with the financial industry and the privacy commissioner, seems to have forgotten what sales people call the “value proposition.”

Why does Statistics Canada need such access? Who will benefit? This has not been made clear even in the request StatsCan sent to banks.

Finally, the initiative appears to be driven by government, creating for some ominous Big Brother overtones.

So where do we go from here?

First, Statistics Canada needs to press “pause” and develop a more fulsome rationale for accessing this information. It is politically tone-deaf to point to recent changes to the Statistics Act that allows Statistics Canada to compel such access.

With the banks now threatening legal action, continued doubling down threatens public trust in our official statistics. Most Canadians do not understand how Statistics Canada supports public policy or private business.

Benefits need to be explained

Specifically, it needs to show why accessing financial transactions data will improve the reliability and timeliness of its information and what benefits will result from such access. It also needs to go beyond assertion and demonstrate the highest level of data security.

In defence of Statistics Canada's request for financial data statistics, nevin manimalaStatistics Canada reports to Navdeep Bains, a government minister. Instead, it should report to Parliament. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

This issue is now partisan, partly because Statistics Canada is an agency of government. The chief statistician reports to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

If the chief statistician were to report to Parliament in the same way as the auditor general, then such requests could have broader political support.

Both policy lobbyists and industry benefit from a robust system of official statistics, and it’s Parliament that offers a superior oversight capacity from a less partisan vantage.

Official statistics are a public good, benefiting all sectors of society. Their most important role is grounding intelligent public policy with facts.

Statistics Canada needs to be able maintain the pace of innovation in collecting and publishing data by accessing timely information on Canadian society. However, this must rest on clear and effective policies to manage privacy and secure data. Having StatCan report to Parliament and not a government minister may help.

Hopefully, Statistics Canada can salvage this proposal quickly without further damage being done to our system of official statistics.

Jim Gaffigan on what to do about America’s overweight statistics

Jim Gaffigan on what to do about America's overweight statistics statistics, nevin manimala
Jim Gaffigan on what to do about America's overweight statistics statistics, nevin manimala

Food! I like food.  Well, I like to eat food.  This may not surprise you by looking at me. After all, I am overweight.

Most Americans are overweight. Depending on which study you’ve read (or in my case, which you pretend to have read), 70% of Americans are overweight. 70 percent! That’s most of us.

If that many Americans are overweight, shouldn’t we just adjust the weight norm?

This is America! We set our mind to something, we can do it!

If you’ve ever walked through a medieval castle or a colonial home, you can tell by the doorways that humans have gotten taller. So, now we’ve gotten heavier.  Way heavier. 

Wouldn’t adjusting the American weight norm be easier than three-fourths of this huge country losing weight?

I know I’m not going to lose weight. I don’t have time. I have five young children. I tour the country doing stand-up comedy. I act in independent films nobody sees, and I do these “CBS Sunday” commentaries that people take way too seriously and attack me for on social media. Combine all these activities with my major commitment to what can only be described as “violent abusive eating,” I don’t have time to lose weight.

I don’t have time, but more importantly, I don’t have the interest.

So, if 70% of Americans are “overweight,” that MUST mean that 30% of Americans are “underweight.”  What about these people? These poor, thin, healthy people – they need our help.  30 percent? That’s like an epidemic!

We should help them … by shaming them. I don’t care if they can’t help it, it’s disgusting! 

Anyway, I gotta go to brunch.

More commentaries from Jim Gaffigan:

For more info: 

Story produced by Sara Kugel.

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Final statistics from Kentucky’s 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee State

Final statistics from Kentucky's 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee State statistics, nevin manimala
Final statistics from Kentucky's 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee State statistics, nevin manimala

No. 17 Kentucky defeated Middle Tennessee State 34-23 in a non-conference college football game at Kroger Field in Lexington on Saturday. The Wildcats (8-3, 5-3 SEC) return to action on Saturday, Nov. 24 vs. Louisville (2-9, 0-8 ACC) at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Kickoff time is 7 p.m.

Click here to view a complete statistics report from Saturday’s game vs. Middle Tennessee State.

Click here to view the SEC standings.

Click here to view Kentucky’s schedule.


The Herald-Leader is now offering a digital sports-only one-year subscription for $30. You’ll get unlimited access to all Herald-Leader sports stories.

Inspector General: Haskell Indian Nations falsified crime statistics, staff feels ‘bullied’ by president

Inspector General: Haskell Indian Nations falsified crime statistics, staff feels 'bullied' by president statistics, nevin manimala
Inspector General: Haskell Indian Nations falsified crime statistics, staff feels 'bullied' by president statistics, nevin manimala

The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Interior concluded in a report Friday that administrators at Haskell Indian Nations University underreported crime statistics for a two-year period and failed to follow internal policy when handling misconduct complaints.

