The Best Science Follows the Designs in Nature

first_imgThe most fruitful kind of research seeks to understand nature’s workings, and when appropriate, imitate it.How do flying bees make perfect turns? (Phys.org). A perfect turn requires keeping centrifugal force constant, and bees do it. Researchers at the University of Queensland studied bees in a chamber with high-speed photography. Using vector calculus, they mathematically analyzed the turns for speed, curvature, and centrifugal force.Significantly, bees were able to maintain a largely constant centripetal acceleration while turning, regardless of how sharp the turns were or how fast the bees were travelling, which minimised the effects of centrifugal force on their flight path. Centripetal force pulls an object towards the centre of the turn, while centrifugal force pushes it away from the centre.The bees were equally competent at left and right turns. As with birds, bats and humans, bees slow down approaching a turn and speed up on exit. What was noteworthy is that “When a bee is making a turn, it cleverly reduces its speed in an appropriate way so that the centrifugal force that it experiences is always constant.”What the scientists learned could improve performance in aerial robots and ground vehicles, a short video clip explains. If you’ve ever skidded on a turn, you could use help from bee intelligence.Aquatic animals that jump out of water inspire leaping robots (Science Daily). Many sea creatures, from flying fish to breaching whales, leap out of the water from time to time. A Cornell scientist and grad student found that “Aquatic animals’ maximum jumping height is related to their body size, while ‘entrained water mass’ plays a limiting role.” Entrained water mass is the water the animal brings up with it. A tiny copepod just a millimeter in size has to cope with this physical reality as does a dolphin. Most leaping animals are streamlined, making the effort easier.“We collected data about aquatic animals of different sizes – from about 1 millimeter to tens of meters – jumping out of water, and were able to reveal how their maximum jumping heights are related to their body size,” said Jung.In nature, animals frequently move in and out of water for various purposes — including escaping predators, catching prey, or communicating. “But since water is 1,000 times denser than air, entering or exiting water requires a lot of effort, so aquatic animals face mechanical challenges,” Jung said.The results were presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society. Dr Jung said, “We’re trying to understand how biological systems are able to smartly figure out and overcome these challenges to maximize their performance, which might also shed light on engineering systems to enter or exit air-water interfaces.”Move over Rover: There’s a new sniffing powerhouse in the neighborhood (Science Daily). Another presentation at the American Physical Society concerned animals with a “superpower” sense of smell. Forensic teams and medical researchers often use dogs to assist in finding targets. Elephants have a profoundly good sense of smell, too. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, known for its biomimetics program, decided to “study animals’ unique sense of smell to develop improved chemical sensors.” The result: a new kind of electronic nose, inspired by nature.“We turned to animals to understand what nature has already figured out,” said Thomas Spencer, a doctoral candidate in David Hu’s lab at Georgia Tech. “We are applying the underlying principles that we learned about these mechanisms to design a better sensor.“One thing they learned is that sniffing speed is related to body size. Mice sniff much faster than elephants, for instance. From this knowledge, they are developing a customized oscillating pump that controls the airflow. It’s still a fairly new study at this time, but they hope to get better as they try to match what animals do so well.Bioinspired ultra-stretchable and anti-freezing conductive hydrogel fibers with ordered and reversible polymer chain alignment (Nature Communications).  “Stretchable electronics” could be used in many applications, such as stretchable sensors and supercapacitors. Enter the famous biomimetic champion, the spider. “Here we show a simple spinning method to prepare conductive hydrogel fibers with ordered polymer chain alignment that mimics the hierarchically organized structure of spider silk.” Pause for a little praise for what these tiny animals do:In nature, spiders spin silk fibers from aqueous protein solutions at ambient conditions. The hierarchically organized structure of spider silk and its unique spinning process are the key factors to achieve its superb properties. For example, spider dragline silk is a semi-crystalline protein polymer, where alanine-rich crystalline regions are connected by soft glycine-rich amorphous regions as linkers. Inspired by the organized structure and the unique spinning process of spider silk, we propose to develop a simple spinning method to prepare conductive hydrogel fibers with ordered and reversible chain alignment from aqueous solution of polyelectrolytes at ambient conditions.Spotting nature’s own evolution of quantum tricks could transform quantum technology (Phys.org). Yes, biology knows about quantum mechanics, too. Engineers at the University of Warwick are looking at creatures that master QM for ideas. QM looms large in new technologies, such as quantum computing, new energy sources and sensors. Why not see how plants and animals use it? It’s difficult to observe this, but researchers are hot on the trail:Dr. Knee added: “The possibilities are tantalising: if our proposed test were carried out in a biological system, and returned a positive result, we might be able to learn quantum engineering design principles from nature. We could then try to create biomimetic technologies that are more robust and perhaps even more powerful than the current generation of quantum technologies, which are almost exclusively based on highly isolated systems. If we were able to turbocharge artificial light harvesting, such as in a solar cell for example, there would be a huge potential for providing affordable, renewable energy.”More examples in tomorrow’s entry!Hurrah for biomimetics! Teach it to your kids. Have them do it as a science project. If they invent a useful biomimetic device, they could make a fortune, and you could retire in comfort. They will also learn to appreciate design, and what it takes to make a device work. Undoubtedly they will marvel at how nature does it, and this will lead to increased doubts that Darwinism is up to the task. Stuff doesn’t just happen.(Visited 287 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Hay quality 2019; It’s Déjà vu all over again!

