Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul the Octopus and Bad Statistics

Are you wearing your lucky pants?

Some years ago, in an ill-fated, England European campaign, I remarked to some friends that my pants had become uncomfortable. They were good and close friends (so were the people) and we had some light-hearted banter about how a treasured garment could, apparently, succumb to the strains of one-wash-too-many and become obsolete.

Trouble is England only went and beat Germany 1-0 with a Shearer goal and I was asked about the state of my underwear every England game from then on. OK one further game. England didn't get beyond the group stage.

This World Cup campaign (well done Spain, good work) there has been fun at the expense of the German staff who were required (by peer pressure?) to wear the same 'lucky' blue jumpers all tournament. Until, that is, they lost in the semis and then clothes were changed for the third-fourth place match.

Which brings us to this question? How many people did a lucky something to keep their team going but only went on a streak of one or two wins before their luck changed and the ritual was discarded like ill-fitting pants?

And that moves us on to the question of Paul the Octopus. Paul, an English octopus now residing in a German marine-life centre of some sort, has successfully predicted the outcome of every German World Cup game by choosing a mussel from one of two boxes before each game. In other words he has correctly guessed the outcome of a 50/50 seven times in a row. The odds of this are 1 in 128. If, as I think he did, he also called the final correctly, it is 1 in 256. Unlikely but you can imagine it happening. For every Paul there were 255 unreported duds.

It was a good bit of fun but statistically it doesn't mean anything.

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