The agency’s report said employees of the university in Lawrence told investigators they felt “bullied and intimidated” by Haskell President Venida Chenault. The document concluded the president influenced, through her presence at a meeting, a family member’s appointment to a high-level campus job.

Inspectors with the Interior Department said allegations that surfaced during the inquiry regarding a Haskell instructor’s sexual assault of a student were referred to the Lawrence Police Department.

Chenault, who has been president of the four-year federally operated university since January 2014, couldn’t be reached at her office for comment.

The university enrolls about 1,000 students representing about 140 tribal nations and Alaska native communities.

The report said Haskell’s administrative staff “inaccurately reported crime statistics in 2014 and 2015.” The university’s crime reports for 2016 and 2017 weren’t available to the federal investigators.

The inspector general’s office said Haskell’s annual reports on crime listed a total of three offenses in 2014 and five in 2015. However, the report said, the actual number of offenses that should have been reported was 19 for 2014 and 32 for 2015, based on law enforcement documents.

“A Haskell employee said she adjusted statistics because she feared the Haskell president,” the report said. “The employee said she tried to explain the requirements to the president, but it just made her angry. The employee said, ‘I know it’s wrong, but I’m scared to death, you know. I mean, I need this job.’ “

Chenault told federal investigators Haskell’s annual crime reports were inaccurate but she denied intentionally misrepresenting the statistics.

The Haskell president was the subject of complaints from employees and students that she ran afoul of anti-nepotism rules by allowing her son, Joshua Arce, to lead the university’s information technology department while also working as acting dean of students and, for brief periods, as acting president of the university. In 2016, Arce’s role was limited to the IT job.

Interior Department investigators said, without naming Chenault, that university officials failed to “consistently follow Haskell’s guidelines for handling complaints.”

An unnamed Haskell employee told investigators that university policy allowed victims and subjects of complaints to select a trained advocate, but no trained advocates existed at the university and untrained advocates were assigned by Haskell staff.

A Haskell employee, not identified in the inspector general’s report, said campus policy dictated that students be issued a timely warning after an alleged sexual assault.

In November 2014, the report said, the Haskell president was informed of the on-campus assault of a student. The employee told inspectors Chenault replied, “I don’t want to do that.” Several notices of the incident were subsequently placed in a campus dormitory.

The federal report revealed Chenault “admitted she treated an allegation of sexual assault differently because the victim was male” and confirmed Haskell mishandled allegations that an instructor raped a student and, in the process, “likely re-victimized the student.”

The Interior Department’s investigators reported the president was asked whether allegations of intimidation of staff reflected reality.

“Well, I think perception is reality, right?” Chenault said. “I’m sorry that people have those perceptions.”

The president told the inspector general’s office some senior staff at Haskell resisted change because they were near retirement or didn’t want to be held to higher standards.

The report said investigators didn’t find evidence Chenault showed favoritism towards a subordinate employee working on a doctorate degree, nor did investigators substantiate allegations the president improperly authorized purchases of computers.

Officials in the inspector general’s office said the report would be forwarded to directors of the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

How good are the Bears? Exploring some statistics to understand their success

How good are the Bears? Exploring some statistics to understand their success statistics, nevin manimala

Bears coach Matt Nagy said something recently that surely made former coach Lovie Smith smile down in Champaign.

With the Bears leading the NFL with a plus-13 turnover differential, Nagy discussed the importance of defensive takeaways.

“That’s one of the stats that matter as you go through this,” Nagy said. “[It’s] making sure that you get the football on defense, and you don’t give it up on offense, and when you pair those together you’re always going to be in every game, usually, unless something crazy happens.”

But it’s only one stat that illustrates why the Bears are 6-3 and playing the Vikings for first place in the NFC North at Soldier Field on Sunday night. Here’s a look at the numbers behind the Bears’ season:

How good are the Bears? Exploring some statistics to understand their success statistics, nevin manimala

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) celebrates after a touchdown against the Lions on Sunday. | AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Strength of schedule

When it comes to strength of schedule, the Bears have played the easiest schedule of any team so far this season.

Five of the Bears’ six victories have come against five of the NFL’s worst teams: Cardinals (2-7), Buccaneers (3-6), Jets (3-7), Bills (3-7) and Lions (3-6). They still have the lowly Giants (2-7) and 49ers (2-8) on their schedule.

