Lawrence Stone Lectures with Chris Clark this April

At the end of April, Chris Clark of St. Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge, and author of the international bestseller The Sleepwalkers, is giving the Lawrence Stone Lectures, jointly sponsored by the Princeton History Department’s Shelby Cullom Davis Center and Princeton University Press. The lectures are on Power and Historicity in Germany, 1648-1945. They are open to the public and held at 4:30 pm, 010 E. Pyne, with a reception to follow.

On Tuesday, April 28, “The State Makes History”

On Wednesday, April 29, “The State Confronts History”

On Thursday, April 30, “Nazi Time: The Escape from History”

Check the Davis Center’s website for more information on this lecture series.

Lawrence Stone Lectures


Alan Turing’s handwritten notebook brings $1 million at auction

turing jacket

Alan Turing: The Enigma

Old journals can be fascinating no matter who they belong to, but imagine looking over the old notebook of the mathematician credited with breaking German codes during WWII.

The Associated Press and other venues reported that a handwritten notebook by British code-breaker Alan Turing, subject of the 2014 Oscar-winning film “The Imitation Game,” a movie based on our book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, brought more than $1 million at auction from an anonymous buyer on Monday. Originally given to Turing’s mathematician-friend Robin Gandy, the notebooks are thought to be the only ones of their kind, and contain Turing’s early attempts to chart a universal language, a precursor to computer code. (In an interesting personal wrinkle, Gandy had used the blank pages for notes on his dreams, noting that, “It seems a suitable disguise to write in between these notes of Alan’s on notation, but possibly a little sinister; a dead father figure, some of whose thoughts I most completely inherited.”)

Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma, commented that “the notebook sheds more light on how Turing ‘remained committed to free-thinking work in pure mathematics.'” To learn more about the life of Turing, check out the book here.

Math Drives Careers: Author Oscar Fernandez

We know that mathematics can solve problems in the classroom, but what can it do for your business? Oscar Fernandez, author of Everyday Calculus, takes a look at how knowledge of numbers can help your bottom line.

Why You Should Be Learning Math Even If You Don’t Need It for Your Job

I want to tell you a short story about epic triumph in the midst of adversity. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but hear me out.

A couple of years ago, I approached Boston Scientific—an S&P 500 component—with a crazy idea: let me and a team of students from Wellesley College (a liberal arts college for women) and Babson College (a business school) do consulting work for you. It was a crazy idea because what could I—a mathematician who knew nothing about their business—and some students—who hadn’t even graduated yet—possibly offer the company? Plenty, it turns out, all thanks to our common expertise: mathematics.

Mathematics, often depicted in movies as something pocket-protector-carrying people with less than stellar social skills do, is actually quite ubiquitous. I’d even say that mathematicians are the unsung heroes of the world. Alright, that’s a bit of hyperbole. But think about it. Deep in the catacombs of just about every company, there are mathematicians. They work in low light conditions, hunched over pages of calculations stained with days-old coffee, and think up ways to save the company money, optimize their revenue streams, and make their products more desired. You may never notice their efforts, but you’ll surely notice their effects. That recent change in the cost of your flight? Yep, it was one of us trying to maximize revenue. The reason that UPS truck is now waking you up at 6 a.m.? One of us figured out that the minimum cost route passes through your street.

But we’re do-good people too. We help optimize bus routes to get children to school faster and safer. We’ve spent centuries modelling the spread of disease. More recently, we’ve even reduced crime by understanding how it spreads. That’s why I was confident that my team and I could do something useful for Boston Scientific. Simply put, we knew math.

We spent several weeks pouring over data the company gave us. We tried everything we could think of to raise their revenues from certain products. Collectively, we were trained in mathematics, economics, computer science, and psychology. But nothing worked. It seemed that we—and math—had failed.