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest By Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County, Ohio State University ExtensionComing off a year where quality forages for beef cattle were in short supply throughout Ohio, now in mid-2019 we find that inventory remains critically low. With the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) estimating only 60% of Ohio’s first cutting hay harvest was completed by the first of July, it’s apparent that Ohio cattlemen will again be faced with finding ways to make “feed” from hay that was harvested way past it’s prime.As an example of the hay quality we’re seeing, a recent forage analysis on some Fairfield County mixed grass hay that was mowed on June 25th and baled on June 29 – after also getting lightly rained on once – came back showing 6.85% protein and 38.02% TDN (total digestible nutrients) on a dry matter basis. The ADF (acid detergent fiber) was 51.63% and the NDF (neutral detergent fiber) was 65.51%.I could tell you that’s not good, but perhaps a better way is to compare it to wheat straw. When you look up the “book values” for the feed nutrient content of straw you find that for the most part, this hay is little better than typical wheat straw. With so much first cutting hay being made in late June and beyond this year, as Yogi Berra would have said, “it’s déjà vu all over again!”Feed of the quality referenced in the forage sample analysis above and fed as long stem hay, even when offered in unlimited amounts, simply won’t satisfy the nutritional requirements of a cow at any time during the year, including during her time of least nutritional need when she’s dry during mid-gestation. Without amendment, feeding this quality of forage for very long results in cows with lesser body condition, delayed return to estrus, lower conception rates, lighter weaning weights, lower quality colostrum, and even perhaps weak calves at birth.Processing or chopping mature, long stem, grass hay can increase the rate of forage digestion 30%Considering that a forage supply and quality problem exists across Ohio and extends throughout much of the Midwest, it’s not realistic to expect we can replace all the poor-quality hay being made this year with purchased hay or a properly made second or third cutting. While growing additional forages on Prevented Planting corn and soybean acres for harvest this fall may relieve some of the pressure, it’s apparent it’ll be necessary to find ways to effectively utilize the lesser quality first cutting hay we presently have. There are options available to accomplish just that, and time to create and implement strategies that allows it without cow health suffering.As you consider alternatives for making feed from late made, low digestible forages, and stretching the supply of any high quality forages that might be in inventory, consider this brief checklist:Sample, test and inventory each lot of hay that’s made. Similar qualities of hay should be stored together in order that they can be found and fed at the most opportune times during the hay feeding season. Can bunk feeding cows during the winter months be made an option? This allows for limited supplementation of extra energy and/or protein in the correct amounts at the correct times. Could processing poor quality long stem hay into smaller particle size be made an option? Reducing the large particle size of mature long stem grass hay to two to 6 inches in length can increase the rate of forage digestion enough that it allows cows to consume 25-30% more forage daily. Optimize the quantity and quality of subsequent hay cuttings this year by fertilizing now. At a minimum, applying 35 to 50 units of additional nitrogen will benefit future cuttings this year. As the summer progresses, in this publication we’ll continue to look at forage quality and specific options for supplementing the hay we have in inventory. In the meantime, give serious consideration to how best you can grow additional feed yet this year, and strategically supplement poor quality forages, or process them into feed that’s more digestible.last_img read more