The Bears’ path to 6-3 is partly why some pundits aren’t buying their success. It’s also why Sunday’s game against the Vikings on prime time is viewed as a statement game.

But strength of schedule can be misleading to an extent. According to Pro Football Reference, the Eagles had easiest schedule in the NFC season en route to a 13-3 record — and that didn’t preclude them from winning the Super Bowl.

The Rams’ rise last season also was aided by their schedule. They were tied with the Seahawks for the second easiest slate in the NFC, trailing only the Eagles.

The Patriots played the weakest schedule of any team during the 2016 season, and then they won the Super Bowl later in February 2017, according to Pro Football Reference.

A season before that, the Panthers had the easiest schedule of any team, went 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl, too.

The point here is that you who you play.

Part of the reason why good teams tend to have a low strength of schedule is because those good teams are defeating teams, consequently making the records of their opponents worse.

Point differential

One argument against the use of strength of schedule is point differential. The Bears didn’t merely just defeat bad teams this season; they obliterated them.

The Bears are currently fourth in point differential with a plus-94, trailing the Chiefs (113), Rams (104) and Saints (98).

In general, point differential can be a considered a strong indicator of the best teams in the NFL. The Eagles and Patriots were tied with a league-best plus-162 last season, and of course, they played in the Super Bowl.

That’s a trend, too.

Nine of the last 10 teams that played in the last five Super Bowls were either first or second in point differential.

The 2015 Broncos are the only outlier. They won Super Bowl 50 against the Panthers but were the 10th-best team in terms of point differential during the regular season.

Trubisky’s ratings

The Bears are winning because quarterback Mitch Trubisky is developing.

There are currently 14 quarterbacks who have traditional passer ratings over 100 this season. Trubisky is 11th at 101.6. He’s ahead of many notable quarterbacks, including Cam Newton (101.2), Ben Roethlisberger (100.9), Deshaun Watson (100.8), Andrew Luck (98.4) and even Tom Brady (94.7).

Traditional passer rating, though, has long been considered a flawed statistic. It’s why ESPN created total QBR and Pro Football Focus established its own grading system.

This is where the Great Trubisky Debate comes in, too.

According to ESPN’s total QBR — which “incorporates all of a quarterback’s contributions to winning, including how he impacts the game on passes, rushes, turnovers and penalties” — Trubisky is currently the NFL’s fourth-best quarterback with a 75.1 mark. Trubisky only trails Drew Brees (86.2), Patrick Mahomes (83.6) and Philip Rivers (75.4) in that system.

PFF, which grades every single play and throw, doesn’t see the same, though.

In PFF’s most recent rankings, Trubisky is rated as their 28th best passer. He has the highest percentage of negatively-graded throws (23.8 percent) of any starting quarterback. According to PFF, each throw has varying positive and negative degrees that it can be graded. Trubisky’s rushing grade, though, does lead all quarterbacks.

Trubisky’s ratings certainly stand out when compared to Jay Cutler’s Bears run. It’s early but they’re not even in the same conversation. Cutler’s best passer rating was 92.3 in 2015. His best total QBR was 70.9 in 2013.

More measurements

The Bears are the only team in the NFL to rank in the top five in scoring offense (No. 5, 29.9 points scored) and scoring defense (tied-No. 4, 19.4 points allowed).

But advanced statistics also can be used to highlight the Bears’ success.

The Bears have the 10th-best offense and the top-rated defense, according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average measurement.

DVOA places a percentage on teams and can sound complicated. But Football Outsiders’ explanation of it can be boiled down to: “DVOA breaks down every single play of the NFL season, assigning each play a value based on both total yards and yards towards a first down.” It’s then compared to a league-average baseline based on situations.

DVOA also can be applied to individual players. Trubisky is rated ninth among quarterbacks in DVOA, which is currently ahead of Newton, Brady, Carson Wentz and even Aaron Rodgers.

What does DVOA say about success overall?

It’s an indicator of playoff teams.

As a team, the Bears currently rank fifth in total DVOA behind the Chiefs, Rams, Chargers and Steelers. The Super Bowl-winning Eagles were fifth in total DVOA last season.

The Super Bowl-winning Patriots, Broncos and Seahawks finished first, eighth and first in 2016, 2015 and 2014, respectively. It’s a trend that continues.


Floyd back in flow

In the eyes of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is just getting started after making his first sack this season against the Lions last week.

To Fangio, everyone has underrated the impact that Floyd’s broken right hand had on his production this season. It was a significant detriment.

“Hopefully, he’ll continue and start getting some more [sacks] and playing good,” Fangio said. “A lot of what happened with Leonard, too, is those first four weeks with his hand, especially the first three with the cast, we probably played him too much.

