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Of course, the Red Sox did win this year...
October 31, 2004 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Redskins lose. An interesting example of the logical fallacy known as Coincidental Correlation, for the last 71 years the Washington Redskins' last home game before Election Day has correlated with the success of the incumbent president. Boy, it's a good thing in sports no one believes in silly statistics...
posted by XQUZYPHYR (79 comments total)

 
You just beat me to posting this by about two seconds. Not that I have any truck with sports superstitions, but oh, baby, please.
posted by majcher at 2:15 PM on October 31, 2004


At last the world will know which coincidental correlation is more powerful - the Redskins home game or the Halloween mask sales, which currently favor the idiot in chief.
posted by jonson at 2:18 PM on October 31, 2004


The Red Sox just won the World Series, folks.

I think this is a good year for a lot of silly superstitions to be revoked.
posted by konolia at 2:36 PM on October 31, 2004


Sillly superstitions like WMDs on the other hand...
posted by Space Coyote at 2:39 PM on October 31, 2004


I hear the US just lost Iraq!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:45 PM on October 31, 2004


Perhaps the RNC and other protests caused the Bush mask to sell so well.

Besides, Nixon masks outsell any current president by a large margin.
posted by pandaharma at 2:48 PM on October 31, 2004


ZOMBIE NIXON IN 08!

He even has HST's endorsement!
posted by keswick at 3:00 PM on October 31, 2004


The Halloween masks always seemed to me like the easier target of ridicule. Bush is prone to all kinds of humorous gaffes, while Gore was pretty boring. Clinton was a doofus, while Dole was pretty notable -- and George H.W. just wasn't that funny a character. Now Dukakis losing out to H.W. in '88, that I don't understand.
posted by rafter at 3:10 PM on October 31, 2004


Speaking of the game, I just noticed that Washington was set to go ahead by a touchdown with 2:43 to go in the 4th when the touchdown was cancelled by a penalty.

How's that for an ominous portent?
posted by pandaharma at 3:15 PM on October 31, 2004


OBGYN'S CONFIRM IT: BUSH IS GOING DOWN
posted by quonsar at 3:20 PM on October 31, 2004


yippee! Hello, President Kerry! : >

(i bet the shredders at 1600 will be working overtime bet Nov.3 and the Inauguration)
posted by amberglow at 3:25 PM on October 31, 2004


I think this is a good year for a lot of silly superstitions to be revoked.

you've revoked your fundy membership too, then?
posted by matteo at 3:28 PM on October 31, 2004


Why's a G.W. Bush mask so popular? Because he's a caricature. I haven't watched SNL since he was President but I can't imagine a parody of him being very funny because the parody would hit too close to home.
posted by substrate at 3:29 PM on October 31, 2004


How can they get away with being called the Redskins anyway? NEWS FLASH: Manchester United to be renamed "The Pakis"
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:40 PM on October 31, 2004


I think this is a good year for a lot of silly superstitions to be revoked.

Heh. konolia is worried, it seems.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:54 PM on October 31, 2004


Y'know the best part of these statistics? They are so easily manipulated after the fact. In a few hundred years, it'll be more specific: the winner between the last Redskins/Packers game determines the election results.

Or, the winner of the last game that occurred on Thursday will determine the election. Unless it's raining.
posted by graventy at 3:54 PM on October 31, 2004


(i bet the shredders at 1600 will be working overtime bet Nov.3 and the Inauguration)

Why? Aren't "Presidential Papers" sealed by law?
posted by lodurr at 3:58 PM on October 31, 2004


Graventy: Exactly. That's what humans do -- we make stories out of data runs. So what's the problem?

