Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No cause, no effect yet Octopus Paul fretted me. Why?

World Cup 2010 has just concluded, with my favorite two teams finishing as 2nd (Netherlands) and 3rd (Germany) while my initial 3rd favorites won it (I won’t support Spain anymore). However, there was a twist to the tale and much noise regarding Octopus Paul and its 100% correct prediction record.

An octopus, however intelligent, can not make me bet my money on a team. Call it prejudice, discrimination on animals or whatever. Yet I wasn’t left behind when it came to taking out my ire at Paul. Maybe, it was due to the fact the teams I supported were on the losing end. Some people have dubbed this phenomenon as a mere chance, some praise the animal’s intelligence and would research with it, while others simply don’t care. There is a theory in Wikipedia, which I find half-convincing on octopuses being color blind, but sensitive to stripes and brightness, which prompted it to choose the flags it did.

However, the whole thing reminds me of my first chat with my supervisor (in Netherlands) regarding football, who is Dutch but doesn’t happen to be a hardcore Dutch fan. His words were (before World Cup began) “Whomsoever you support, there is someone in this world who already knows who will win this World Cup, and in fact each and every match’s results.” Of course, it sounded cynical to me but now I doubt that the validity of the argument has a probability at least as much as Paul’s correct predictions. The first thing which had struck me then was Euro 2004, where Greece won- the most improbable thing to happen in football for I hope many more years to come.

Octopus Paul is not new to the prediction scene, and had made similar predictions in Euro 2008 which went wrong twice (I didn’t know this then). This time, it (or he?) bettered the record by removing that margin of error and transcending Germany’s matches to predict the result of Spain vs. Netherlands finals also (correctly). World Cup 2006 concluded in a situation when Italian football was victim to a series of match-fixing scandals, including its biggest clubs at the time- Juventus and AC Milan. All this makes me think like a (cynical) Conspiracy theorist, and conclude about match-fixing in the big competitions in football, for the past few (maybe before my birth) years.

Let me explain how Paul fits in the scene. The probability argument hardly seems convincing, as cumulative probability of a correct prediction goes down by ½ in every knockout match, and 1/3 in a group match. Intelligence and striping arguments can convince me to an extent, but not much as Paul had chosen Germany once and Spain the next time, for the same flags. Of course, I suspect a deep-rooted human activity behind the scenes. FIFA World Cup is the most broadcasted sporting event (Olympics 2nd, Cricket World Cup 3rd) and Euro ranks 4th on the list. Undoubtedly, a lot of money is involved. Assuming there exists a person in some corner of the world, who knew the results of the matches in advance (a bookmaker), it would be logical to assume he would like to expand his earnings and involve businesses. One way is to leak out the information he possesses, though in a clever manner. The live flag-choosing ceremony by Octopus Paul became a big business as time passed, attracting hundreds of viewers, and much more media coverage. Of course, a lot of money was involved (a part of which the bookmaker shares). Letting Paul make his only non-Germany match (final) prediction reflects the aquarium owner’s love for money (anyways he is a businessman). Of course keeping the news confidential involves lot more bribes, but when the stakes are high, everything is fair. Just like a terrorist serves much more purpose than killing people when he plants an attack (instilling terror within people), this bookmaker used poor Paul as the means (like a bomb) to instill this terror apart from making money, which would make football lovers doubt what they are rooting for.

Of course, none of us know how Paul was treated in the hours when public viewing wasn’t allowed, and how much training it was given or what was mixed in the mussels he chose. Thus, Paul may have served as a medium for the bookmaker to earn a lot while making an akin statement to “Big Brother is Watching You”. Of course, none of this is a theory but rather a hypothesis.

The good news is Paul has retired and shall make no more predictions. With a short life span, Paul is expected to live no longer than a couple of years. Thus, I pity the octopus for receiving the death threats (none of which it most probably understood) and request all to end their anger on this helpless creature, and look at the Underground activities that may have governed the previous Euro and this World Cup through Paul, and discourage this business. In the end, I would wish Paul doesn’t end on someone’s plate and lead a peaceful death with respect.

P.S. For the 2006 World Cup, I don’t need to look far away from Italy, as Sicilian Mafia gives me a good view. Greece winning Euro 2004, and losing their only match in the way to Russia- I find it funny not to blame the bookmakers for it.


Deepak said...

Great hypothesis... a solid proof of the Mathematics and dan brown influence...

Siddharth Bhattacharya said...

Thanks Deepak, yeah conspiracies are of course what Dan Brown feeds into the mind. I wish I could Mathematically prove this.
Anyways, like your comment.

Piyush said...

There are a lot of bizarre ways of prediction going on. And a lot of them are wrong.If one of them hits a string of correct ones,then it gets all the media attention and others forgotten. So its isnt a big deal.
Any german fan would have gotten atleast 6-7 matches out of 9 correctly predicted.
The matches are not fixed ofcourse.You can see it by the way players hit crossbars in the last mins and goalkeepers save penalties or that suarez save.

Siddharth Bhattacharya said...

@ Piyush:
What you said is very interesting, (Refer: Infinite Monkey Theorem) that if there are many animals making predictions someone is almost sure to make a correct prediction. The point is, Octopus Paul didn't catch the attention after the end, but at an intermediate stage while the World Cup was in between. How can this 'one animal' be spotted in between, and continue to give the right answers after that? If it had been, all animals were allowed to make predictions and in the end, there results were analyzed maybe it would have been normal to analyze the string and find it as "Ger Ser Ger Ger Ger Esp Ger Esp" but Paul got maximum attention after 3rd level, and from there maintained consistency. Not adhering to the talent argument of an octopus, I still think there is something fishy.Any German fan (not octopus) could' ve got 6 correct.
This has always been surprising, some matches which were proved to be fixed later, on seeing them you can never spot they are fixed (eg- in cricket). 4s, 6s are hit normally, last ball thrillers are played, but results known in advance (not in all matches, but Cronje, Azharuddin, Samuels). Similar cases have come up in tennis, and in football suspicions which never have been proved like Argentina's 6-0 win in Semis of 1978, and Denmark- Sweden 2-2 draw in 2004 Euro (where exactly that score was required for mutual qualification at cost of Italy).

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