Then, with about three weeks left, I chanced upon an article from the MIT Technology Review titled “Turning Math Into Cash.” It describes how IBM’s 200 mathematicians reconfigured their 40,000 salespeople over a period of two years and generated $1 billion in additional revenue. Wow. The mathematicians analyzed the company’s price-sales data using “high-quantile modeling” to predict the maximum amount each customer was willing to spend, and then compared that to the actual revenue generated by the sales teams. IBM then let these mathematicians shuffle around salespeople to help smaller teams reach the theoretical maximum budget of each customer. Genius, really.

I had never heard of quantile regression before, and neither had my students, but one thing math does well is to train you to make sense of things. So we did some digging. We ran across a common example of quantile modelling: food expenditure vs. household income. There’s clearly a relationship, and in 1857 researchers quantified the relationship for Belgian households. They produced this graph:

fernandez 1

That red line is the linear regression line—the “best fit to the data.” It’s useful because the slope of the line predicts a 50 cent increase in food expenditure for a $1 increase in household income. But what if you want information about the food expenditure of the top 5% of households, or the bottom 20%? Linear regression can’t give you that information, but quantile regression can. Here’s what you get with quantile regression:

fernandez 2

The red line is the linear regression line, but now we also have various quantile regression lines. To understand what they mean let’s focus on the top-most dashed line, which is the 95th percentile line. Households above this line are in the 95th percentile (or 0.95 quantile) of food expenditure. Similarly, households below the bottom-most line are in the 5th percentile (or 0.05 quantile) of food expenditure. Now, if we graph the slopes of the lines as a function of the percentile (also called “quantile”), we get:

fernandez 3

(The red line is the slope of the linear regression line; it doesn’t depend on the quantile, which is why it’s a straight line.) Notice that the 0.95 quantile (95th percentile) slope is about 0.7, whereas the 0.05 quantile (5th percentile) slope is about 0.35. This means that for every $1 increase in household income, this analysis predicts that households in the 95th percentile of food expenditure will spend 70 cents more, whereas households in the 5th percentile will spend only 35 cents more.

Clearly quantile regression is powerful stuff. So, my team and I went back and used quantile regression on the Boston Scientific data. We came up with theoretical maximum prices that customers could pay based on the region the product was sold in. As with IBM, we identified lots of potential areas for improvement. When my students presented their findings to Boston Scientific, the company took the work seriously and was very impressed with what a few students and one professor could do. I can’t say we generated $1 billion in new revenue for Boston Scientific, but what I can say is that we were able to make serious, credible recommendations, all because we understood mathematics. (And we were just a team of 5 working over a period of 12 weeks!)

April is Mathematics Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “math drives careers.” After my Boston Scientific experience and after reading about IBM’s success, I now have a greater appreciation of this theme. Not only can mathematics be found in just about any career, but if you happen to be the one to find it (and use it), you could quickly be on the fast track to success. So in between celebrating March Madness, Easter, Earth Day, and April 15th (I guess you’d only celebrate if you’re due a tax refund), make some time for math. It just might change your career.

Photo by Richard Howard.

Photo by Richard Howard.

Oscar Fernandez is the author of Everyday Calculus. He is assistant professor of mathematics at Wellesley College.

Beth Shapiro Talk, Q&A and Book Signing

Shapiro Image for blog 3.30.15

Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, will be giving a talk on “Conserving Ecosystems with De-Extinction” on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. This event is presented by Town Hall, Elliot Bay Book Company, and the Pacific Science Center through The Seattle Science Lectures. More information about the event and a link to buy tickets can be found, here.

Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson

Today marks the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. president. Princeton University Press has been publishing The Papers of Thomas Jefferson since 1950.  To celebrate the birthday of this talented writer and politician who once said, “I cannot live without books”, we have compiled a political science book list.