<rhetorical></rhetorical>
posted by lodurr at 4:00 PM on October 31, 2004


but what counts as presidential papers? his coloring books? his porn stash? ; >
posted by amberglow at 4:01 PM on October 31, 2004


Superstition is what got us into this mess in the first place...
posted by rushmc at 4:03 PM on October 31, 2004


amberglow, if it includes porn, I'm heading to the Clinton library ASAP.
posted by graventy at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2004


I have a new weird election superstition:

if the incumbent almost completely blows, he will not be re-elected.

keep those fingers crossed.
posted by mcsweetie at 4:07 PM on October 31, 2004


superstition is the lot of an unhappy people...
posted by kamylyon at 4:20 PM on October 31, 2004


and god is angry...
posted by quonsar at 4:46 PM on October 31, 2004


q!!! (is that lena?)
posted by amberglow at 4:50 PM on October 31, 2004


indeed!
posted by quonsar at 4:56 PM on October 31, 2004


in my best Harry Carey,
SKINS LOSE SKINS LOSE!
posted by Peter H at 5:06 PM on October 31, 2004


>I think this is a good year for a lot of silly superstitions to be revoked.

Gave up on the second coming already? Oh, ye of little faith!
posted by skallas at 5:16 PM on October 31, 2004


Snopes lists the previous games. If you're nervous about the significance of this year's game being decided by referees reversing a call, there doesn't seem to be a correlation between the closeness of the game and the closeness of the election.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:23 PM on October 31, 2004


This just in : Sixty Minutes Story Following Game Details Lack of Armor, Weaponry, Basic Equipment Among US Troops in Iraq.

CBS News - Troops lack armor, radios, bullets

"Two weeks ago, a group of Army reservists in Iraq refused a direct order to go on a dangerous operation to re-supply another unit with jet fuel.

Without helicopter gunships to escort them over a treacherous stretch of highway, and lacking armored vehicles, soldiers from the 343rd Quartermaster Company called it a suicide mission.

The Army called it an isolated incident, a temporary breakdown in discipline, and an investigation is underway.

But the 343rd isn't the first outfit to be put in harm's way without proper equipment, and commanders in Iraq acknowledged that the unit's concerns were legitimate, even if their mutiny was not.

With a $400 billion defense budget you might think U.S. troops have everything they need to fight the war, but that's not always the case. ......."

posted by troutfishing at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2004


This is probably the only time Owillis will be happy the Redskins lost. Also, I'm so glad it was a Wisconsin team.
posted by drezdn at 5:40 PM on October 31, 2004


that's just the damn liberal media talking, troutfishing.

does our leadership (bush, rumsfield, etc) remind anyone else of lt gorman in aliens?
posted by keswick at 5:49 PM on October 31, 2004


konolia:

> I think this is a good year for a lot of silly superstitions to be revoked.

matteo: [snarky comment about konolia]
skallas: [snarky comment about konolia]

Calling nofundy, we need one from nofundy to complete the trifecta.
posted by jfuller at 6:36 PM on October 31, 2004


[snarky commetn about jfuller]

Someone leaves herself open, people make joke, jfuller offended.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:45 PM on October 31, 2004


It's not me they are mocking.
posted by konolia at 7:07 PM on October 31, 2004


...it's themselves. Unintentionally.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:16 PM on October 31, 2004


Coincidental Correlation

Or, as Alanis Morrissette would say, "isn't it ironic?"
posted by psmealey at 7:41 PM on October 31, 2004


You yanks are adorable.
posted by The God Complex at 7:45 PM on October 31, 2004


Screw both of them.

I'm voting Cthulhu this year.

As they say... Why settle for the lesser evil?

(After previewing...

[athletic act of your choice here] [deity of your choice here] on a (athletic device of your choice here), that's nifty keeno fast!)
posted by Samizdata at 8:06 PM on October 31, 2004


Boy, I buggered those brackets right up.

hangs head in shame
posted by Samizdata at 8:07 PM on October 31, 2004


Huh. Leave it to MeFi to tell me something I didn't know about the 'Skins. I've followed them since the days of Riggins, the Hogs, the Fun Bunch and Theismann, and that's a few elections ago; but I never heard of this before.
posted by alumshubby at 8:11 PM on October 31, 2004


> It's not me they are mocking.

