Francis Kayiwa's Reviews > Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport

Soccernomics by Simon Kuper
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Apr 14, 10

Recommended for: Ian

I’ll be honest I saw the review

“A blend of Freakanomics and Fever Pitch, bringing suprising economic analysis on the world’s most popular sport… a thught-provoking, often amysing read –Bloomberg News“

trumpeted on the cover of this book and I instinctively knew it would be a chore to like it. I quite enjoyed reading Fever Pitch and the less I say about Freakanomics the better. As with Freakanomics *sigh* it is puzzling if one is expected to read this as a scholar or as a popularization of a scholarly subject. The former requires careful examination of the authors claims and ensuring they have corroborating evidence while the latter requires only that the author present a reasonable case. I had to re-read the first couple of chapters of the book because I started out trying to examine the authors claims and decided I wouldn’t enjoy it at all and elected to read it for entertainment.

Here I am not suggesting that popularization cannot be entertaining nor the claim that entertainment can not inform. Nor should one infer that all or most of the claims in the book have been created “out of whole cloth”: it is not difficult to find many claims in Soccernomics that are well supported. Rather, the reader is given little guidance as to when to expect that a claim in the book is well–founded, mere speculation or in some cases, contrary to fact.

To their credit the authors do acknowledge the limitations of standard economics to explain football. The problem however to me was that it requires careful attention to note this very tacit admission. They very easily could have adopted the now debunked attitude that followed the whole Freakanomics nonsense. The smug “…we know best because we are rational thinkers…” is mostly absent here.

What about the Football you ask? It is actually quite good. As an Arsenal Football Club supporter it is quite easy to have my teams philosophy of pragmatism praised. I found their predictions on future World Cup winners preposterous but they do make a compelling case. In the end it is the one thing that a good statistician will tell you.

First, in highly competitive fields there might be stronger incentives to ‘‘manufacture’’ positive results by, for example, modifying data or statistical tests until formal statistical significance is obtained. This leads to inflated error rates for individual findings: actual error probabilities are larger than those given in the publications. … The second effect results from multiple independent testing of the same hypotheses by competing research groups. The more often a hypothesis is tested, the more likely a positive result is obtained and published even if the hypothesis is false.

The authors actually detail where they are doing this. They admit where data is unreliable but still forge ahead and make conclusions.
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