Paul Chapman is dispossessed by Clint Jones. Photo: John Donegan
It’s on. It’s here. You wouldn’t quite say it’s back, for in truth these days it never goes away.
This is, though, my favourite part of the 12-months-a year footy season. The bit where - for a little while at least - they actually play footy.
Not the draft, not trade week, not respect and responsibility seminar week, not the pre-season draft, nor the pre-season comp, the draft camp or the community camp. Not the under 18 carnival, nor the over-18 booze cruise. Not ''If I have offended anybody with my actions, I apologise.'' Not the new rule interpretations, nor the old angst about too many new rule interpretations. Not people on TV pretending to talk about footy but actually just boosting their stand-up comedy careers and gunning for a spot on breakfast radio.
Footy, actual footy. Tonight.
And that means footy tipping. This evening Richmond takes on Carlton and the weekly onslaught begins. Eight games to hold you. Eight games to pick and choose and mull over in the tea room and on the internet.
Talking about your tips is one of those Latter-day traditions that feels ancient but - at least at the current saturation level - is relatively recent. We do it because we think it helps.
A bit of research, a trouble shared and halved, a way for the lonely office sports nerd to feel - if only for a moment - the power of being needed.
It’s fun. But does it help?
Sometimes it’s good to question the assumptions we unquestioningly adopt.
Ever heard of James Surowiecki? (Here’s a tip, he didn’t play ruck for St Kilda in the mid-'90s, though I know who you are thinking of). Surowiecki wrote a book of cod psychology mixed with populist economics called The Wisdom of Crowds.
It’s not about the Collingwood cheersquad.
Today we’re going to use it to determine the winner of the 2010 Premiership. Won’t this be rollicking fun?
Here’s the basic idea. Take a jar and fill it with jelly beans, then bring people in and ask them to guess how many there are. Interestingly, there are basically no factors that make some people better guesses than others. Not education level, not gender, not race, nor even if you are a professional jelly bean salesman and intimately know the dimensions of the average household jelly bean.
All people appear to be equally bad at this task. But get a large group of folks to independently assess the jar and venture a guess, then average out their responses and a little bit of magic happens. You get remarkably close to an accurate answer.
Those who guess too high cancel out those who guess too low (these are called outliers). Most people range somewhere in the middle. The closer to the middle you go, the more people there are.
In his book Surowiecki describes an experiment where a similar group of ignoramuses tries to guess the weight of an ox. While virtually none of those guessing is close to correct, the mean of their guesses is stunningly accurate. Considerably more accurate than the assessments of professional cattle valuers who do this sort of thing for a living.
Relax - I’m not going to make you guess how much David Schwarz weighs these days. Today I’m asking a different question. The wisdom of crowds works well for guessing how many jelly beans are in a jar but can it work for the more, err . . . useful task of determining who will win the AFL premiership?
Maybe, possibly not, but in lieu of any better way to spend our working week let’s see.
If you have a minute write down, in order, the best eight teams in this year’s AFL competition. Post them in the comment thread. Do it.
Now, HERE’S THE IMPORTANT BIT. Don’t read anyone else’s list until after you have put your thoughts down. THIS BIT IS IMPORTANT. The enemy of crowd wisdom -- the Jakovich to its Carey, Carlton to its Collingwood, Demetriou to its soccer -- is ''groupthink''.
Listen too much to those around you and you can’t all help but be influenced by each other. The jelly bean jar experiment does not work if everybody can see everyone else guessing and alter their parameters and expectations accordingly. As human we are generally weak, heavily susceptible to suggestion and inclined to be derailed by the confidently-expressed opinions of idiots.
Eleven of The Age’s 14 experts - Balls included - tipped the same team to win the flag this year. Thirteen of 14 picked that club to make the grand final.
No problem, you say? They are all fine judges, to be certain. But it’s no accident either. That team is a hot ticket. Groupthink makes it molten lava.
So how many of us tipped St Kilda - last year’s winning team - to make the 2009 Grand Final?
From memory, not one.
Don’t think you know much about football? Great. This experiment needs you. You will lance the groupthink boil. The less you know, the better. Take a stab. Eight clubs, first to eighth. List them below. I will crunch the numbers and declare next week - without a shadow of a doubt - just who is going to win this year’s flag.
By all means let’s discuss the joys of tipping, the methodologies and arcane rituals. By all means tell me who you think will win it all this year and why. But first put down that list. In the name of scientific research I implore you. Let’s do this together.
And, after you've made your list, here's a few tipping principles to discuss. What are yours?
1. Never, under any circumstances, tip Fremantle -- unless they are playing Richmond.
2. Never tip any team that installs Andrew Carrazzo as its captain - unless they are playing Richmond.
3. Never tip a team missing all of its best players due to injury, as Hawthorn is this week, unless they are playing Melbourne.
4. If Richmond is playing Melbourne, just stay in bed with the doona over your head.