Yeah, it is. Salam Pax says it best, though.
And that is another thing that seemed to be incomprehensible to one of my new Washington friends: when we were talking about the popularity of the clerical militia chief Moqtada al-Sadr I was asked how anyone could be fooled by someone who so obviously used religion to boost his own popularity and went for the lowest common denominator for popular appeal? I was saved by another guest who asked if we were talking about Bush or Sadr here.
posted by skallas at 8:28 PM on October 31, 2004


As they say... Why settle for the lesser evil?

I'll never forget when Cthulu lost the nomination in '96 to Furbearing Trout.
posted by drezdn at 8:33 PM on October 31, 2004


Hey, who 'ya callin' lesser eehvul....
posted by troutfishing at 8:48 PM on October 31, 2004


wow, does espn read mefi? or is it just that big of news?
posted by dig_duggler at 8:49 PM on October 31, 2004


It's been a big story, one of the Wisconsin Papers had a story on the front page about it today.
posted by drezdn at 9:16 PM on October 31, 2004


This is a pretty impressive statistical coincidence. The odds of this prediction being right for that long (17 elections) are 1 in 131,072, if my rusty mathematical skills serve me right. If it holds true again this year with a Kerry win, it'll be up to a 1 in 262,144 statistical quirk.

Actually, on second glance it'd be lower because not every election has an incumbant president... unless they mean incumbant party. And of course those are the odds for one specific team.. the odds of any bizarre correlation like this happening for any team in any sport are much higher.
posted by Wingy at 9:31 PM on October 31, 2004


Snopes has already updated its page.
posted by ColdChef at 10:02 PM on October 31, 2004


That car in the street has the lic plate SGV-134! What are the odds on that? Simply incredible, it must be divine. heh

movin' right along
posted by edgeways at 10:08 PM on October 31, 2004


Yah. Another way to put this is that any specific poker hand is more unlikely than a royal flush. But it "means something" to get a royal flush because we've decided that specific combination of cards is important beforehand. If you go looking for correlation between one thing and anything else, you'll be swamped with results. This is the reason for the maxim corelation is not causation. In a practically infinite universe, there is no (practical) limit on corelation. But in that same universe, as we understand it, there is an upper boundary for causal relationships between one thing and everything else. (Put another way, causal relationships cannot exist outside the boundaries of a "light cone"; while, in contrast, mere corelation can occur universally. The latter far, far exceeds the former—therefore, given any random relationship that appears to be either corelation or causation, it's far less likely to be causation than corelation.)

Therefore, empiricism cannot merely cast an unbounded statistical net to discover causation—the "net" must necessarily be limited by what we feel is plausible causation. And that's the tricky part. It's the bit they don't teach in secondary school as part of the "scientific method"—an intuition, an implicit physical model, comes before the data gathering because most of the data that can be gathered is worthless.

What happens in people's day-to-day experience of reality is that we deal with a very narrow slice of the physical world and for the most part we have a built-in intuition that is fairly accurate about how that slice of the universe works. With that intuitive "model" we filter the data we gather in order to determine causal relationships: dropping something often leads to its breaking, for example. Perhaps more importantly, humans are social creatures and a great portion of the universe we deal with is other people. And other people are, first and foremost, teleogical—they do things to accomplish some human purpose. And those purposes are, for the most part, also pretty well-defined, narrow, and understood. Someone says, "I'm thirsty" and then they get a glass of water. We guess at a causal relationship, and we're almost always right.

However, people start to go awry when, first of all, they apply the human paradigm of teleology to non-human events. (Such as the natural universe.) We look for intent in nature, which is a red herring. Second-of-all, people go awry when they start to look at more exotic portions of the natural world, or at the conventional natural world in ways that exceed our intuitive ability to correctly filter data in order to detect causation. Since we really don't have any good inuitive model of how these other parts of the universe work, we tend to cast a relatively unbounded net of correlation with which we think we detect causation.

This accounts for, oh, I'd say about 65% of the way in which people are full-of-shit in their comprehension of the universe. Wish-fulfillment accounts for much of the rest.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:23 PM on October 31, 2004


This accounts for, oh, I'd say about 65% of the way in which people are full-of-shit in their comprehension of the universe. Wish-fulfillment accounts for much of the rest.

