Stats-abusing journos, the odds are against you

Reading the sports pages and getting annoyed is a familiar feeling for anyone who follows a team or a sport. I can live with reading about my team getting thrashed or being on the wrong end of a bad umpiring decision, but there’s one thing I just can’t stand – being treated like an idiot. Is it too much to ask – for sports writers not to refer to “the law of averages”? Not to supply an average when a median would be a better measure to support (or test) their point? Not to use selective endpoints to skew a tenuous analysis?

Freakonomics, Moneyball and other books (“now Major Hollywood films!” … well, Brad Pitt is in Moneyball) have started to educate the public about how common sense, even supported by statistics, is sometimes just plain wrong. This blog will examine opinion and analysis pieces in the sports media, which have – or try to have – a statistical focus.

Of course, some articles don’t even quite make it over the common sense threshold. Round-one losers, the odds are against you sits at the top of the league table for infuriation. The phrase that set me off was “statistically significant”. (A commenter when The Age originally published this may have done the job I’m about to do by simply writing: “Statistically significant. Bwah-ha-ha!!!” But I’ll persist.) Continue reading