“You guys are seeing him not being productive and start asking about a bunch of questions. And then the first game where he had the small cast on, he wasn’t confident enough to throw it in there consistently. He was a little tentative. So I don’t think we’ve seen what he can or can’t do until these last couple of games.”

Floyd was noticeably better against the Lions. He hit quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, including twice on stunts to the inside.

“He’s very athletic, he’s very relentless and he’s slippery,” Fangio said of using Floyd on stunts. “So he can sometimes get through the cracks better than other guys.”

Searching for answers

When it came to game-planning for the Vikings’ defense, one film probably stood out to the Bears: the Eagles’ 38-7 rout of the Vikings in the NFC Championship on Jan. 21.

The Bears’ offense, of course, is similar to the Eagles’ because of their head coaches: Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy.

Backup quarterback Nick Foles completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles scored 38 unanswered points to advance to the Super Bowl.

“We look at everything; we do,” Nagy said when asked about last season’s NFC Championship.

But he didn’t want to make too much out of it.

“These coaches are good coaches,” Nagy said. “They understand that everyone looks at every thing so they adjust and they’ve done that.

“So we look at lots of games, and then we’ve just got to decide what we want to end up doing from the games we look at. Then that’s the chess match.”

TWITTER Q&A (for more questions/answers click here)

Would a pursuit of Le’Veon Bell be worth it in the offseason? — @amorley618

A: I knew this question was coming. Never say never, but the Bears don’t have as much salary-cap space in 2019 as they have been in the past under general manager Ryan Pace. Of course, that can change. All it takes is a few cuts. Bell is special player but he’s looking for a major payday. Right now, I don’t think the Bears will be the team to give it to him. Other positions – pass rusher, safety and offensive line – should be priorities in the offseason. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Bell. Fair or not, his character will be questioned by teams after he decided to not play this season. If you read the reports from Pittsburgh, his choice to not sign his franchise tag certainly seemed to infuriate his old Steelers teammates. It sounds as if promises in the locker room were broken. The Steelers also are quite happy with James Conner, a third-round pick in 2017 who is further proof that good running backs can be found later in the draft. There also is another dynamic to consider with the Bears. Bell has the same agent, Adisa Bakari, as Jordan Howard. Bakari also represented Matt Forte, who left the Bears after the 2015 season.

Seems like the team has been much healthier this season than in the past years. Have they done something differently than in years past? — @pelonedgar1

A: It starts with the Bears’ staff changes. Andre Tucker replaced Nate Breske as the Bears’ head trainer, while Jason Loscalzo took over for Jason George as their strength and conditioning coach. Coach Matt Nagy’s cautious approach has helped, too. It includes his “infamous” decision to sit his starters in the preseason. But the Bears have battled injuries since training camp. They’re just better built to handle them on the field. When inside linebacker Danny Trevathan was out in camp, Nick Kwiatkoski filled in. Tight end Adam Shaheen was placed on injured reserve but the Bears still had Trey Bruton. Losing right guard Kyle Long also isn’t the same as it was a few years ago. The Bears are a deeper team. For example, they could afford to sit and rest Khalil Mack, their best overall player, and Allen Robinson, their best receiver, against the Jets and Bills.

How good are the Bears? Exploring some statistics to understand their success statistics, nevin manimala


Bears vs. Vikings: Preview, prediction, statistics to know for ‘Sunday Night Football’

Bears vs. Vikings: Preview, prediction, statistics to know for 'Sunday Night Football' statistics, nevin manimala
Bears vs. Vikings: Preview, prediction, statistics to know for 'Sunday Night Football' statistics, nevin manimala

After the Green Bay Packers dropped their record to 4-5-1 with a dispiriting loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, it sure looks like the battle for the NFC North crown is going to come down to a race between the Chicago Bears, who currently sit in first place with a 6-3 record, and the Minnesota Vikings, who are right behind them at 5-3-1. 

Lucky for us, the Bears and Vikings actually play each other this week, on Sunday Night Football. It’s the first of two games the teams will play against each other over the final seven weeks of the season, with the rematch coming in Week 17. Whoever wins the first matchup will get a leg up on being able to actually clinch the division before that final game, so it’s pivotal to come away with a victory. 

We’ve got exciting players and intriguing matchups all over the place, so let’s break down what you should be on the lookout for when these two old-school rivals take the field. 