Damn, EB...wouldya lay off of konolia already?!?
posted by rushmc at 11:38 PM on October 31, 2004


Heh. And I was just defending her. But I can't deny that this accurately represents my views on theism and metaphysics in general.

Even so, I don't think it's very nice to make fun of believers.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:41 PM on October 31, 2004


::tries not to laugh and fails miserably::
::goes back to her writing::
posted by kamylyon at 11:42 PM on October 31, 2004


HA! Believer!

HAHAHAHAHA!

HAHAHAHAHA!

Neener neener!

(Felt okay to me there.)

(mostly in the, well, progressive believer category meself.)
posted by Samizdata at 12:29 AM on November 1, 2004


"Lucy, tell your statistics to shut up"
posted by Eekacat at 12:48 AM on November 1, 2004


It's not me they are mocking.

I can't talk for skallas, but personally I am mocking you.

after all, fundys shouldn't really mention things like superstition. you know, just like Bushites shouldn't mention Saddam's torture chambers at Abu Ghraib, or wmd's, or say things like "the Iraqi economy needs shock therapy".

to paraphrase good old Ari, fundys "need to watch what they say"

;)
posted by matteo at 4:02 AM on November 1, 2004


Eternal Bling, on the other hand, is beyond mocking. he transcends it
posted by matteo at 4:04 AM on November 1, 2004


"At last the world will know which coincidental correlation is more powerful - the Redskins home game or the Halloween mask sales, which currently favor the idiot in chief."

Of course, they're counting any mask that has a simian appearance as a Bush mask...
posted by jpburns at 4:18 AM on November 1, 2004


I transcend quite a lot, actually. Thanks for noticing.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:52 AM on November 1, 2004


Yah. Another way to put this is that any specific poker hand is more unlikely than a royal flush. But ... (464 words) ... people are full-of-shit in their comprehension of the universe. Wish-fulfillment accounts for much of the rest.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:23 AM EST on November 1


C'mon, EB! We're just trying to scrape up a little fun here. As a life-long 'Skins fan I need all the distraction I can get, even with Joe Gibbs back.
posted by mmahaffie at 4:55 AM on November 1, 2004


Is there an exception for years in which the Redskins totally suck? Karl Rove should've seen this coming and improved the Redskins this year. Maybe he should have built a dome stadium because Brett Favre sucks in domes.

Also, is there an exception for when the opposing team comes from LAMBEUA FIELD, but the challenger calls it LAMBERT FIElD?

THIS JUST IN: SPORTSCENTER SAYS EVERYTIME THE BROWNS HAVE A BYE IN ELECTION WEEK, THE INCUMBENT WINS.

Oh man, it's gonna be really close this year!
posted by b_thinky at 5:29 AM on November 1, 2004


EB: I don't think anyone here believes this to be a causal relationship. You can save your typing fingers for other important tasks. Give us a little bit of credit. Unless your existence is validated by giving incomplete "proofs" of well understood and accepted phenomena. Then by all means please continue.

(BTW, your poker analogy is completely off. Pairs, three-of-a-kind, straights, full houses, and flushes, are all quite more likely than a royal flush, due to having many more candidates that complete them. There are exactly 4 royal flush arrangements, where as there are 12 arrangements of 4 aces. That's kind of the point.)

This new learning amazes me, Sir Blightevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:49 AM on November 1, 2004


LAMBEUA FIELD

Lambeau
posted by Bonzai at 7:53 AM on November 1, 2004


Ynoxas: I wrote "any specific poker hand" for a reason. That was ambiguous, true, but I expected my intended meaning to be obvious. (Any random poker hand is as equally unlikely as a particular example of royal flush—meaning that every particular poker hand is less likely than a royal flush.)

I've had well-educated, apparently intelligent people argue with me against the "corelation is not causation" maxim. But that's beside the point. The point is that of the population that's never heard that maxim—that being almost everyone—most of those folks equate corelation with causation. And among those who should comprehend this principle, the mistake is often made anyway.

