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Insurers should be more like stat geeks

If insurance company executives have any thoughts about changing careers, many would have trouble moving into the front offices of Major League Baseball teams, suggests a baseball statistician.

That's because, unlike a growing number of baseball executives, insurance company management does not invest in or support the use of predictive modeling, says John Dewan, an actuary and the owner of Baseball Info Solutions in Bethlehem, Pa.

As a result, insurer executives run an increased risk of allowing a sneaky curveball to buckle their knees in a clutch situation, Mr. Dewan suggested during a seminar on predictive modeling for members of the Arlington, Va.-based Casualty Actuarial Society. CAS members attended the seminar in Boston last week.

"There are more things you can do with data than you imagine," Mr. Dewan said. "Our job is to find the nuggets of data that are interesting and relevant and that reveal tendencies."

However, he said, "management in insurance doesn't always want to use the data or spend the money to collect the data. That's the challenge."

That mindset is changing in Major League Baseball, however, and executives in the sport are reaping benefits as a result, Mr. Dewan said.

Many Major League teams now use a corps of statisticians as well as scouts to, for example, evaluate which prospects will likely help them most, he noted. With no apologies to finesse pitcher and likely future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux, Mr. Dewan noted how his firm's model has demonstrated that pitchers with the most giddy-up on their fastballs tend to have the stingiest earned-run averages.

Mr. Dewan urged actuaries to search out the unexpected and the new when collecting data for insurers. "The data has to be interesting to get the attention of management you are trying to impress or win over to your side."

Industry puts its money on the GOP

The insurance industry has a reputation of attracting a rather conservative lot, so perhaps it should be no surprise that insurance companies and associations are contributing far more heavily to Republican House and Senate candidates than they are to Democrats.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, insurance interests had donated $22.8 million to federal campaigns as of Sept. 11. Sixty-six percent of that went to Republican candidates, and 33% to Democrats. The remaining 1% isn't credited to anyone.

The insurance industry, however, ranks only eighth among industries in total contributions. In the "surprise, surprise" category, lawyers and law firms ranked first, with a pattern of contributions that's almost a mirror image of the insurance industry. Of the more than $89 million disbursed by the legal industry, 69% went to Democrats and 30% to Republicans, with 1% unaccounted for.

While both groups ranked among the most partisan in their giving, neither stood at the top.

The oil and gas industry was the most likely to back GOP candidates, with 83% of its money going to Republicans. Public sector unions were the most likely to give to Democrats, with 84% of their largesse going to Democratic candidates.

Yet the insurance industry and the legal profession were both very generous toward one candidate. Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., was the No. 1 recipient of law-related contributions.

But in what might be a bit of a surprise, Sen. Clinton was the No. 2 recipient of insurance-related contributions, trailing Sen. Rick Santorum, but edging out former Safeco CEO Mike McGavick, the Republican Senate candidate in Washington, who had to settle for third.

Bad monkey! No banana for you

Having apparently demonstrated her desire to get involved in the Great Ape Trust of Iowa's safety program, one of the organization's residents may want to tryout for a role promoting, the online job search firm whose TV ads show how some workers tend to monkey around.

Panbanisha, a female bonobo chimpanzee, apparently, got with the program a little too enthusiastically one day earlier this month and pulled a fire alarm. However, there wasn't even a hint of smoke when firefighters responded. Instead, they discovered the guilty-looking, smiling chimp. Panbanisha's handler at the Des Moines scientific research facility said she may have intentionally pulled the alarm one day after seeing a worker do the same.

Since it was a false alarm, scientists studying the behavior and intelligence of bonobos, which are considered the most humanlike of the primate community, scolded the twentysomething female that can understand words and symbols.

"It's my understanding that she's been told not to do it again," said a trust spokesman.

The Des Moines facility said it planned to secure the alarm to prevent future monkey business.

A fire department spokesman said it was the first known case of an animal intentionally setting off a fire alarm in Des Moines.

Block of ice gives couple the blues

Slip-and-fall accidents on ice-crusted walkways are common risks that can be mitigated. But blocks of so-called blue ice falling out of nowhere are tough to dodge, especially if one is screaming toward your house.

That is what reportedly happened to a Chino, Calif., couple recently. A huge chunk of ice, possibly from a passing aircraft, crashed through their roof and destroyed a bed.

Blue ice forms when disinfectant and human waste leak from commercial aircraft bathroom waste tanks and freeze at high altitude. As a plane descends, the ice can break off and plunge to earth.

Blue ice has also been blamed on other property destruction and one victim sought the responsible airline by tracking flight schedules. Santa Cruz, Calif. resident Raymond A. Erickson in 2003 won a small claims court judgment against American Airlines by following that strategy after a piece of blue ice crashed through his boat's skylight.

But on appeal, a state court overturned the small claims court, Mr. Erickson said.

The Chino couple, meanwhile, said they are taking their case to their insurer.

Contributing: Dave Lenckus, Roberto Ceniceros, Joanne Wojcik, Mark Hofmann.