When the Bears have the ball 

Right now, the Bears have one of the hottest offenses in the NFL. Starting with their 48-10 destruction of the Buccaneers the week before their bye, the Bears have scored 48, 28, 31, 24, 41, and 34 points. That’s an average of 34.3 per game, second behind only the Saints during that timespan. Given their recent performance one might think the Bears should continue rolling, but they’re running up against a Minnesota defense that is finally getting healthy and dominant again after some early-season hiccups. 

The Vikes allowed 94 points to the Packers, Bills, and Rams in Weeks 2-4, but since then have clamped down quite a bit as players have returned from injury and personal absences. Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Andrew Sendejo, Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr combined to miss 12 games in Weeks 1-9 but all should be back on the field for this divisional matchup. And when the Vikings have everyone on the field, they have one of the NFL’s premier defenses. 

Job No. 1 right now against the Bears is shutting down Mitchell Trubisky, who, while inconsistent on a play-to-play basis, has been absolutely rolling for several weeks now. Since Week 4, Trubisky has completed 63 percent of his passes at 9.2 yards per attempt while throwing 17 touchdowns against four interceptions. He’s added 256 yards and two more scores with his legs. It’s important for the Bears to keep Trubisky holed into the pocket and going through his progressions, which is when he tends to make bad decisions. If allowed to throw quickly, he’s usually on the money. If allowed to escape the pocket and run, he’s usually going to make something happen. But if he has to hang back there, stay patient, read multiple layers of coverage, and wait for somebody to pop open, well, he tends to do some boneheaded things on occasion. 

His primary receivers are Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, rookie Anthony Miller, tight end Trey Burton, and running back Tarik Cohen. That is a whole lot of threats for a defense to deal with, and with the exception of Gabriel and Cohen, none really provide similar looks. Robinson will likely receive shadow coverage treatment from Rhodes, which leaves Gabriel working against Trae Waynes and Miller locking horns with Mackensie Alexander in the slot. Expect the Bears to target Miller over the middle on seams and crosses in order to open things up for everyone else. Burton, though, may have the best matchup of all, as the Vikings have been shredded by several tight ends this season. George Kittle (5-90-0), Jimmy Graham (6-95-0), Zach Ertz (10-110-1), Ricky Seals-Jones (5-69-0), and Chris Herndon (4-42-1) have all had big games against the Vikes this year. 

Minnesota’s run defense has been even better this season than its passing unit, and Jordan Howard could find tough sledding on the ground against one of the NFL’s best defense fronts and fastest linebacking corps. Griffen, Joseph, Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Ben Gedeon all flow to the ball extremely well, and they have Sendejo and Harrison Smith to clean up behind them. The Vikings don’t stop very many runs behind the line of scrimmage but they are extremely tough to run on in short-yardage situations, so even setting up good down-and-distance runs may not prove all that successful. 

When the Vikings have the ball

The first thing the Bears have to deal with is Vikings wideout Adam Thielen. That is … not easy. 

In nine games, Thielen leads the NFL with 78 catches, just 13 off the career-high he set a year ago. He’s on pace to catch 138 passes for the full season, which would be the second-most in NFL history. His seven touchdowns are already the most he’s ever scored in a season. And it’s not just volume. The NFL has tracked targets since 1992. During that time, there have been 1,054 instances of a wide receiver or tight end being targeted at least 100 times in a season. Thielen’s current 75.7 percent catch rate ranks NINTH among that group of 1,054 players. That’s inside the top 0.1 percent. 

Luckily for the Bears, their corners (Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan) are all playing well this season. Callahan, who works as the team’s primary slot corner, is playing especially well. Sports Info Solutions has charged him with just 18 completions allowed for 188 yards all year, with zero touchdowns against two interceptions. There are 126 defensive players who have been targeted at least 25 times by opposing quarterbacks in coverage this season. Among that group, Callahan’s 55.8 passer rating allowed ranks 12th-best. He also hasn’t played against Thielen just yet, but he is a strong option on the inside. 

On the perimeter, Amukamara and Fuller will have to deal with the likely return of Stefon Diggs, as well as Laquon Treadwell and Aldrick Robinson at different times throughout the game. Like Callahan, both outside corners are having strong seasons. Among the same aforementioned group of 126 players, Fuller ranks 21st in passer rating allowed on throws in his direction, and Amukamara ranks 31. Both players are easily inside the top 25 percent. Fuller plays strictly on the left side of the field (99 percent of his snaps) and Amukamara plays strictly on the right (also 99 percent), so each outside receiver will see plenty of both guys as the Vikings move them around the formation. 