The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won’t Admit It
Jason Weeden & Robert Kurzban

The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind digs into how self-interest divides the public on hot-button issues.Weeden and Robert Kurzban explain to readers how people form political positions.”The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind is provocative and often persuasive…Weeden and Kurzban remind us that self-interest is a complicated concept.” –Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

Read Chapter 1

American Insecurity American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction
Adam Seth Levine

Adam Levine analyzes the reasoning behind how increasing threat to financial well-being leads to political inaction. He explains when people need money, those who care about the issues but are not personally affected get involved.”Levine provides evidence that financially anxious people respond to their stress not by grouping together for action but by becoming less generous with their checkbooks and personal time.” — Pacific Standard

Read Chapter 1

The Loneliness of the Black Republican The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power
Leah Wright Rigueur

The Loneliness of the Black Republican looks at the ideas of black Republicans from the era of the New Deal to Ronald Reagan’s presidential ascent in 1980. The book serves to provide an understanding of the interaction between African Americans and the Republican Party.”The Loneliness of the Black Republican is meticulous, well-crafted, and consistently astute about the fractious recent history of the Grand Old Party.” — Artur Davis, Weekly Standard

Read the Introduction

The Birth of Politics The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter
Melissa Lane

Melissa Lane introduces the reader to the foundations of Western political thought, from the Greeks, who invented democracy, to the Romans, who created a republic and then transformed it into an empire. The book brings to light that the birth of politics was a story as much of individuals as ideas.”The political ideas of the ancients still endure-and still propel us into debate and even more vigorous conflict…[T]he author successfully illuminates the political ideas that still perplex and divide us.” –Kirkus Reviews

Read the Introduction

k10373[1] The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 41: 11 July to 15 November 1803
Thomas Jefferson
Edited by Barbara B. Oberg

This volume of Thomas Jefferson’s papers is about the Louisiana Purchase.

Browse Princeton’s series of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

Read Chapter 1

The Shape of the New The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World
Scott L. Montgomery & Daniel Chirot

The Shape of the New looks at Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx as heirs of the Enlightenment. Montgomery & Chirot note that it is impossible to understand the political conflicts of our own time without digging into the history of our country.”The Shape of the New is an ambitious book and a joy to read. The scholarship is brilliant. In contextualizing the great ideas of modern history, Montgomery and Chrot provide a holistic framework with which to understand the process of social change and ideological conflict.” — Paul Froese, coauthor of America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God-and What That Says about Us

Read the Introduction

 Thinking about the Presidency Thinking About the Presidency: The Primacy of Power
William G. Howell
With David Milton Brent
With a new preface by the author

William Howell examines the key aspects of executive power-political and constitutional origins, philosophical underpinnings, manifestations in contemporary political life, implications for political reform, and looming influences over the standards to which we hold those individuals elected to America’s highest office. In a new preface, Howell reflects on presidential power during the presidency of Barack Obama.”As one who served in the White House, I know something about the demands and dimensions of the modern presidency. In Thinking about the Presidency, William Howell contributes new and valuable insights into how the role has evolved, and what it means for our country.” –David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama

Read Chapter 1

Christopher Bail on anti-Muslim sentiment

In this clip from the documentary, sociologist and author Christopher Bail discusses whether the sea change in American public opinion about Islam over the past few years may have contributed to the recent murder of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His recent book, Terrified, employs computer analytics techniques to show how anti-Muslim organizations have gained visibility in the public sphere. In this clip, Bail speaks with a close friend of one of the victims. You can watch the entire documentary here.

Last month, Bail spoke with Paul Rosenberg at Salon about his innovative new methodology for studying how fear is fostered in the broader cultural landscape. He was interviewed about the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shootings in the Guardian earlier this year.

Katherine Freese, author of “The Cosmic Cocktail,” at the Royal Astronomical Society

Freese RAS talk

Katherine Freese speaking at the Royal Astronomical Society

Only 5 percent of all matter and energy in the cosmos (think plants, animals, planets, the air we breathe) is made up of ordinary atoms. The rest is known as dark matter—it cannot be seen with telescopes, and its precise identity remains unknown. The Cosmic Cocktail is the inside story of the epic quest to identify dark matter and learn what the universe is made of, told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter, acclaimed theoretical physicist Katherine Freese. Neil deGrasse Tyson calls the book “a gripping first person account of her life as a cosmologist…Part memoir, part tutorial, part social commentary.” It’s the perfect detective story for science geeks.

