Bad SERP: basketball diameter

Basketball is happening around me (good news: I am not in last place in my office bracket pool thing) and I got curious, for some reason, about the dimensions of a basketball. So I asked Google: basketball diameter.

Most of this SERP is junk, but the first organic result is actually perfect, answering my question above the fold (and they even included the answer in the meta description, so I didn’t even have to click at all if I didn’t want to):

A standard NBA basketball is 9.43 to 9.51 inches in diameter, or 29 5/8 to 29 7/8 inches in circumference. It is inflated to a pressure of 7.5 to 8.5 pounds.

But instead of trusting their own organic search ranking algorithm to provide searchers with the best answer, Google scraped the #2 result to give me an incorrect answer: I specifically asked for the diameter of a basketball; what appeared above the search results was information about a basketball’s circumference. This is a very bad experience.

Google should stop scraping publishers’ sites to put answers directly in search results in cases where the nature of the question is strictly factual and where the facts would actually be wrong.

Pharma marketing 101

Shire, Maker of Binge-Eating Drug Vyvanse, First Marketed the Disease:

The retired tennis player Monica Seles spent this month making the rounds of television talk shows… to share her personal struggle with binge eating…

binge eating is a real medical condition…

Ms. Seles is a paid spokeswoman for Shire, which late last month won approval to market its top-selling drug, Vyvanse, to treat binge-eating disorder, a condition that once existed in the shadow of better-known disorders like anorexia and bulimia but was officially recognized as its own disorder in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association.

As Shire introduces an ambitious campaign to promote Vyvanse but also to raise awareness about the disorder, some are saying the company is going too far to market a drug, a type of amphetamine, that is classified by the federal government as having a high potential for abuse…

The company helped put another once-stigmatized condition — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — on the medical map and made billions of dollars from the sale of drugs, like Vyvanse and Adderall, to treat it…

Suppose you are a pharmaceutical company. You invest millions, billions, of dollars in laboratories and chemists, and at the end of a very long process, the outcome is a new drug. Let’s call it, for fun, Mezuyafir. You then have to figure out what conditions that drug can treat.

If it cures a diagnosable disease, that’s good! But if it just changes the chemical composition of people’s brains to make them more happy, more docile, more virile or more focused, that’s even better.

What you now need to do is come up with a medical condition that matches with your new drug. In some cases, the condition may be real and serious; in other cases the condition might be real but not very serious; in other cases the condition will inevitably be frivolous. Let’s call it Magafitis.

Then, though it is legal under many circumstances in the United States to market your new drug directly to consumers, you actually market the hell out of the condition with lots of crass commercial advertisements that advise people to “Talk to your doctor about” whatever problem that they never realized was a problem.

Hey, Magafitis can be serious! It’s a serious issue! Someone knows someone who knows someone who spent a year in bed recovering from Magafitis! And there is a whole forum on the internet for people to share stories and tips about how to find a doctor who takes Magafitis seriously.

Advertising works, so lots and lots and lots and lots of people are going to start asking their doctors about that issue. And the doctors out there – bless them all – are very good at prescribing drugs.

Suppose two thirds of the people who talk to their doctors about Magafitis get prescriptions to treat it. If your new drug Mezuyafir is the only one available that treats Magafitis, the condition that you just made up, then millions of people are going to start taking it, and you’re going to become very rich.

Welcome to pharma marketing.

Are Kuwait and Israel really at war?

Israeli woman in NY barred from Kuwaiti airline:

An Israeli woman who has lived in the United States for the last 15 years was barred from boarding a Kuwait Airways flight in New York because of her Israeli citizenship… A Kuwaiti law prohibits Israeli citizens from flying on Kuwait Airways… Eliazarov has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the airline, which argues that the airline policy violates both state and federal civil rights laws.

Putting aside what I believe to be the relevant legal issues here (federal law in the US prohibits private discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of national origin; federal law in the US also prohibits participation in the Arab League’s boycott of Israel), there’s another question lurking behind this story: Kuwait apparently considers itself to be at war with Israel. Why?

Kevin Spacey does “South Carolina”

What linguists say about Kevin Spacey’s bizarre Southern accent on House of Cards:

…the show has always had one big, scenery-chewing constant: Kevin Spacey’s Southern accent… is Spacey’s accent accurate at all? … Spacey is hitting certain features very well, some distinct sounds are being ignored… Frank Underwood sounds like a Southerner born before World War II…

I’ve noticed a few interesting things about people’s accents – especially the accents of people who have migrated from one country or region to another – in the nearly two decades that I’ve been listening to them carefully. One is that people who are consciously using a “prestige” accent can be very convincing for short periods, and when they aren’t under stress, but that when they need to speak at length and don’t have prepared remarks, or when they are in difficult or stressful situations, they’ll frequently revert to their more “natural” accents.

In the first two seasons of House of Cards, I observed quite the opposite from Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood. During normal conversation or soliloquy, he used the simulated “South Carolina” accent described by Vox, but when his character was under pressure, the accent got milder or disappeared altogether.

This is the opposite of what I’d expect: after a long political career in Washington DC, Frank Underwood’s “South Carolina” accent should be almost completely neutralized. But the longer he speaks at any given time, or the more strain that’s being put on him, the more evident his character’s roots should be.

I’m surprised at Kevin Spacey’s oversight on this matter.

Nakamoto v. Newsweek

Back in March, after Newsweek reporter Leah Goodman published an article claiming to have identified Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, I defended Newsweek and her from many scurrilous arguments that she was either wrong about Nakamoto or wrong to out him publicly.

Now Nakamoto is raising money from the public, ostensibly to sue Newsweek.

He has not, however, to the best of my knowledge, actually filed suit against Newsweek or Leah Goodman.

His extremely frail and minimal response to the Newsweek article should be taken as further evidence that he is, in fact, the man who created Bitcoin. If he was not the right man at all – if Goodman was 100% wrong and if Newsweek had published an article that was simply untrue – he would easily have a case against them for libel, not to mention intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. If he genuinely had nothing to do with Bitcoin, he’d easily be able to find an attorney to represent him pro bono. In court, I would expect him to account for his time during the years when he wasn’t working and Bitcoin was being worked out and launched.

But he’s acting exactly like someone who knows he’s been caught doing something that (probably) isn’t a crime but who doesn’t want to take responsibility for it publicly.

To review: the person who started the Bitcoin project used the name Satoshi Nakamoto. That must either be the person’s real name or, a fake name with some meaning, or a fake name with no meaning at all.

  • If it’s the person’s real name, we can be sure that Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto is the Satoshi Nakamoto who created Bitcoin, because there are only a few other Satoshi Nakamotos in the world, and none of them is a libertarian engineer with a known interest in currencies (the detective work leading to this information is Goodman’s contribution).
  • If it’s a completely fake name with no meaning at all, then why and how would someone randomly have chosen these two words, Satoshi and Nakamoto, that together form the name of a libertarian engineer with a known interest in currencies?
  • If it’s a fake name with some meaning, the meaning has got to be that Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto has been framed. But framed by whom? For what purpose? None of his defenders will say why someone would create Bitcoin and then use Nakamoto’s name for it.