Photos: USC Unveils New Trojan Logo, Design Evolution

first_imgnew usc trojan logo.new usc trojan logoFriday, USC unveiled a new set of logos, calling the updates part of a “design evolution” for the program. But don’t worry, Trojans fans – the football team won’t be moving to the new Trojan logo on its helmets just yet.USC says that it’s been working with Nike for the last 18 months on the brand evolution.#USC has unveiled a new Trojan logo but it will not be used for football helmet pic.twitter.com/KO0MpW8csV— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) April 15, 2016From USC: –A new Trojan Head logo has been designed. However, the current Trojan Head on the football helmet will continue on the helmet.— Lisa Horne (@LisaHorne) April 15, 2016Here’s what the school is calling the highlights of the unveiling:–The SC interlock remains the primary logo and mark for USC Athletics, but the current script-face TROJANS above the SC interlock has been eliminated. However, the specific logos currently used by USC baseball (SC monogram) and track (SC shield) will continue to be used by those programs.–A new Trojan Head logo has been designed. However, the current Trojan Head used on the football helmet will continue in use on the helmet.–A new custom alphabet and numeral type font–based on Greek Doric architecture–is used for USC’s word marks (“USC,” “Trojans,” “Fight On”), its sport-specific logo lock-ups and other typography.–A new ornamental Greek key pattern is available for use as trim on uniforms, gear and promotional material.–USC’s primary colors remain Cardinal and Gold. But secondary colors of Black and White and a tertiary color of Metallic Gold have been added for occasional use.The refreshed look will be used on the uniforms, gear, stationery and promotional material for all 21 Trojan sports.You can see all of the new designs over at usctrojans.com. There is apparently already new USC merchandise with the changes in the bookstore.last_img read more

The Latest Trump US flags to fly at halfstaff for Bush

first_imgBUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The Latest on President Donald Trump at the Group of 20 summit (all times local):1:15 p.m.President Donald Trump has ordered American flags to fly at half-staff for 30 days to honour former President George H.W. Bush.In a proclamation signed Saturday, hours after Bush died, Trump has also designated Wednesday as a national day of mourning. Trump encourages Americans to gather in places of worship “to pay homage” to Bush’s memory.He adds: “I invite the people of the world who share our grief to join us in this solemn observance.”Trump hails Bush as “one of America’s greatest points of light,” a reference to one of Bush’s signature phrases about American civic culture.Trump has mocked the “points of light” phrase, saying at campaign rallies that “I never quite got that one.”___12:40 p.m.President Donald Trump is cancelling a planned news conference at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina Saturday, “out of respect for the Bush Family” after death of former President George H.W. Bush.In a tweet, Trump says he was “very much looking forward” to speaking with the news media before leaving the summit in Buenos Aires “because we have had such great success in our dealing with various countries and their leaders at the G20.”He adds: “However, out of respect for the Bush Family and former President George H.W. Bush we will wait until after the funeral to have a press conference.”Trump is scheduled to meet down Saturday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping before returning to Washington.___4:45 a.m.When President Donald Trump sits down for dinner Saturday with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, their table talk will undoubtedly have a global impact.Trump and Xi will be seeking a way out of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, while also saving face for their domestic audiences at home. Trump says: “There’s some good signs. We’ll see what happens.”The Trump-Xi meeting is the marquee event of Trump’s whirlwind two-day trip to Argentina for the Group of 20 Summit.Trade analysts and administration officials acknowledge it won’t be easy. The United States and China are locked in a dispute over their trade imbalance and Beijing’s push to challenge American technological dominance.The Associated Presslast_img read more