The Bears have the league’s No. 1 overall defense by DVOA, and they’re been strong pretty much everywhere. They’re No. 2 against the run and No. 4 against the pass. They’re No. 5 against No. 1 wideouts. No. 12 against No. 2 wideouts, No. 10 against the slot, and No. 8 against running backs in the passing game. The only place they’ve been below-average is against tight ends, where they rank 20th. This provides opportunity for Kyle Rudolph to get back on track. Rudolph hasn’t topped 50 receiving yards since Week 4 and has two or fewer catches in two of the Vikings’ past three games. He just has not been as big a part of the passing game this year as in years past, and he’s been coming up empty in the red zone. Perhaps working against the interior of Chicago’s defense will be good for him. 

Of course, what the Vikings love more than almost anything else in the passing game is to work play-action. Of Cousins’ 363 pass attempts, over 20 percent have come after a play-fake, per SIS. On those plays, Cousins has a 104.2 passer rating. In order to make the play-action game as effective as possible, it’s important to get Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray going on the ground. Cook has been in and out of the lineup all year due to various injuries, but in the Vikings’ final game before their bye he looked as explosive as he has all year, totaling 109 yards on 14 touches. Murray will presumably still factor into the game plan so the Vikes don’t push Cook too hard, but in order for them to be at their best, the sophomore needs to be an offensive focal point. 

Prediction: Vikings 24, Bears 20

Listen to Will Brinson, Pete Prisco and R.J. White break down Vikings-Bears and every game on the Friday edition of the Pick Six Podcast:

Seahawks vs. Packers: Preview, prediction, how to watch, stream, statistics to know for ‘Thursday Night Football’

Seahawks vs. Packers: Preview, prediction, how to watch, stream, statistics to know for 'Thursday Night Football' statistics, nevin manimala
Seahawks vs. Packers: Preview, prediction, how to watch, stream, statistics to know for 'Thursday Night Football' statistics, nevin manimala

This week’s edition of Thursday Night Football features two teams that are not necessarily where they want to be at this point of the season, but could potentially use this game as a springboard to get there. It helps that when the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers do battle in primetime, something weird usually happens. 

We all remember the Fail Mary back in the day, right?

While the odds of something exactly like that ever happening again are fairly low, that doesn’t mean we can’t get an entertaining game between two solid teams each quarterbacked by one of the best and most exciting players in the league. Here’s what to look out for as Green Bay visits Seattle (8:20 p.m., NFL Network, stream on fuboTV). 

When the Seahawks have the ball

You’ve likely heard this stat somewhere else already, but it bears mentioning again simply because it is so unusual in 2018: the Seahawks run the ball more often than they pass it. In a league where 60 percent of plays are passes, the Seahawks call for a pass only 49 percent of the time, making them the only team in the league with a negative pass-to-run ratio. (The Packers, by the way, are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. They call pass 66 percent of the time, second in the NFL behind only the Giants, who aren’t really calling passes because they want to, but because they’re terrible.) 

The rushing attack is now looking like a three-man committee in the backfield, with starter Chris Carson potentially on track to return, backup Mike Davis still running well, and first-round pick Rashaad Penny finally breaking out with a 108-yard game last week. Carson has looked like the most effective player for the balance of the season, but he has also proven to be extremely injury prone during his two NFL seasons, appearing in only 11 of 25 possible games. Still, he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has been the lead back whenever healthy. Davis has largely operated as Carson’s partner in a timeshare, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and exhibiting ease and smoothness catching the ball out of the backfield. Penny was largely a disaster right up until last week, when he took 12 carries for 108 yards against the Rams. That one performance raised his yards per carry average from 3.5 to 4.7 for the season.

All three will presumably see work against the Packers, who have not exactly showered themselves in glory when defending the run this season. Green Bay is allowing 4.7 yards per carry, 22nd in the NFL this season. They’re ranked 26th in Football Outsiders’ rush defense DVOA, 30th in Adjusted Line Yards (which assigns credit to offensive lines as a percentage of yards gained per rush attempt), and 31st in percentage of opponent runs stopped in the backfield. Seattle’s offensive line has been far better this year than in recent seasons and should be able to pave some road for these guys to do their work. Add in the attention that perimeter defenders have to pay to Russell Wilson in Seattle’s read-option concepts, and there’s a lot of potential for the backs to make hay. 

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Wilson, by the way, has gone from being one of the more pass-heavy quarterbacks in the NFL last year to being on pace to attempt his fewest throws in a season (439) since his second year in the league. He’s made up for his lack of volume with terrific efficiency, completing 66 percent of his passes and averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, while throwing a touchdown pass on a career-best 8.5 percent of his passes. Among qualified passers, only Patrick Mahomes‘ throws have turned into touchdowns more often than Wilson’s. 