Finally, the main point of my comment was to explain why people make this mistake and generally associate corelation with causation: it's because in the very constrained realm within which we experience reality, we have quite accurate built-in filters which discard most non-causal corelation. When we move beyond our intuition, suddenly we get many false-positives because we really don't have good criteria for discarding causally implausible corelations. The modern experience of the universe includes a huge amount of data about stuff that we really have no intuitive idea whether there's a plausible causal relationship or not. The fact that the Redskins are in DC probably indicates to some people that there's a plausible basis for an actual causal relationship here. Or sunspots and the stock market. Or astrology. People have very poor comprehension of the relationships between "exotic" (to typical human experience) things in the physical universe (sunspots, for example) and other things, and have a similarly poor comprehension of the relationships of highly complex or abstracted things to other things. In all these cases they tend to come up with what seems to them to be plausible mechanisms for causal relationships that might exist. When you don't really know anything about solar dynamics, sunspots, the Earth's magnetosphere, or whatever, and you don't really know anything about securities markets, economics, or whatever, it becomes very easy to speculate on causal relationships that might link the two. And therefore, a far, far larger portion of the relatively unbounded non-causal corelations are caught in the intuitive net than otherwise would be.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:20 AM on November 1, 2004


Oh, good. Keith ("EB") has decided to favor us dimwits with one of his crystalline explanations.

Keith, have you ever considered that your spew almost singlehandedly makes this place so airless that it keeps people from commenting?
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:24 AM on November 1, 2004


But what if the whole of Washington is so bummed after a home defeat that the staff of the incumbent take their eye off the ball and lose the election.

Never thought of that now did you!

*preen*
posted by fullerine at 8:29 AM on November 1, 2004


This election, it vibrates?

(come on, I mean, all sorts of clichés and dumb jokes are being used in this thread!)
posted by tomcosgrave at 8:48 AM on November 1, 2004


adamgreenfield (and matteo), what's your problem? EB hasn't been commenting very much lately, and aside from his usual prolixity there's nothing offensive about his posts in this thread.
posted by kenko at 8:59 AM on November 1, 2004


Gee, kenko, I dunno. It might have something to do with the rather extraordinary condescension inherent in each and every single one of his posts.

Keith seems to feel that "people have very poor comprehension" and that his job is to "explain" the world to them (us?). Even "well-educated, apparently intelligent people" benefit from his superior powers of introspection and analysis.

It's a shame that such a genius can't spell "correlation" correctly - but then, that's probably the happy fault without which he'd be too perfect.

I'm sorry for the snark. Or maybe I'm not. Keith is a one-man brake on the signal-to-noise ratio of anything he touches.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:07 AM on November 1, 2004


And you know what? I'm over my limit, here. I promised myself I wouldn't comment on MeFi, just post. Color me gone.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:10 AM on November 1, 2004


"Calling Mr. Greenfield, white courtesy telephone"......"Hello, Adam Greenfield ?......Love your work, love it. Great piece on Ubicomp. But what are you doing hanging out on that, that, that Metafilter place? We need people of your excoriative caliber over at our religious whacko deterrence dept. Things are getting out of hand. Now, we can't pay you in the style to which you're accustomed, but there are other benefits - flextime, and the joy of a job well done, in well turned phrases that deflate puffed up bullies of hate and snap at their tails as they run yelping back to their filthy little lairs of resentment....here's my card - think about it. "


EB - Have you ever read any Colin Wilson ? Your style reminds me of his.

Meanwhile - in my case - you're wrong. I'm not teological. Nope. I'm deontological. It goes with being part of the lefthanded tribe.....or was that the right handed one, along with devotees of Pat Robertson's 700 Club? Oh, now I'm all confused.
posted by troutfishing at 7:59 PM on November 1, 2004


Trout: I hadn't read Wilson before, but at your question I did find some stuff on the web. You're right—his style and mine are quite similar. Chatty and arrogant at the same time. :)

I realized that my initial comment was inappropriately serious for the thread. But the post raised a serious issue. It's nice that adamgreenfield finds this stuff so obvious as to be insulted by my lecturing, but the simple truth is that most people don't understand this stuff, and they should.

