Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

BCS Blues

While watching West Virginia outscore Pittsburg last night, a heated discussion over the best way to determine a NCAA division one football national champion erupted between my friends. Now I’m not going to argue that the current system, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), is perfect, but I do think that even some of the preferred methods (such as a playoff system) offer only marginal improvements and are still very flawed systems of determining a champion.

Now I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between the “best” team, and a team that is revealed to be the “best” team. For instance, let’s look at a horse race. If we ran two horses (lets call them C.J. and James) around a track 1,000 times and recorded their times, we could get a pretty good idea of how fast each one is. Now let’s suppose that on average C.J. is faster than James. Then we would expect that if we ran the two around the track at the same time, C.J. would cross the finish line first. Such is the way we use a system (in this case a race) to try and estimate a true characteristic (speed). But as centuries of horseracing (or one horse at Keenland) have shown, the fastest horse doesn’t always win the race, just as the “best” team doesn’t always win a football game.

So the question becomes, what’s the best way to determine the best team each year? Even more interesting, in my mind, is how can we rank teams from best to worst? Well I am about to settle the debate and present the Dispassionate Rationality system for ranking college football teams.

First, we must decide what we consider the “best” team to be. Imagine we’re back in the Cold War. Russia calls up Regan and says let’s play some football. We have to pick one team in the NCAA to play against the Russian team, whose players are yet to be determined. That is how I will define the “best” team in college football: the team that has the best chance of all division one teams to beat a randomly selected opponent. So how do we determine such a team? Well let’s look at one opponent, say…Georgia Tech. How would we determine which team has the best chance of beating Georgia Tech on any given day? We have each team play them 1,000 times and see which one beats them the most times. We could also rank the teams, because we would have a reasonable determination of how much more likely one team is to beat Georgia Tech than another. Next, we could do this for all the teams; have every team play every other team 1,000 times. The rankings would be different for each opponent, because some people are better at shutting down Calvin Johnson than others, but on average we could then determine who is most likely to beat a randomly selected opponent. Now this would be almost perfect, and it would only take 7 million games to determine, or 2,308 years if every team played every weekend. We'll all be dead by then so 20 games with each opponent would probably suffice, but that would still be 141,610 games or 46 years. If we threw the law of large numbers out the window and each team only played every other team once, it would still take over two years.

The point is that it is impractical to play all these games to try and reveal a true “best” team. In fact, it is impossible to do so. So the best we can do is create a system designed to reveal the “best” team and then see who is the best at winning the “game” comprised of games. The current game is the BCS, the rules are not very clear and some teams start off with an advantage. One alternate proposal is a playoff. In the playoff system, the game is well defined, but some teams still have an advantage and rankings are useless. Each has its advantages over the other, but neither is as iron clad as our 7 million game season. Let’s face it; we will always have a flawed system. I think the game of football is much more interesting than the game of winning a championship. So let’s stop worrying so much about who is going to win the BCS (or worse, who should have won the BCS), and start worrying more about why Clemson is going to beat South Carolina on November 25th.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Over-Competitive Lance Armstrong Challenges Cancer To Rematch

The Onion

Over-Competitive Lance Armstrong Challenges Cancer To Rematch

AUSTIN, TX—Lance Armstrong, the ultra-competitive seven-time Tour de France champion who recently ran the New York Marathon in under three hours, held a press conference Tuesday to announce that he will be taking the next three months to...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What's Your Fantasy?

Call up the cable company and get the CSPAN expanded government package, because politics just got a whole lot more interesting. Well maybe not more interesting, but we now have one more reason to pay attention to democracy in action. What could be more fun than bragging to your friends that McCain got S.3526 passed in the Senate?

Thanks to Bowman, "Mr. Fantasy Congress Manager Guy", for sending me this one...This Bud's for you.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stay the Course

Simply Hilarious.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

Political futures market junkies get a treat today as compiles data from four different markets in one place.

After the programmer fixed some minor code glitches, the numbers are pulling correctly from the various sites. One thing that is interesting to note is how similar the real money markets are compared to the other two sites. Casual Observer is way off the charts...not suprising considering it is the only site of the four that offers no compensation. News Futures offers top traders the ability to bid on prizes, while IEM and Tradesports are real money markets.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rumsfeld Rumblings

Fred Kaplan from writes a good analysis of an editorial published in the Army Times, a newspaper primarily read by military personnel. The editorial calls for Bush to fire Rumsfeld. I'll leave the analysis to Kaplan.