Now that they’re all healthy, Wilson has a nice mix of targets to throw to. The combination of Doug Baldwin in the slot, Tyler Lockett on the outside, and David Moore working intermediate areas and the red zone has worked extremely well for the Seahawks, and tight end Nick Vannett has flashed some ability as well. Baldwin will presumably work against Bashaud Breeland in the slot, while Lockett and Moore will do battle with rookies Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander. Green Bay’s pass defense overall has essentially been slightly above average in every area this season, but Alexander has emerged as the secondary’s best perimeter player and throws over the middle have given them the most trouble. That sets things up very nicely for Baldwin, who is Wilson’s most trusted target in a vacuum anyway.  

When the Packers have the ball

As mentioned above, the Packers run the ball less often than only one team: the Giants. But in recent weeks, their running game has been much improved thanks to the fact that they have finally, mercifully, at long last handed over the reins to the talented Aaron Jones, who has been very obviously their best back since last season and for some reason was stuck working behind both Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery for much of this year. 

The Packers traded Montgomery at the deadline and finally reduced Williams to mostly pass-protection work, and Jones has looked positively electric. Over his past three games, he’s carried 41 times for 306 yards (7.5 per carry) and three touchdowns. He’s the second running back ever to average at least 5.0 yards per carry in seven of his team’s first nine games while also receiving five-plus carries in each game. The other guy is some dude named Jim Brown, who did it twice. 

Seattle’s run defense ranks 23rd in DVOA this season and the Seahawks have allowed an incredible 5.0 yards per carry, so there should be plenty of room for Jones to do his work against this front. The only question is whether the Packers will stick with the run or lean on the right shoulder of Aaron Rodgers to do the majority of the work. Knowing their history we’d lean toward the latter, but crazier things have happened. 

Rodgers will once again be throwing to a depleted wide receiver corps, as both Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb will miss the game. Rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, and J’Mon Moore will pick up the slack, with MVS getting most of the snaps in the slot, St. Brown working on the outside opposite Davante Adams, and Moore largely getting fill-in snaps to give the other guys a breather. 

Adams is in the midst of his best season as a pro, averaging 6.9 catches, 87.4 yards, and a touchdown per game. He’s on track for a season-long line of 110-1,400-16. That has been accomplished exactly once in the history of football, by Randy Moss back in 2003. Rodgers clearly trusts him as much as he has ever trusted any receiver, firing him the ball more than 10 times per game and repeatedly giving him chances to come down with the ball in tight windows — especially in the red zone, where Adams has emerged as his clear preferred option. He’ll work against Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin depending on where he lines up, but he should have the advantage all night either way. (This is especially true against Flowers, who has allowed a 106.0 passer rating on throws in his direction this season, per Sports Info Solutions. That ranks 149th out of 200 players who have been targeted in coverage at least 10 times.)

Valdes-Scantling has emerged as the Packers’ No. 2 receiver over the past few weeks, but he works primarily out of the slot when Cobb is out and Seahawks slot man Justin Coleman has been solid throughout the season. (The Seahawks also used him as a blitzer last week in order to frustrate the Rams, and it would not be a surprise to see them do the same against Rodgers on Thursday evening.) Tight end Jimmy Graham provides a strong option over the middle and in the red zone — if he suits up. He’s been banged up and limited in practice, and there are questions about whether he’ll be able to get on the field. 

Prediction: Seahawks 23, Packers 20

Gillibrand’s cascade of misfired employment statistics

Gillibrand's cascade of misfired employment statistics statistics, nevin manimala
Gillibrand's cascade of misfired employment statistics statistics, nevin manimala
November 15 at 3:00 AM

“When they declare victory at 4 percent unemployment, it is not good enough. Because 4 percent unemployment means an 8 or 9 percent unemployment in some cities for black women. It means a 16 percent unemployment rate for black men. It means young veterans coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a 20 percent unemployment rate. So our work really isn’t done.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), remarks at the National Action Network Conference, Nov. 14, 2018

For 2020 presidential hopefuls, the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years is a challenge. So prospective candidates have acknowledged it but argued that it is still not good enough.

Readers may recall that in October, we noted that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was traveling around Iowa with a line in stump speech that suggested the unemployment rate was so low because people were working two or three jobs. Her staff said she was not asserting a fact, simply raising something she had heard anecdotally. But the day the fact check ran, the line was suddenly gone from her speech.

Now, another prospective 2020 candidate is taking a different tack. Speaking before the National Action Network, the civil rights organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Gillibrand decided to focus on the fact that, for some people – African American men, women and young veterans, specifically – the unemployment rates are still high.