Freese post-talk

Post-event drinks at the Royal Astronomical Society

This week, Katherine Freese is in the UK talking about her research and the book. On April 8, she gave a talk at the Royal Astronomical Society and then recorded The Forum on the BBC World Service, which was presented by science journalist Quentin Cooper and will be broadcast and available to listen to online later this month.

Freese and Quinton Cooper

Freese and Quentin Cooper

Don’t miss Freese’s upcoming speaking engagements: On April 15th, Freese and PUP author Jacqueline Mitton will be participating in Edinburgh International Science Festival and on April 16th Freese will be speaking at Blackwell’s in Oxford. Freese will be a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on April 17th. On May 26th, she will be speaking at Hay Festival, a philosophy and music festival in Hay-on-Wye, (one of the biggest literary festivals in the UK, which was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as “The Woodstock of the mind”).

Freese recording The Forum at BBC

Freese recording at BBC Broadcasting House


Michael Chwe explains common knowledge, and why it matters to Mark Zuckerberg

Michael Chwe for UCOMM - 130321Michael Chwe, whose book, Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge has, in his words, “made its way out of the backwaters of course syllabi” to catch the attention of Mark Zuckerberg, had a terrific piece on the Monkey Cage blog of the Washington Post explaining exactly what common knowledge is, and why it’s so important. According to Chwe, common knowledge is generated by large scale social media platforms like Facebook, and this matters because of the many ways it can be leveraged, among them, stopping violence against women, and helping to foster collective political action.

From his piece on the Washington Post:

When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg chose my book “Rational Ritual” last week for his “A Year of Books” book club, I was surprised. “Rational Ritual” came out in 2001, and has somehow slowly made its way out of the backwaters of course syllabi into the elevated spheres of technology companies. This is gratifying to me, because even though it is a scholarly book published by a university press, “Rational Ritual” is essentially a popularization.

“Rational Ritual” tries to popularize the concept of “common knowledge” as defined by the philosopher David Lewis and the sociologist Morris Friedell in 1969. A fact or event is common knowledge among a group of people if everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows it, everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows it, and so on.

When I was a graduate student in economics in the late 1980s, most people considered common knowledge as an idea of only theoretical interest. People who thought about collective action (and its flip side, political repression) were mostly interested in the problem of free riding, rather than how people communicate. But social change isn’t just about tackling incentives to free ride – it’s also a problem of coordination.

Read the rest here.

Recently, Michael Chwe, a master of interdisciplinary applications for otherwise “rarified mathematical theories” has been particularly active in exploring how game theory can help curb sexual violence. Check out his piece on the topic on the PBS Newshour blog here. His recent Q&A with Facebook Books is up here.


Books released during the week of April 6, 2015

Among this week’s new releases is the highly anticipated Note Book, which arguably raises the Facebook post to the level of art form. A collection of short essays from the Notes section of Princeton English professor Jeff Nunokawa’s Facebook page, Note Book is, in the words of Publisher’s Weekly, “[A] winning look at how people connect, or attempt to connect, in person and online.” Check out this and other new releases, including The Proof in the Pudding by Jim Henle, which combines the pleasures of mathematics and cooking, and The Good Immigrants by Madeline Hsu, which offers a timely look at the shifts in immigration laws and perceptions of cultural traits that enabled Asians to remain in the United States.

New in Hardcover:

Note Book The Politics of Precaution
The Good Immigrants Human Nature & Jewish Thought
The Proof and the Pudding Life's Engines
Social Evolution and Inclusive Fitness Theory Strangers No More

New in Paperback:

A Century of Genocide The Essential Hirschman
The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals The Muqaddimah
Nations under God Telsa
War and Democratic Constraint

Weekly Bestsellers

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game by Andrew Hodges
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet by Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman
Irrational Exuberance: Revised and Expanded Third edition by Robert J. Shiller
On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín
Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist’s Companion by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman

An interview with Jeff Nunokawa, author of “Note Book”

