Weekly news: statistics predicts London medal tally

EVEN an avowed sports philistine like myself cannot help but notice that there is a significant gathering of athletes taking place in London over the next few weeks. The fittest and strongest young men and women from around the world have trained for years for their moment of glory, hoping to win a medal and boost their nation’s standing in the medals table.

If a group of German academics have done their calculations correctly, all that effort will make little or no difference to the final results.

Astonishing as it seems, the group from Ruhr-Universitat Bochum (RUB) has compiled a finals medals table using only statistical data. In doing so they have ignored such irrelevant issues as the fitness of individual athletes, preferring to base their predictions on cultural, demographic, economic, and political data.

Some of this is obvious: large countries have a larger pool of talent, rich countries spend more on training, women from equal-opportunities nations are more likely to score a medal than their less emancipated peers.

Plugging all their data into the model, the team predict that China will top the London 2012 medals table with 102 gongs, closely followed by the USA with 100, with Russia claiming third place with 77 medals. The host nation will benefit from the home advantage and occupy fourth place with 57 medals, ahead of Australia and France. Germany will do relatively poorly, winning 12 percent fewer medals than before at 36, while Brazil will enjoy an early boost ahead of its hosting of the 2016 games.

It will be interesting to see how true these predications are, with the team claiming around 97 percent accuracy when performing retrospective analyses of the Beijing and Sydney Olympiads.

The academics in question are not merely statisticians, though – they are economists. I hate to tar all representative of that branch of mathematics with the same brush, but the current unending crises in the world’s financial markets have just a little to do with the output of economists – so forgive me if I remain sceptical.

One final observation: I was tickled by a footnote on the team’s full list of medals for the 172 nations taking part: “All predictions are rounded to the nearest integer”. Who says economists have no appreciation of the real world?

I hope you find the LabHomepage website, and this weekly newsletter, useful. Comments and feedback are always welcome: thesecretlabproject@gmail.com. Please help us build our circulation base by forwarding this to any friends that might like it, and suggest they subscribe at http://eepurl.com/itOV2

best wishes

Russ Swan

editor, LabHomepage.com


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