What we can learn from a psychic octopus

We recently learnt that Welsh International Goalkeeping legend Mark Griffiths is a fan of David Icke’s. It’s easy to dismiss this type of person as a ‘loon’, because they don’t match our own ‘normal’ view of the world. It’s my opinion that we can learn a lot from apparently outlandish ideas, and discover our own thinking is flawed. Last week we lost our manager by mistake. Here’s why it happened, and hopefully why we won’t do it again.

Paul the Psychic Octopus lived in Germany and predicted the result s of the National side to an unbelievable accuracy. He accurately predicted the winners of matches 9 times out of 10. I tell you no lie, look it up on the Internet. Now clearly Paul was a Psychic Octopus, but what could you expect from an ordinary Octopus? A possible answer would be ‘don’t be stupid, an Octopus knows nothing of football he won’t get any right’, a cleverer answer is ‘using an Octopus to choose, when there are two choices, will result in getting it right 50% of the time’. That answer is wrong as well. It’s really, really important to know the right answer to this question, because it stops you making the wrong decisions in situations where chance plays a massive part.

The correct answer is that an ordinary Octopus is likely to get it right 50% of the time. The word likely makes all the difference. If it guessed 1000 matches (try it by tossing a coin if you don’t believe me) it is likely that between 400 – 600 games (games where the result can’t be a draw) would be predicted correctly. The less games you look at the more unpredictable the outcome. If you tossed a coin 10 times, don’t be surprised if you can guess the result 7 times. Only get excited about your psychic powers if you can match Paul the Psychic Octopus!.

Football is a game with a high chance element. To get an idea how high just remember we beat Arsenal! Gordon Davies got a dodgy foul, Mickey Thomas hit a worldy, and Tony Adams made an uncharacteristic error, etc etc. The decision to allow Morrell to go was flawed on two points; firstly it was based on too small a number of games. It’s the same as deciding your Octopus is psychic if it predicts 6 matches  out of 10. Don’t forget Morrell’s win rate was 52%, how sure are we that we were not in a temporary lull? We couldn’t be sure, the lull hadn’t lasted long enough. Secondly the decision failed to recognise the effect of events outside Morrell’s control. We all saw what effect Keate’s return had, and we all saw what effect Creighton’s failure to recover had on recruitment and results.

I’m not sure I will joining Mark Griffiths at his ‘Lizard meetings’ (direct quote), as I’m not convinced by that David Icke theory, but I am convinced our new manager needs to be judged on trustworthy data, either that, or we get a psychic Octopus to do the choosing.


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