Note BookEach morning since 2007, Jeff Nunokawa, English professor at Princeton University, logs onto Facebook and writes something. But unlike most of us who take part in this simple exercise in connection, Nunokawa is both effortlessly lyrical and impressively well-read, drawing in references from Henry James to Joni Mitchell.  Note Book, which compiles the 250 most striking of the brief, daily essays Nunokawa has shared on his “notes” page, resembles an extensive multimedia project, but retains a remarkable sense of intimacy.  Laura Kipnis compares his posts to “witty billets-doux from an astonishingly literate secret admirer”, and if you take a look at the way he writes, you’ll see why. Recently, Jeff was kind enough to indulge us with some personal insights into his writing process, motivations, and obsession with revision on the social media platform. It’s fascinating stuff:

What are you doing when you write these essays for Facebook, and why are you doing it?

JN: Well, I write these brief essays every morning, or sometimes in the middle of the night because I’m alone a lot and lonely and very talkative but being alone, there’s no one to talk to. But actually, I’m not really alone, even when I’m by myself. I’ve read a lot of books and they’re all around me. Mostly literature although other things as well: a fair amount of philosophy, for example, and every Eleanor Roosevelt biography and memoir I can get my hands on. Also, a picture of my mother’s dog and various soccer players and my feeling of the presence of all kinds of spirits. And when I’m quiet enough for a while, these things all speak to me, if I let them. And after that, if they let me, I write a little essay which conveys as best it can the courage and clarity and good humor of the above spirits—some of the above spirits can be incredibly witty! (you should hear what Eleanor Roosevelt has to say about JFK!)—to others who might be able to use it.

I guess what I’m trying to do is to put to use what I’ve learned over the course of a long, strange life reading and teaching and telling stories. I’m trying to make it useful to other people.


JN: Well, I think most people are like me, in at least one respect. I think everyone feels deeply in the dark, sometimes—sometimes, just lying in bed, wondering how they’re going to make it through the day. Sometimes it takes the best voices you’ve ever heard in your life just to get from horizontal to vertical. That’s where a lot of what I write tries to come in and give people a lift.

How has your writing changed over the course of the time you have been engaged in this project?

JN: Well, I think I used to be much more concerned with showing off when I started—showing off what I knew and how “knowing” I was. I think I’m less concerned now with showing off than I am with *showing*. I’ll put it this way: when I started out, my model was Walter Benjamin—a crazy beautiful German Philosopher-Mystic, who wrote these astonishing often very mysterious, fragmentary aphorisms. Now, I think, I’m a little more taken with example of the Reverend Paul Osumi.


JN: The Reverend Paul Osumi had a daily column in the Honolulu Advertiser when I was a kid. Actually, it wasn’t so much a column—it was one those “thought for the day” kind of deals: just these little daily inspirations to get through the day with as much light in your soul and your step as you could. I don’t remember a single thing he said, but I remember how important that column was for half of Honolulu. When I was a kid (like till about last year), I used to think he was some kind of shallow smiley-faced fool. Now he’s pretty much my role model.

Well aside from the Reverend Paul Osumi, do you have other role models that influence your writing?

JN: Sure: let’s see: lots of the big essayists of the 18th and 19th centuries—Hume, Johnson and Lamb and Pater, writers like that who were so concerned with using what they knew to try to help live better.

What about prose models—stylists whom you model yourself on? As you must know, your writing can be a little “quirky” as your editor calls it.

JN: Yeah, I know. Well, I’m really trying to be a little more mainstream and accessible—less Gerard Manley Hopkins and more E.B. White—but I’m always going to hear the call of “Pied Beauty” and all that gorgeous jazz that makes you cry and see the world more clearly through all the tears, all the Tears of this Beautiful Broken World. I don’t mean to sound all precious. Heck, I hear E. B. White wept whenever he read out loud and the passage in Charlotte’s Web where the spider dies.

The writing that you do on Facebook, you revise compulsively.  It’s ironic that the writing you do on Facebook, on a virtual platform of ephemerality, should be the site where you are most concerned with revising, so that you might produce something polished for the ages. What’s that about, I wonder?

