2009 Science News of the Year: Numbers

5:35pm, December 18, 2009
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Detroit Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, a 2009 Gold Glove winner, applies the tag as Chicago White Sox's Gordon Beckham slides into second. Image credit: Duane Burleson - file

The stats on fielding
Astute baseball fans know who has the golden glove, but assigning a number to a player’s defensive merits has been tricky. Benjamin Baumer, a statistician for the New York Mets, suggests that new methods could offer a fuller picture (SN: 8/29/09, p. 16). The long-used formula for measuring a player’s fielding ability doesn’t give credit for superior range, the ability to successfully run down a ball out of reach for most players. Baumer analyzed two methods for getting around this problem. One worked better if it accounted for ball hogging than if it didn’t, and another worked better in the outfield than in the infield.

Cracking Linear equations
Quantum computers could quickly process even trillions of variables, new work suggests (SN: 11/7/09, p. 11).

Random numbers faster
With a laser, mirror and simple calculations, researchers quickly create strings of orderless bits for encryption methods (SN: 8/15/09, p. 15).

Geography of crime 
By incorporating information about the locations of previous crimes, mathematical tools could better predict where a criminal lives (SN: 1/31/09, p. 14).

Fraud in Iran’s election
A closer look at voter ballot data finds statistical evidence suggesting that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June election was fraudulent (SN Online: 7/10/09).

Top dogs
A few big players own a controlling stake in more than 80 percent of the companies in some stock markets, a study finds (SN Online: 2/13/09).

Niche overlap
Equations help solve the decades-old puzzle of why one species doesn’t always outcompete another (SN: 1/31/09, p. 14).

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