91 percent of fatal overdoses in Northern BC involved fentanyl

first_imgFORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The BC Coroners Service has released the latest statistics looking at the ongoing fatal drug overdoes epidemic which shows a large spike in the number of illicit drug overdoses across the province in March.Preliminary data indicates that 161 B.C. residents died of a drug overdose in March, a jump of 59 compared to February. That’s a 58 percent increase compared to the 102 deaths that occurred in February, and a 24 percent increase over the number of fatalities in March 2017.The overdose death rate in Northern B.C. surged in March after trailing the rest of the province. After recording nine deaths in the first two months of the year, Northern Health recorded 13 deaths in March alone, bringing the yearly total to 22.  Of the 22 fatal overdoses so far this year in Northern Health, 20 were recorded as fentanyl-detected overdoses, which works out to 91 percent of deadly overdoses.The BC Coroners Service is urgently reminding anyone using illicit drugs not to use alone. Those using substances should have someone nearby equipped and trained to administer naloxone or able to call 911 immediately if an overdose occurs. Photo by BC Coroners ServiceThree of last month’s deaths occurred in Northeast B.C., while eight occurred in the Northern Interior, and the Northwest region recorded its first fatal overdose of the year. The Northern Interior now has the second-highest rate of fatal drug overdoses of any region in the province, with 45.8 deaths per 100,000 residents. The fatality rate in Northeast B.C. is below the provincial average at 27 deaths per 100,000, while the Northern Health rate as a whole was the second-lowest in B.C. at 30.8 deaths per 100,000. Photo by BC Coroners Service Photo by BC Coroners Service Photo by BC Coroners Service Photo by BC Coroners Service The Coroners Service also released its quarterly statistics on the number of fatal overdoses in which fentanyl was detected. Of the 161 people across the province who died from an overdose, 129 had fentanyl detected in their systems, which works out to just over 80 percent. The number of fatal fentanyl overdoses across B.C. in March was higher than the 82 seen in February, and the 112 in January. The rate of fentanyl overdoses was even higher in Northern B.C. Eleven of the 13 people who died last month in the North had fentanyl detected, while all of the fatal overdoses in January and February involved fentanyl. Four of the five fatal overdoses in Northeast B.C. were fentanyl overdoses. last_img read more

6th Annual Spark Womens Leadership Conference this May

first_imgFORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Registration is now open for the 6th Annual Spark Women’s Leadership Conference.This program is designed for the professional development needs of the women in the Peace Country.According to event organizers, this year’s theme is ‘Shift Up and Fuel’ and is to reflect the shifting energy that all women seek at some point in their lives. This conference will provide quality education and take away tools that will assist in communication, business development, personal branding, and leadership.Some of the program sessions will include topics such as silencing your self-doubt and building connection over complacency.Registration per woman is $375.00 before March 31 and $425.00 after March 31.Group pricing is also available.The Spark Women’s Leadership Conference is taking place on May 15 and 16, 2019 at the Pomeroy Hotel & Conference Centre.For more information and to register, you can visit sharingthespark.com.last_img read more

US women’s football team sues federation for discrimination

first_imgLos Angeles: Twenty-eight members of the American women’s national football team have filed a suit against the US Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender discrimination, marking a new phase in a dispute that goes back years. The lawsuit, filed on Friday in the US District Court in Los Angeles, accuses the USSF of “institutionalised gender discrimination”, reports Efe news. Besides complaining that they are paid substantially less than their male counterparts, the women say USSF discriminates against them in terms of scheduling matches, the quality of physical training and coaching and in travel accommodations. Also Read – Dhoni, Paes spotted playing football together “A comparison of the WNT (Women’s National Team) and MNT (Men’s National Team) pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all 20 friendlies, female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game, while male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game,” the suit said. This is not the first time the women’s team has challenged the USSF: in 2016 five players presented a wage-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which subsequently authorised the aggrieved athletes to sue the federation. Also Read – Andy Murray to make Grand Slam return at Australian Open One of the original five complainants, former goalkeeper Hope Solo, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the USSF last August. The plaintiffs in the suit filed Friday are seeking to be certified as a class, which would give them the right to represent any of the dozens of players that have been part of the national team since February 4, 2015. The 28 plaintiffs include some of the biggest stars of international women’s football, such as Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. They are seeking several millions of dollars in damages, according to The New York Times. The US squad is the most successful in international women’s soccer, with three Women’s World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, eight CONCACAF Gold Cups and 10 Algarve Cups. Their counterparts on the US men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. “Each of us is extremely proud to wear the US jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that,” Morgan said. “We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility.” The women’s team are preparing to defend their title this summer at the 2019 Women’s World Cup tournament in France The filing of the lawsuit coincided with the observance of International Women’s Day.last_img read more

Modi biopic: SC asks EC to watch movie, take call

first_imgNew Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Election Commission to watch the movie “PM Narendra Modi” and then take a call on its screening. Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, arguing for the producer, said that the Election Commission took a cue from the apex court’s order and curbed its release without even watching the movie. The matter was adjourned to be taken up on a later date.last_img