JN: Good question. It may be that the answer would only be interesting to my therapist. Oh wait. I forgot. I don’t have a therapist. The writing itself is my only therapy, now. It used to be that I needed Therapy to write. Now writing is therapy. Funny how life turns out.

Anyway, to return to the question. I don’t know, except that the irony you’re touching on here informs the spirit and style of some of the greatest essayists and I’m happy to follow their lead: the impulse to put the realms of conversation—and what is the internet, if not a place where the live sense of ephemeral conversation crackles like an electric wire into contact with the realms of solid learning (“for the ages”). Hume says, on his essay on essay writing,

I cannot but consider myself as a Kind of Resident or Ambassador from the Dominions of Learning to those of Conversation

and by gum, what’s good enough for Hume is good enough for me.

March Mathness 2015: The Wrap Up


The champion has been crowned! After an eventful and surprising March Madness tournament, Duke has been named the new NCAA national champion.

A year of bragging rights goes to PUP paperbacks manager Larissa Skurka (98.6 percent) and PUP executive math and computer science editor Vickie Kearn (98.4 percent), who took first and second place in our ESPN bracket pool. Congrats to both! Check out all of the results here.

As we wrap up March Mathness, here are two final guest posts from basketball fans who used math and Tim Chartier‘s methods to create their brackets.

 Swearing by Bracketology

By Jeff Smith

My name is Jeff Smith, and I’ve been using Tim Chartier’s math algorithms to help with my March Madness brackets for several years now. I met Tim when we were traveling the ‘circuit’ together in creative ministries training. You may only know Tim for his math prowess, but I knew him for his creativity before I knew he was a brilliant mathematician. He and his wife, Tanya, are professional mimes, and his creativity is genius too.

Several years ago, he mentioned his method for picking brackets at a conference where we were doing some training together. He promised to send me the home page for his site and I could fill out my brackets using his parameters and formula. I was excited to give it a shot. Mainly, because I am part of a men’s group at our church that participates in March Madness brackets every year. Bragging rights are a big deal…for the whole year. You get the picture.

Also, I have two boys who did get one of my genes: the competitive edge. I sat down and explained the process. Because they did not know Tim, they were a little more skeptical, but I promised it wouldn’t hurt to try. That year, in a pool of 40+ guys, we all finished in the top ten. We were all hooked!

Since then, I have contacted Tim each year and reminded him to send me the link to his site where I could put in our numbers to fill out our brackets. Generally, the three of us each incorporate different parameters because we have different philosophies about the process. It has become a family event, where we sit around the dinner table; almost ceremonially, and we take our output and place them in the brackets. The submission is generally preceded by trash talking, prayer, and fasting. (Well, probably not the fasting, because we fill up with nachos and chips during the process.)

Jeff post

Men of March Mathness: Jeff, Samuel, Ben Smith.

This year, I was in South Africa on a mission trip during the annual ritual. Thank God for video chatting and internet access. Halfway across the world, we were still able to be together and place our brackets into the pool. It was such a wonderful experience. While my boys veered from the path, picking intuitively instead of statistically, I didn’t stray far. (I was strong!) If it wouldn’t have been for Villanova, whom I will never choose again in a bracket, I would be leading the pack. But, I’m still in the top ten of the men’s bracket at my church, with an outside shot of winning. In the Princeton bracket, I’m doing even better because I stayed away from the guessing game a little more.

I do not follow college basketball during the season. I’m from central Pennsylvania, and Penn State doesn’t have a good basketball team. So, I have no passion for the basketball season. Periodically, I’ll watch a game because my boys are watching, but generally, basketball season is the long wait until baseball season. (Go Pirates!) So, March Mathness has saved my reputation. It makes me look like a genius. Other guys in the group are looking at my bracket for answers. My boys and I are sworn to secrecy about the formula. The only reason I write this is because I’m sure none of them read this blog! But I’m thankful for Tim and the formula and the chance to look good in front of friends. I have never won the pool, however, if you factor my finishes over the course of the years I have been using Tim’s formula, I have the best average of all the guys.


