Plus Blog

June 4, 2009
Thursday, June 04, 2009

Not so fantasy football

Next time you're off to the bookies to place your footie bets, you might be better off consulting a statistician than a football expert. On his Understanding Uncertainty website self-confessed football un-enthusiast David Spiegelhalter used a simple statistical model to predict the results of the last ten Premier League matches, which were played on the 24th of May 2009. In terms of predicting whether a game ended in a win, draw, or defeat for the home team, Spiegelhalter's model was right nine out of ten times, compared to the seven out of ten score achieved by the official BBC football expert Marc Lawrenson, and the model predicted two scores exactly.

Spiegelhalter and his co-authors Mike Pearson and Ian Short quantified the individual teams' attack strength and defense weakness based on their past performance, and then, with a little help from probability theory, used these ratings to work out the most likely outcome of a particular match. (You can see the details of this model on his website.) "These types of models have been refined over the years and are now used by bookies and sports betting companies, who employ experienced statisticians and make use of the latest computational methods," says Spiegelhalter. But he concedes that his very basic model might have been a bit lucky this time: "One thing you can bet on is that simple models like this one will be very unlikely to out-perform the odds being offered by bookies, so don't use them to spot good bets!"

Spiegelhalter announced his prediction on the BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less, which was aired before the final match day, so you can be sure that no hindsight fraud was involved.

David Spiegelhalter is Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge and regularly writes for Plus (see for example his article on the 2006-2007 Premier League season). His Understanding Uncertainty website is designed to inform the public about everything to do with risk and uncertainty, from health scares to predicting election results.

posted by Plus @ 8:05 AM


At 9:42 AM, Anonymous sports picks said...

davids approach seems quite nice to me, so i think it takes into account all the strength and weakensses of both the teams, now leaving the thrill factor (which is still very much alive,as it is a guide only) i think if one is thinking of investing in sports picks ,the theory appears nice in principle,
cheers, richard,

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June 2, 2009
Tuesday, June 02, 2009

At the very heart of sport is a fierce battle in which the combatants strive to outwit and outplay each other. Each thrust is matched by a parry and in the end, there can only be one winner. The rules of each sport dictate how that winner is determined, and whether it is football, tennis, golf or chess, it is those who perform best on the day who take home the glory. This latest installment of the Plus sports page looks at two ranking systems that couldn't be any different from each other — those of sumo and chess.


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posted by Plus @ 2:31 PM


At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Ken said...

Nice work guys. Plenty of stimulating material for my maths students here.I'm a secondary school maths teacher with a keen interest in mathematical modeling. Looking forward to future articles.

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May 26, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Are you disappointed because ITV's "most stressful game show on TV", The colour of money, seems to have been pulled? Do you think that you had just the right strategy to win? Then check out if you were right with John Haigh's analysis of best play.



posted by Plus @ 9:41 AM


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May 26, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Take a trip through the looking glass...

Looking for something to think about next time you gaze at your reflection when brushing your teeth? Then Sara Santos has some mathematical inspiration for your next daydream in her MMP public lecture, Through the looking glass... again and again!. If Alice took a magic trip inside a conic arrangement of mirrors, what would she find in this mathematical wonderland? You can take a look through a 3D kaleidoscope to see what happens to Alice's cubes and icosahedrons!

Sara Santos is Clothworkers' Fellow in mathematics at The Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ri) and is responsible for coordinating the UK-wide network of secondary Ri mathematics masterclasses. Sara will be speaking at 11am on Thursday 11 June 2009, at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge, just down the hall from Plus! Admission to the lecture is free but by ticket only — for tickets please contact Kerstin Enright, Millennium Mathematics Project, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Wilberforce Road, Cambridge CB3 0WA (01223 766839) or email: You can also sign up for notifications of future MMP events at the MMP site.

And don't forget you can also see the London Mathematical Society's popular lectures on Monday 22 June in London and Tuesday 15 September in Birmingham. Come and see how physicists helped answer a hundred year old question about prime numbers and how random matrices and Riemann zeroes feature in a major Hollywood movie with Nina Smith. And Mark Miodownik will explain how fleas can jump over 100 times their own height, flies can walk on water and a hamster can survive falling from aircraft without a parachute.

Admission is free, but by ticket only. For more information and tickets, contact Lee-Anne Parker, London Mathematical Society, De Morgan House, 57-58 Russell Square, London,WC1B 4HS (email:, or visit the LMS website.

But if you can't wait til then, you can take a trip through the looking glass and discover the importance of scale to weightlifters and kitten on Plus!

posted by Plus @ 12:43 PM


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May 22, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009

After a gruelling 73 days each dragging 110kg of equipment in temperatures 40 degrees below zero, polar explorers Pen Hadow, Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley are now safely home in the UK spring sunshine. The aim of their expedition was to produce a comprehensive set of sea ice and snow thickness data in the Arctic, and despite technical problems, their data has already produced some surprising results.



posted by Plus @ 8:17 AM


At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be more precise megawatt is a unit energy per unit time so that it is a power. It would have been more correct to say megajoules.
Anyway thanks for the post, simple and interesting model.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger said...

Nice article - but please change "degrees kelvin" into "K" on its own - only in the USA do they use "deg K".

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May 21, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Debate the big questions of the universe

The response to our International Year of Astronomy project seven things everyone wants to know about the universe has shown that Plus readers are keeping up with the frontiers of theoretical physics. Now you have a chance to debate the Big Questions in person, as the Astrophysics Group at the Physics Department of Imperial College London present a new series of debates on topical themes in modern astrophysics and cosmology.

In each debate a member of the Astrophysics Group will discuss one of the big questions raised by cutting-edge research with a guest, be it the origin of the Universe or the existence of black holes. The series will be accessible to everybody and is aimed at the general public, who will have the opportunity to ask questions in what will be a lively and interactive discussion.

The first topic up for debate is "the Origin of the Universe" at 6-8pm on Thursday 18 June at Imperial College, London. Prof. Michael Rowan-Robinson and Rev. Dr John Polkinghorne, will tackle the fascinating question of what the Big Bang means from both a scientific and a theological perspective. The next event will take place in mid-July and will discuss the existence of the mysterious dark energy.

Attendance is free but registration is essential, you can find out more at the Big questions site.

And for those of you holding out for the answer to our latest question 'Are the constants of nature really constant?', we have just recorded John Barrow's answer to this question, which ranged from how to standardize the widths or wires to alternate universes. We'll publish his answer in a podcast and article next week, as well as launch the next poll for you to choose the third thing everyone wants to know about the universe. Stay tuned....

posted by Plus @ 4:18 PM


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