Was Tommy Bowden Too Conservative?

As a Clemson fan, the loss to Maryland this past weekend is just frustrating. I've heard a lot of excuses and Sunday morning quarterbacking, and there is one coaching decision that most people keep pointing to...Should Tommy Bowden have played it safe and run up the middle after having the touchdown called back for illegal formation, or should he have risked the interception and passed into the endzone? At the risk of completely butchering probability theory, let's look at some numbers.

Bowden played it safe. He knew that he would probably not score a touchdown by running Davis between the tackles, but he also knew he was less likely to give up a turnover or lose yards. He basically settled for a field goal, having faith in his defense to stop Maryland from marching down the field. One crucial piece of information he needed in making that decision was how good he thought his defense was going to be at stopping Maryland. Lucky for us, we have pretty reliable data from the market that suggests the probability of Maryland winning, after Clemson scored a field goal, was around 25%. This is essentially the same as the probability of Maryland driving down the field and scoring any points. Now since we are looking at the difference between forcing Maryland to only have to kick a field goal and forcing them to have to score a touchdown, we are interested in how many points Maryland will score on average, assuming they get some points. Now there are not a lot of data for Clemson vs. Maryland, and it doesn't make much sense to use data for Maryland against other opponents; but by looking at two extreme cases we can get a range for the expected number of points Maryland would score. Lets suppose that Maryland scores only field goals. Then the expected score for Maryland on that final drive would be 0.25(3*1.0+7*0.0)=0.75 points. Now lets suppose Maryland only scores touchdowns. We would expect 0.25(3*0.0+7*1.0)=1.75 points. So even at our extreme cases, the expected value of Maryland scores on the final drive are between 0.75-1.75 points, both of which are below the 2 point advantage that Clemson gained by kicking the field goal.

So while it would have been "better" to score a touchdown, on average, the field goal would have been enough to secure the victory. Thus, if Tommy felt that throwing for the touchdown was more likely to result in a game ending turnover than running it up the middle, it made good sense for him to just play it safe and kick the field goal. Yes it is frustrating. Yes it ended Clemson's dreams of a ACC championship. But it may not have been as bad a call as we all want to think it was.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dow reaches 12,000

Considering the Dow has once again fallen below 12,000, I thought this satirical article was once again hilariously relevant.
The Dow Jones industrial average scored its first close above 12,000 Thursday, yet for some unknown reason, millions of people in the world remain in grinding poverty and squalor. "I can't figure it out," commented stockbroker Jerry Corrin. "I got two houses and three cars and some people don't even have clean water to drink. They must be lazy or stupid or something, because money's falling out of the goddamned sky around here."

Computer Scientist Baffled that Markets Work

Interesting article about a computer scientist who is studing markets. The computer scientist had this to say about information makets, such as or the Iowa Electronic markets.

My main research is studying different models of computation, and to me information markets are another model of computation," he said. "We still know so little about why they work well. There are big questions about how much traffic they need to be interesting, and how easy or how hard are they to manipulate.

Come on man. It's called economics.

Pac Man Joke

Thanks to Katherine for sending this one my way.

Why didn't I think of this?

To a want to be economist, this has got to be one of the coolest ideas ever. The possibilities are endless.


I guess it serves well to start this off with a welcome post. I have broken down and joined the legion of bloggers, probably at the point when blogging is quickly fading from fashion. That being the case, I feel as though I should defend my new interest by giving the purpose of this blog.

Recently, I find myself sending lots of emails about random things I find interesting to you, my friends and family. Most likely, the net effect has been you are reading fewer and fewer of these emails. So I decided to start this blog, which will mostly be a collection of things I find interesting on the web. There will of course be the occasional normative commentary, but as the title suggests, I'm not trying to change anyone's minds here.

Which brings me to the title. J.M. Clark once said he had "an irrational passion for dispassionate rationality". This quote was of course in reference to the study of economics. Similarly, I tend to view the world with a removed curiosity for the things occurring around me. Fundamentally I see that world driven by the interconnected rationality of people: hence the title of this blog.

I hope that you find the things here as interesting as I do, and I encourage you to post responses or email me if you find something you enjoy.