Tuesday 27 July 2010

Skeptics on the Fringe

A post by Patrick Redmond

In case you were unaware we are less than two weeks away from one of the most ambitious skeptical projects you will probably ever come across. Edinburgh Skeptics on the Fringe goes live from Saturday August 7th all the way to August 28th. Be assured that this is an incredibly impressive undertaking with three entertaining and educational strands and the promise of even more.

Here’s my promotional bit:

The Fringe of Reason is 6.00pm every

Friday 16 July 2010

Why England Lose by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (Reprinted as Soccernomics) - A Book Review and More

A Blog Post by @christheneck

Many years ago I came up with something I call “pessimistic optimism”. I hope for one particular result or another, but presume that it won't happen. If the result happens I'm happy; if not I was right. I can't lose. I'm told this is an unhealthy way to think however as a lifelong Aston Villa fan it has served me very well.

Although I would have liked England to win the 2010 World Cup my suspicions that the hype surrounding England's qualification had little solid foundation were confirmed firstly by this book and of course secondly by the results. England lost. (I guess that means I won, doesn't it?).

I first came across this book, written by an economist and a sports journalist, when it was featured on Tim Harford's BBC Radio 4 programme, More or Less . It intrigued me. So many reasons why decisions are made in football have been beyond me and I wanted some answers. Why does no-one care about the F.A. Cup any more? Why does the referee keep playing until Manchester United score? Why is someone who scores in a World Cup suddenly more valuable? And why Emile Heskey?

These questions along with many more are answered in full, predominantly with background and source based and statistical evidence with credible (and credited) origins. All except the Heskey one – no-one knows. Pre-tournament I tried to counter the “Play Heskey because, although he doesn't score, Rooney plays better” argument with the fatuous example of “Play someone who can't stop a shot/cut off a pass/mark a striker next to Terry so he plays better” and then Upson came along and Terry fell apart too. I digress.

There are many fun parts to the book. There is an explanation of how Chelsea could have won the 2008 European Cup Final penalty shoot out against Manchester United in Moscow if only Nicolas Anelka had listened to his economist. You will find which is the most football mad country in the world, why the best investment a club makes could be buying a box of Rice Krispies and why Alex Ferguson probably doesn't matter.

The authors deconstruct the myths of football as big business, the benefits of high priced players, the necessity of a manager getting anywhere near the bank book, and the idea that the dominance of the big 4 (or is it now 3) is a “bad” thing. From a skeptical point of view it is amusing to see so may questions of “Why is it done like this?” answered with “Because that's the way we've always done it.”

More serious issues are covered regarding the battle against racism toward black players in this country and when monetary equality was finally reached (a lot later than you may think) and which sections of society are currently still excluded, whether footballing successes or failures affect suicide rates and whether the shared happiness of a nation hosting a tournament can make up for the horrendous costs of hosting one.

Amongst these many other things it shows, in detail, that the results England achieved in South Africa were not poor but all too predictable and that the new resurgence under Fabio Capello was nothing of the sort. See Tim Harford's short blog on this.

I would recommend this book as both informative, readable and fun but with the following reservation. As in many things skeptical it will be difficult, nigh impossible, to discuss its contents with anyone down the pub who knows anything about football. They won't believe a word of it.

Chris Richardson is a skeptic, atheist, musician, cook, gardener, and sci-fi and comedy nerd who lives in Staffordshire.