His reaction reminds me of an ex's reaction to reading some of Godel, Escher, Bach for the first time. She was a genius, a scientist, and she was extremely annoyed and offended that Hofstadter felt the need to repeat his points three times over and, furthermore, they were obvious points, to her mind. Well, duh. She's not a normal person. Adamgreenfield is not a normal person. You and I aren't normal people. We either think a lot about things like correlation and causation, or we're gifted enough that some or most of this stuff is intuitive to us. Most people, after the second time a friend coincidentally calls them while they've been thinking about the friend, think, "Oh, maybe there's something to this whole psychic thing after all". Because people notice correlation, and they tend to assume causation.

And, as I've said, to my great astonishment a couple of years ago I engaged someone who was very well-educated and intelligent who argued that, usually, correlation is causation. It's a position that some intelligent people, anyway, take seriously.

As to teleology: it occurs to me that my casual and assumed distinction between a formal "belief", what people describe as their "beliefs", and what I think their actual, daily-life, beliefs really are...perhaps I'm being unclear. I think that, to put it into reductionist terms, we're "wired" to be teleogical, probably because we're social creatures and so much of how we understand the world has to do with other people and their motivations. In that context, I think that we can't help but be teleological: we assume there must be a reason why something happens, some purpose toward which an agent is working. It's most striking to me that evolution scientists of various kinds will unconsciously use teleological language to describe evolutionary processes, even though they know better and are, in general, very careful to avoid encouraging such ideas. I think this indicates how instinctively it is that we think this way. "Things happen for a reason. Everything." I mean, that's a whole bunch of folks core philosophy: they're comforted by the idea that everything, everywhere, is happening according to some agent or many agents' plans.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:15 PM on November 1, 2004


Adamgreenfield is not a normal person. You and I aren't normal people.

Oh, I've gotta respond to that. Speak for yourself, Keith. Don't include me in your sad need to prop up your self-esteem by dividing the world into Eloi and Morlocks and anointing yourself press secretary for the former. I am as normal as they come. Profoundly, boringly normal. Deeply implicated in normality. (Choose the verbose construction that best suits your need to spoor the screen, OK?) And it's most definitely not your place to say otherwise.

Trout, I cannot for the life of me understand why you give creeps like Keith and konolia the time of day. It only encourages them. They are not deserving of respect - not mine, anyway.

Thanks for your kind words about my writing, btw.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:36 AM on November 2, 2004


Because people notice correlation, and they tend to assume causation.

This is undeniably true.

I am as normal as they come. Profoundly, boringly normal.

Your standards of "normal" are false. Take another look at the world population.

And is there some reason you keep saying "Keith, Keith, Keith, Keith" like you are bludgeoning with a hammer? It was long ago decided on this site that it is rude to address members with anything other than their chosen handles.

Unless you're sleeping with him.
posted by rushmc at 8:11 AM on November 2, 2004


Your standards of "normal" are false. Take another look at the world population.

Two eyes, check. Two arms, two legs? Roger that. Product of a father's sperm, a mother's egg. Eats when hungry. Micturates on a full bladder. Sleeps when able. Dreams.

Is occasionally gracious, from time to time boorish. Avoids pain and discomfort, displays a marked tropism for pleasure. Experiences love, fear, longing, satiety, wonder, etc. Will likely as not not be remembered by name one hundred years from now.

In all the important ways: yes, profoundly, boringly normal. Unless you know something I don't.

Oh, and the handle thing? I'm an adult. I make something of a fetish of being permanently accountable for my words and actions. I dislike handle culture. Just one of those things.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:21 AM on November 2, 2004


So because you're an adult, it's okay to be rude, because you're profoundly normal?
posted by cortex at 9:59 AM on November 2, 2004


no normal person uses the words "micturates" or "tropism"

(he's a witch! burn him! burn him!) ; >
posted by amberglow at 10:09 AM on November 2, 2004


I dislike handle culture.

That gives you the right to choose for yourself, not for others.
posted by rushmc at 5:19 PM on November 2, 2004


Perfectly good fallacy, shot to hell.
posted by ColdChef at 8:41 PM on November 3, 2004


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