But her numbers seemed off. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

The overall unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in October, the lowest since December 1969. Here are the claims Gillibrand made:

  • 8 or 9 percent unemployment in some cities for black women
  • 16 percent unemployment rate for black men
  • 20 percent unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in October, the unemployment rate was 6.2 percent for African American men and 4.9 percent for African American women.

Gillibrand spokesman Alex Phillips said the senator accidentally dropped a word – “young” – from her prepared remarks and meant to say “young black men” and “young black women.”

Using detailed, but not seasonally adjusted, BLS data for October, one can calculate that the unemployment rate for African American men and women ages 18 to 24 was 16.4 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively. Those are, indeed, the numbers used by Gillibrand. She just failed to use the word “young.” The BLS breaks out the numbers as 18 to 19 years old and 20 to 24 years old, but the raw numbers are presented, so a calculation combining those two categories is possible.

(During the 2016 campaign, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump used to falsely claim the unemployment rate for black youths was 58 percent. His staff came up with that statistic by including not only people seeking work, but everyone who was not in the labor force at the time, such as students. He also included 16- and 17-year-olds, who are mostly students. That statistic was wildly off base and earned Four Pinocchios.)

Unemployment figures for African Americans are even higher than the national average in some cities, such as in Buffalo and Erie, N.Y.

As for “young veterans,” BLS data that is not seasonally adjusted shows that for “Gulf War-era II veterans” ages 18 to 24, the unemployment rate in October was 12.6 percent. (Seasonally adjusted data is only available for all Gulf War II veterans, showing a rate of 2.7 percent.)

Here again, Gillibrand got it wrong. Phillips said Gillibrand used 20 percent because “she misspoke the stat off the cuff,” but “her point remains unchanged” that the numbers are unusually high for young veterans. She noted that as recently as March, it was 16.4 percent for veterans 18 to 24 years old.

The Pinocchio Test

Regular readers know that we generally do not award Pinocchios when a politician admits error. We certainly can understand a slip of the tongue, but it is never a clever idea to try to ad-lib a statistic.

Somehow, Gillibrand managed to mangle three statistics in three consecutive sentences before a large audience. If you are trying to make the case that you can provide better economic stewardship, you need to get the numbers right first.

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2018-11-15 12:41:49 UTC
Gillibrand's cascade of misfired employment statistics statistics, nevin manimala
Gillibrand's cascade of misfired employment statistics statistics, nevin manimalaWashington Post Rating:
“When they declare victory at 4 percent unemployment, it is not good enough. Because 4 percent unemployment means an 8 or 9 percent unemployment in some cities for black women. It means a 16 percent unemployment rate for black men. It means young veterans coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, a 20 percent unemployment rate.”
Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator (D-N.Y.)
in a speech at the National Action Network Conference,
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Here are some dread-inducing statistics on open plan offices

Here are some dread-inducing statistics on open plan offices statistics, nevin manimala
Here are some dread-inducing statistics on open plan offices statistics, nevin manimala

Do people really care about working in offices with social events and perks like cold brew taps and ping-pong tables? Or do people simply want a quiet, comfortable place to do their work in peace before heading home to their actual lives? According to an online survey of American office workers conducted by the public opinion survey company YouGov, it’s–surprise!–the latter.


The survey was commissioned by the company Room, which  makes modular workspaces and obviously has a strong motive to paint open-plan offices in a negative light. But the results are still interesting, for the picture they paint of life in American offices today.

Overall, the survey polled more than 4,000 workers, and more than 400 open plan workers specifically. A few notes on how this design paradigm makes people feel: 31% of people have “held back their true thoughts and opinions while on calls in the office because they don’t want coworkers to hear and judge them.” 16% people feel their “overall quality of health has declined” in open plan offices. 13% say they’ve considered leaving their jobs because of their office layout.

Bleak! But not compared to the survey’s other conceit, which was to ask these workers what they’d give up for private workspaces.

  • 13% said they’d give up their end-of-year bonuses.
  • 13% said they’d give up five vacation days, and 16% said they’d do away with summer Fridays.
  • 17% said they’d give up access to a window or natural light.
  • 27% said they’d give up their office’s coffee machine.

And then there’s the concession that will surprise no one: Of these hundreds of workers, one in four would give up their office’s holiday party for access to a more private workspace.

It would be easy to pin the blame purely on design trends here, but the fact of the matter is that the open plan office is one of many solutions companies have used for decades to do two things: Keep overhead as low as possible, and keep an eye on employees.