Sports betting and corruption

One of the sadder stories last week was that of Wayne Shaw, an English footballer who was forced to resign for eating a pie mid-match, knowing that a bookmaker had laid odds against this. Apart from the absurdity of the case, there’s an obvious problem pointed out by someone I read on Facebook. Once he became aware of the bet, he would have been just as guilty or innocent if he’d chosen not to eat anything, and thereby help the bookies instead of the punters.

More generally, I find it impossible to imagine that sports betting isn’t causing widespread corruption. Take the popular bet on who will score the first try in a match. Suppose Player X, who knows his friends have bet heavily on him, has the choice between going for the try himself, or passing to a team-mate in an arguably better field position. The problem is obvious.

Less obvious is the case of Player Y, whose friends have bet on X. He can choose to pass left, towards X, or right, in which case Z has a chance to score. Such decisions must be made all the time, and it’s far from obvious which is the right one. So, going for the try yourself or making the play that helps your friends is nothing like throwing the game (the only profitable way to cheat in the days before these exotic bets). And, unlike match fixing, it seems to be just about impossible to prove wrongdoing.

I don’t have a solution, except to steer clear of contests where betting is a big deal. I do, however, have a hot tip for those who follow age group triathlon and can find a betting market. Unless I’m in a team, bet against me in the 60-64M category, at just about any odds you can get.

Update That’s the best individual response. The policy response, I think, is to legalise and encourage welching. That is, refuse to enforce gambling debts through the legal system and apply strict liability to attempts at collection through strong arm tactics, with a presumption of guilt against the creditor even if they can’t be tied directly to the enforcer.

Decent conservatives

Since Trump’s election victory, there’s been a lot of concern trolling (and maybe some genuine concern) that resistance to Trump will alienate decent conservatives who held their noses while voting for Trump, but might be attracted away from him by a suitably respectful presentation of a centre-right Democratic agenda. A notable recent entry is a piece in the New York Times by Sabrina Tavernise, which profiles three such voters, only one of whom has any criticism to make of Trump. The others complain that liberals have been mean to them, but make it pretty clear they would vote for Trump regardless. As is inevitable in such a piece, Jonathan Haidt gets a run – he’s the only expert quoted by name.
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Bastiat anticipates climate science denialism

I’m working on the environmental policy chapter of my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons, which is a reply to Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, which in turn is a repackaging of Bastiat’s What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. Hazlitt was aware of the difficulties posed for laissez-faire by pollution, and chose to avoid the issue. But, on Googling Bastiat + pollution, I came across a remarkable package in which Bastiat anticipates the climate change debate and takes the denialist side in advancee.

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My letter to Paul Offit (updated)

Dear Dr Offit,

I have admired your work in support of vaccines, and your willingness to face down the anti-science attacks on vaccination. I was, therefore, greatly dismayed to read your column in the Daily Beast recently, reviving a set of discredited attacks on public health and environmental science, centred on the spurious claim of a global ban on DDT. I have linked a blog post and article covering the key points, which you can easily check for yourself

As I note in the post, giving credence to discredited anti-science attacks like those of Stephen Milloy is a gift to the anti-vaccination movement which they are already exploiting. I urge you to investigate this issue more carefully and publish a follow-up column setting out the real situation.

I would be happy to correspond further and send you more information if needed.

John Quiggin

Update 21/2/17: I received a fairly terse reply to this email, reiterating a number of spurious claims about Carson. My email in response went unanswered, as did a followup. This is disappointing, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 15 years of blogging it’s that changing anybody’s mind is very difficult. I’ve done my best to apply this lesson to myself and be more open to new evidence – long term readers can judge if that’s been successful.

A double disaster for science and public health

Zombies never die, and that’s even more true of zombie ideas. One of the most thoroughly killed zombies, the myth that Rachel Carson is responsible for millions of deaths from DDT, has recently re-emerged from the rightwing nethersphere where it has continued to circulate despite repeated refutation. That wouldn’t be worth yet another long post except for the source: Dr Paul Offit, a prominent pediatrician and leading pro-vaccination campaigner, writing in the Daily Beast. Offit’s revival of the DDT ban myth is a double disaster for science and public health.

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