‘US military action in Venezuela possible’

first_imgWASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the administration of President Donald Trump was prepared to take military action to stem the crisis in Venezuela. “The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Pompeo said on Fox Business Network. Pompeo said the US would prefer a peaceful transition of power, with President Nicolas Maduro leaving and new elections held to choose new leaders. Also Read – Saudi Crown Prince Salman ‘snubbed’ Pak PM Imran, recalled his private jet from US: Report”But the president has made clear in the event that there comes a moment — and we will all have to make decisions about when that moment is and the president will ultimately have to make that decision — he’s prepared to do that if that’s what’s required.” In a separate interview with CNN, National Security Advisor John Bolton said Pompeo would be speaking later today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the situation. Bolton and Pompeo have accused Russia and Cuba of standing in the way of a change in the regime in Caracas. Also Read – Iraq military admits ‘excessive force’ used in deadly protestsPompeo said Tuesday that Maduro was set to leave the country for Cuba but apparently was talked out of it by the Russians. “The Russians like nothing better than putting a thumb in our eye,” Bolton said. “They’re using the Cubans as surrogates. They’d love to get effective control of a country in this hemisphere.” “It’s not ideological, it’s just good old fashioned power politics. That’s why we have the Monroe doctrine which we’re dusting off in this administration, why the president indicated last night that the Cubans better think long and hard about what their role is,” he added. The Monroe doctrine is a 19th century US policy opposing interference in the western hemisphere by European powers, which later was invoked to justify US intervention in Latin America.last_img read more

