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Monday, June 10, 2013

Experts' Predictions As Good As Random Chance

Nate Silver is an acclaimed and respected author, statistician, political blogger who wrote a book titled "The Signal and The Noise; Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't." I'm currently still working my way through it and have thus far rather enjoyed Silver's insights on the financial crisis and why it was missed by even the wisest economic advisers.

While discussing the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, Silver cites professor Philip Tetlock's statistical findings on experts' predictions of political and economic issues. Silver says that Tetlock found out "The experts in his survey - regardless of their occupation, experience, or subfield - had done barely any better than random chance..." and "They were grossly overconfident and terrible at calculating probabilities: about 15 percent of events that they claimed had no chance of occurring in fact happened, while about 25 percent of those that they said were absolutely sure things in fact failed to occur."

While I respect and appreciate Silver's thoughts, I worry these sentiments are slightly misconstrued. I understand that "had barely done better than random chance" means the experts correctly predicted events just over 50% of the time. Alas, the second quote is what bothers me. Naturally, coming from an "expert," it is disappointing to find that their "no chance" and "absolutely sure things" were incorrectly guessed even some of the time; however, I would not feel comfortable trusting a coin flip as much as a learned professional on generally straightforward choices. If the statistics showed that half of the time, the experts failed to predict the events they were sure would or would not happen, then I would be ok with Silver's thoughts. But, I feel that an educated guess is much more reliable than a coin flip over a large sample size.

Even though the experts picks on "sure things" were wrong up to 1/4 of the time, that still means their predictions were 75-25. Is that not a better chance than a coin flip? I do not like the idea of trusting random chance over an expert especially when an educated opinion on a "seemingly" obvious topic can provide a better than random chance prediction.

- Isaac M. Comelli (6/10/13)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Watching Sports Makes Us Fatter

For those of us who never played in college and didn't have what it takes to make it to the pros, playing pickup games at the park and watching the real deal on televison is as close as we will ever get to being an elite athlete. It is no question that American culture over-watches television in general. In 2010, a man named Jeff Miller was lauded for setting the world record for consecutive hours spent watching sports on TV, 72 hours.

Professional sports leagues will never tell you to get off the couch and stop watching their broadcasts, but they do have programs that push for healthier children, like NFL Play 60. Despite mixed messages of health and team loyalty, people watch hours of sports every week. Are we as a society hurting ourselves by watching the sports we love instead of playing them?

There is ample research that shows less television watching is healthier for your mind and body. This article from The Telegraph suggests "every hour of TV watching shortens life by 22 minutes." Mathematically, if a person watches 3 hours of sports a week for 50 years, she'll have shortened her life by approximately 119 days, almost 1/3 of a year. Plus, she will have spent 7800 hours watching sports in those 50 years.

This graphic from shows, during football season, 31% of adult males in the U.S. watched 6-10 hours of just football each week. If you throw in women as well, that number only drops to 27%! Our society loves watching sports but it's clearly better to play sports than to sit on the couch and watch them.

As sports fans who want to watch our favorite teams, how do we drop the remote, get off the couch, and get to work on getting ourselves in shape?

My answer is, maybe we don't have to miss the big games in order to better use our time for exercising. I believe it is possible to both support your favorite team on game day by watching the game and get a good workout. Below is an image I created featuring a baseball-themed workout.

This is just one baseball-related example, but you could search for or create your own workout to help you better utilize your television watching time regardless of the sport. So go to your living room, turn on the game, get off the couch, and get your sweat on while cheering for your favorite team.

- Isaac M. Comelli (6/6/13)