APOPHENIA AND SPORTS JOURNALISM. In yesterday’s cartoon, the first character says: “A weighted random number generator just produced a new batch of numbers.” The other character replies: “Let’s use them to build narratives.” The caption at the bottom says: “ALL SPORTS COMMENTARY”. Nate Silver linked to the cartoon in his discussion of the collapse of the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season. They had a large lead for making the playoffs at the beginning of September and then on the final day of the season, they were still in position to make the playoffs until last second heroics in two games made them lose out. There are narratives readily available for sports writers (and overused) which involve some kind of moral failing on the part of the Red Sox. You can also look at the baseball results as a series of random events. You can estimate the probability of the Red Sox winning a game on the basis of their winning percentage for the first five months of the season. There are baseball sites which will tell you what the probability of a team winning a game at any point in the game—given certain assumptions. FanGraphs will do it on a play by play basis. Nate Silver “just for fun” assumes that the events affecting the Red Sox were independent of each other (in a statistical sense) and on that assumption concludes that there was: “one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way.”

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