Kickers Are Forever

In football, there are constant power struggles, both on and off the field: players battling players, offenses battling defenses, the passing game battling the running game, coaches battling coaches, and new ways of thinking battling old ways of thinking. And then there are kickers. Battling no one but themselves and the goalposts, they come on the field in moments most mundane and most decisive. They take all the blame when they fail, and little of the credit when they succeed. Year in and year out, just a little bit at a time, they get better. And better. And better. Until the game is completely different, and no one even noticed that kickers were one of the main reasons why.If you’ve been reading my NFL column Skeptical Football this season, you may have noticed that I write a lot about kickers. This interest has been building for a few years as I’ve watched field goals drained from long range at an ever-increasing rate, culminating in 2013, when NFL kickers made more than 67 percent of the kicks they took from 50-plus yards, giving them a record 96 such makes. There has been a lot of speculation about how kickers suddenly became so good at the long kick, ranging from performance-enhancing drugs (there have been a few possible cases) to the kickers’ special “k-balls” to more kick-friendly stadiums.So prior to the 2014 season, I set out to try to see how recently this improvement had taken place, whether it had been gradual or sudden, and whether it was specific to very long kicks or reflected improvement in kicking accuracy as a whole.What I found fundamentally changed my understanding of the game of football.1And possibly offered insight into how competitive sports can conceal remarkable changes in human capability.The complete(ish) history of NFL kickingPro Football Reference has kicking data broken down by categories (0-19 yards, 20-29, 30-39, 40-59 and 50+ yards) back to 1961. With this we can see how field goal percentage has changed through the years for each range of distances:It doesn’t matter the distance; kicking has been on a steady upward climb. If we look back even further, we can see indicators that kicking has been on a similar trajectory for the entire history of the league.The oldest data that Pro Football Reference has available is from 1932, when the eight teams in the NFL made just six field goals (it’s unknown how many they attempted). That year, kickers missed 37 of 113 extra-point attempts, for a conversion rate of 67.3 percent. The following year, the league moved the goal posts up to the front of the end zone — which led to a whopping 36 made field goals, and a skyrocketing extra-point conversion rate of 79.3 percent. With the uprights at the front of the end zone, kickers missed only 30 of 145 extra points.For comparison, those 30 missed extra-point attempts (all with the goalposts at the front of the end zone) are more than the league’s 28 missed extra-point attempts (all coming from 10 yards further out) from 2011 to 2014 — on 4,939 attempts.In 1938-39, the first year we know the number of regular field goals attempted, NFL kickers made 93 of 235 field-goal tries (39.6 percent) to go with 347 of 422 extra points (82.2 percent). In the ’40s, teams made 40.0 percent of their field goal tries (we don’t know what distances they attempted) and 91.3 percent of their XPs. In the ’50s, those numbers rose to 48.2 percent of all field goals and 94.8 percent of XPs. The ’60s must have seemed like a golden era: Kickers made 56 percent of all field goals (breaking the 50 percent barrier for the first time) and 96.8 percent of their extra points.For comparison, since 2010, NFL kickers have made 61.9 percent of their field goal attempts — from more than 50 yards.In the 1960s, we start to get data on field goal attempts broken down by distance, allowing for the more complete picture above. In 1972, the NFL narrowed the hash marks from 18.5 yards from 40, which improved field goal percentages overall by reducing the number of attempts taken from awkward angles. And then in 1974, the league moved the goal posts to the back of the end zone — but as kick distances are recorded relative to the posts, the main effect of this move was a small (and temporary) decline in the extra-point conversion rate (which you can see in the top line of the chart above). Then we have data on the kicks’ exact distance, plus field and stadium type, after 1993.2This info is likely out there for older kicks as well, but it wasn’t in my data.So let’s combine everything we know: Extra-point attempts and distances prior to 1961, kicks by category from 1961 to 1993, the kicks’ exact distance after 1993, and the changing placement of goal posts and hash marks. Using this data, we can model the likely success of any kick.With those factors held constant, here’s a look at how good NFL kickers have been relative to their set of kicks in any given year3This is done using a binomial probit regression with all the variables, using “year taken” as a categorical variable (meaning it’s not treated like a number, so 1961, 1962 and 1963 may as well be “Joe,” “Bob” and “Nancy”). This is similar to how SRS determines how strong each team is relative to its competition.:When I showed this chart to a friend of mine who’s a philosophy Ph.D.,4Hi, Nate! he said: “It’s like the Hacker Gods got lazy and just set a constant Kicker Improvement parameter throughout the universe.” The great thing about this is that since the improvement in kicking has been almost perfectly linear, we can treat “year” as just another continuous variable, allowing us to generalize the model to any kick in any situation at any point in NFL history.Applying this year-based model to our kicking distance data, we can see just how predictable the improvement in kicking has actually been:The model may give teams too much credit in the early ’60s — an era for which we have a lot less data — but over the course of NFL history it does extremely well (it also predicts back to 1932, not shown). What’s amazing is that, while the model incorporates things like hashmark location and (more recently) field type, virtually all the work is handled by distance and year alone. Ultimately, it’s an extremely (virtually impossibly) accurate model considering how few variables it relies on.5So how accurate is this thing? To be honest, in all my years of building models, I’ve never seen anything like it. The model misses a typical year/distance group prediction by an average of just 2.5 percent. Note that a majority of those predictions involve only a couple hundred observations — at most. For comparison, the standard deviation for 250 observations of a 75 percent event is 2.7 percent. In other words, the model pretty much couldn’t have done any better even if it knew the exact probability of each kick!While there is possibly a smidge of overfitting (there usually is), the risk here is lower than usual, since the vast majority of each prediction is driven solely by year and distance. Here’s the regression output:I wish I could take credit for this, but it really just fell into place. Nerds, perk up: The z-value on “season” is 46.2! If every predictive relationship I looked for were that easy to find, life would be sweet.This isn’t just trivia, it has real-world implications, from tactical (how should you manage the clock knowing your opponent needs only moderate yardage to get into field goal range?) to organizational (maybe a good kicker is worth