 What Do Coaches Have to Do with It?

By Stephen Gorman, College of Charleston student


It’s that time of year again. The time of year when everyone compares brackets to see who did the best. But if your bracket was busted early, don’t worry — you’re not the only one. In fact, nobody came out of the tournament with a perfect bracket.

The unpredictability of these games is an inescapable fact of March Madness. This tournament is so incredibly unpredictable that some people are willing to give out billions to anyone who can create a perfect bracket; Warren Buffett is one of these people. So is he crazy? Or does he realize your odds of creating a perfect bracket are 52 billion times worse than winning the Powerball. In layman’s terms – if you think playing the lottery is crazy, trying to create the perfect bracket is insane.

However, once you can accept the statistics, predicting March Madness becomes a game of bettering you’re odds – and there are many predictive models that can help you out along the way. Some of these models include rating methods, like the Massey method, which takes into account score differentials and strength of schedule. In addition to this, there are weighting methods that can be applied to rating methods; these take into account the significance of particular games and even individual player statistics. However, I noticed there is one thing missing from these predictive models: a method that quantifies the value of a good coach. In order to take into account the importance of a coach, a fellow researcher (John Sussingham) and I decided to create our own rating system for coaches.

Using data available from, we made a system of rating that incorporated such factors as the coach’s career win percentage, March Madness appearances, and the record of success in March Madness. But before we implemented it, we wanted to justify that it was, indeed, a good way to quantify the strength of a coach. In order to do this, we tested the coach ratings in two ways. The first way being a comparison between how sports writers ranked the top 10 College Basketball coaches of all time and what our coach ratings said were the best coaches of all time. The second way was to test how the coach ratings did by themselves at predicting March Madness.

The comparison of the rankings are shown in the table below:

Rank Our Results CBS Sports Results Bleacher Report Results
1 John Wooden John Wooden John Wooden
2 Mike Krzyzewski Mike Krzyzewski Bobby Knight
3 Adolph Rupp Bob Knight Mike Krzyzewski
4 Jim Boeheim Dean Smith Adolph Rupp
5 Dean Smith Adolph Rupp Dean Smith
6 Roy Williams Henry Iba Jim Calhoun
7 Jerry Tarkanian Phog Allen Jim Boeheim
8 Al McGuire Jim Calhoun Lute Olson
9 Bill Self John Thompson Eddie Sutton
10 Jamie Dixon Jim Boeheim Jim Phelan

It is clear from the table above that there are striking similarities between all three rankings. This concluded our first test.

For the second test, we decided to use the coach ratings to predict the last fourteen years of March Madness. The results showed that over the last fourteen years, on average, coach ratings had 68.4 precent prediction accuracy and an ESPN bracket score of 946. As a comparison, the uniform (un-weighted) Massey method of rating (over the same timespan) had an average prediction accuracy of 65.2 precent and an average ESPN bracket score of 1006. Having a higher prediction accuracy, but lower ESPN bracket score essentially means that you have predicted more games correctly in the beginning of the tournament, but struggle in the later rounds. This comes to show that not only are these ratings good at predicting March Madness, but they stand their ground when compared to the effectiveness of very popular methods of rating.

To conclude this article, we decided that, this year, we would combine both the Massey ratings and our Coach ratings to make a bracket for March Madness. Over the last fourteen years, the combination-rating had an average prediction accuracy of 66.33 percent and an average ESPN bracket score of 1024. It’s interesting to note that while the prediction accuracy went down from just using the Coach ratings, the ESPN bracket score went up significantly. Even more interestingly, both the prediction accuracy and the ESPN Bracket score were better than uniform Massey.

This year, the combination-ratings had three out of the four Final Four teams correctly predicted with Kentucky beating Duke in the Championship. However, the undefeated Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four. Despite this, the combination-ratings bracket still did well, finishing in the 87.6th percentile on ESPN.