more than league minimum). And then there’s the big one.Fourth downIf you’re reading this site, there’s a good chance you scream at your television a lot when coaches sheepishly kick or punt instead of going for it on fourth down. This is particularly true in the “dead zone” between roughly the 25- and 40-yard lines, where punts accomplish little and field goals are supposedly too long to be good gambles.I’ve been a card-carrying member of Team Go-For-It since the ’90s. And we were right, back then. With ’90s-quality kickers, settling for field goals in the dead zone was practically criminal. As of 10 years ago — around when these should-we-go-for-it models rose to prominence — we were still right. But a lot has changed in 10 years. Field-goal kicking is now good enough that many previous calculations are outdated. Here’s a comparison between a field-goal kicking curve from 2004 vs. 2014:There’s no one universally agreed-upon system for when you should go for it on fourth down. But a very popular one is The New York Times’ 4th Down Bot, which is powered by models built by Brian Burke — founder of Advanced Football Analytics and a pioneer in the quantitative analysis of football. It calculates the expected value (either in points or win percentages) for every fourth-down play in the NFL, and tweets live results during games. Its 19,000-plus followers are treated to the bot’s particular emphasis on the many, many times coaches fail to go for it on fourth down when they should.A very helpful feature of the 4th Down Bot is that its game logs break down each fourth-down decision into its component parts. This means that we can see exactly what assumptions the bot is making about the success rate of each kick. Comparing those to my model, it looks to me like the bot’s kickers are approximately 2004-quality. (I asked Burke about this, and he agrees that the bot is probably at least a few years behind,6I don’t blame Burke or others for not updating their models based on the last few years. It’s good to be prudent and not assume that temporary shifts one way or the other will hold. Normally it is better to go with the weight of history rather than with recent trends. But in this case, the recent trends are backed by the weight of history. and says that its kicking assumptions are based on a fitted model of the most recent eight years of kicking data.7Here’s his full statement: “The bot is about 3-4 years behind the trends in FG accuracy, which have been improving at longer distances. It uses a kicking model fitted to the average of the recent 8-year period of data. AFA’s more advanced model for team clients is on the current ‘frontier’ of kick probabilities, and can be tuned for specific variables like kicker range, conditions, etc. Please keep in mind the bot is intended to be a good first-cut on the analysis and a demonstration of what is possible with real-time analytics. It’s not intended as the final analysis.”)But more importantly, these breakdowns allow us to essentially recalculate the bot’s recommendations given a different set of assumptions. And the improvement in kicking dramatically changes the calculus of whether to go for it on fourth down in the dead zone. The following table compares “Go or No” charts from the 4th Down Bot as it stands right now, versus how it would look with projected 2015 kickers8The exact values in the chart may differ slightly from the reports on the Times’ website because I had to reverse-engineer the bot’s decision-making process. But basically I’m assuming the model gets everything exactly right as far as expected value from various field locations, chances of converting a fourth-down attempt, etc., then recalculating the final expected value comparison using 2015 kickers.:Having better kickers makes a big difference, as you can see from the blue sea on the left versus the red sea on the right. (The 4th Down Bot’s complete “Go or No” table is on the Times’ website.)Getting these fourth-down calls wrong is potentially a big problem for the model. As a test case, I tried applying the 4th Down Bot’s model to a selection of the most relevant kicks from between 25 and 55 yards in 2013, then looked at what coaches actually did in those scenarios. I graded both against my kicking-adjusted results for 2013. While the updated version still concluded that coaches were too conservative (particularly on fourth-and-short), it found that coaches were (very slightly) making more correct decisions than the 4th Down Bot.The differences were small (coaches beat the bot by only a few points over the entire season), but even being just as successful as the bot would be a drastic result considering how absolutely terrible coaches’ go-for-it strategy has been for decades. In other words, maybe it’s not that NFL coaches were wrong, they were just ahead of their time!Time-traveling kickersHaving such an accurate model also allows us to see the overall impact kicking improvement has had on football. For example, we can calculate how kickers from different eras would have performed on a common set of attempts. In the following chart, we can see how many more or fewer points per game the typical team would have scored if kickers from a different era had taken its kicks (the red line is the actual points per game from field goals that year):The last time kickers were as big a part of the game as they are today, the league had to move the posts back! Since the rule change, the amount of scoring from field goals has increased by more than 2 points per game. A small part of the overall increase (the overall movement of the red line) is a result of taking more field goals, but most of it comes from the improvement in accuracy alone (the width of the “ribbon”).How does this compare to broader scoring trends? As a baseline for comparison, I’ve taken the average points scored in every NFL game since 1961, and then seen how much league scoring deviated from that at any given point in time (the “scoring anomaly”). Then I looked at how much of that anomaly was a result of kicking accuracy.9The scoring deviation on this chart is calculated relative to the average game over the period. The kicking accuracy is relative to the median kicker of the period.:Amid wild fluctuations in scoring, kicking has remained a steady, driving force.For all the talk of West Coast offenses, the invention of the pro formation, the wildcat, 5-wide sets, the rise of the pass-catching tight-end, Bill Walsh, the Greatest Show On Turf, and the general recognition that passing, passing and more passing is the best way to score in football, half the improvement in scoring in the past 50-plus years of NFL history has come solely from field-goal kickers kicking more accurately.10Side note, I’ve also looked at whether kicking improvement has been a result of kickers who are new to the league being better than older kickers, or of older kickers getting better themselves. The answer is both.The past half-century has seen an era of defensive innovation — running roughly from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s — a chaotic scoring epoch with wild swings until the early ’90s, and then an era of offensive improvement. But the era of kickers is forever.Reuben Fischer-Baum contributed graphics.CORRECTION (Jan. 28, 2:22 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave the distances from which extra-point kicks were taken in 1933 and in recent years. Actual extra-point distances aren’t recorded. read more