Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why Your Team Should(N'T) Go To The Super Bowl: The 49ers (NFL Football)

Previously, on Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! Why The Giants Should(N'T) Go To the Super Bowl, why the Ravens Should(N'T), and why the Patriots* Should(N'T) go.

Why the 49ers SHOULD Win:

And now, the 49ers! (Which means I finished one of these series. Unless, like, a meteorite strikes between now and finishing typing this post, but if that happened, you'd never read this post because I wouldn't have published it, unless someone came across the glowing crater in Middleton, Wisconsin, and found a tiny pile of meteorite-burnt ashes in front of this laptop sitting next to the small Cars 2 slot-car set on the kitchen table, and decided to see what I'd been working on and then posthumously publish it, which seems unlikely except for the thought of a Cars 2 slot-car set with a tiny reproduction of Big Ben surviving a direct meteorite strike, which scientists figure would almost certainly happen.)

I'm thinking about meteorite strikes because the odds of getting struck by a meteorite are passingly small. How small, I don't know, both because I wasn't able to find an article that said what the odds are and also I got sidetracked by wondering just how "scientists," or whoever calculates the odds of things, do so, because it seems to me that all they're doing in many cases is throwing numbers at a dart board, or maybe just doing what you or I would so, which is "put two numbers together and make those the odds,"

Take this article
, for example, which looks like it's from a science-y kind of source, and which says the odds of getting struck by a meteorite are "infinitesimal," and cites as proof of that that only four people are known to have been struck by one and of those, one is suspected to be a hoax.

That's not proof of the statistical probability of anything, though: the fact that something has happened only four times in history may, indirectly, tell us something about the likelihood of it happening again, but it does not correlate to "4 people in every 7 billion will be struck by a meteor, on average."

For proof of the statistical likelihood of getting struck by a meteorite -- nobody can be struck by a meteor, because once it hits something it's a meteorite -- I went to Discover Magazine's blog, where I found this article that scientifically calculated the odds, and I quote:

I’m not even sure how you’d calculate those odds accurately (it would involve the number of meteorites known to hit the Earth, and the area of a single human compared to the surface area of the planet). But they’re really low; only one person I know of in modern times has been hit — in 1954 a woman in Sylacauga, Alabama was smacked in her side by an 8-pounder, and in 1992 a woman’s car was hit. In 2003 a flurry of meteorites rained down near Chicago, and amazingly no one was hit.

That is what passes for "science" these days. "I don't know, but here's a number I made up and some stories." That's probably why all our space probes keep crashing.

Because first, what Discover Blogger means about that last story is "amazingly no one [in Chicago reported being hit," which is not the same thing as not being hit. Unless he interviewed everyone in Chicago and all of them were aware of whether or not they'd been hit and none of them lied, he can't say no one was hit.

Secondly, again, saying "historically, this hasn't happened so the odds must be pretty low of it ever happening" is just wrong. History is a pretty poor guide to the future. Consider these things I just now thought of as impacting on the likelihood that you'll get struck by a meteorite and how that likelihood is greater than it was yesterday:

(8) There are more people alive today than yesterday. As I write this, there are 6,989,446,524 people alive on this planet. That number was 6,984,595,894 on January 1, 2012, so we've added 4,850,630 people already this month, or an average of 220,000+ per day. Assuming that stays constant each day (a big assumption) then yesterday there were 220,000 fewer people than there are right now, which means that more of the Earth's surface area is taken up by people.

There are 5,100,072,000 square surface miles on Earth. So yesterday, your share of our planet's surface was about 1.3 square miles. Today, it's slightly less than that.

(#) That, of course, assumes that people are evenly spread out over the Earth's surface, which they are not. So if you live in China, where there is a higher population, your odds got worse by greater than if you live in Antarctica, where the population probably did not fluctuate much at all yesterday. So if you are traveling today, you may be moving to an area where there are more people, tighter quarters, and hence a greater likelihood of getting hit by a meteorite unless you factor in that

(a) You may be going to a place with more buildings, and if you are indoors in a larger building your odds would go down. Historically, mankind has built more and larger buildings, so despite our increase in population, you actually may face worse odds now of getting struck by a meteorite because you spend more time indoors and in stronger facilities; your building may get struck by a

(4) Of course, the Earth is always moving through space and the Milky Way is, too, so every day we are moving to a place that's more or less likely to contain meteors, and therefore more or less likely to be filled with rocks when your side of the Earth spins into it.

I know a little about this -- very little-- as I used to tutor statistics back in college and so understand concepts of probability and correlation in general. Too bad more scientists don't.

So meteorite strikes are on my mind because odds are on my mind because the 49ers stand one game away from the Super Bowl, which appears to be the latest slap in the face that Alex Smith can give to Aaron "The Anointed One" Rodgers, who famously fell in the draft while Smith was taken first by the 49ers; if Smith wins the Super Bowl he will have as many Super Bowl wins as Aaron Rodgers. Smith already has been determined to be a more accurate passer than Rodgers. So winning against the Giants today will let Smith do something that Rodgers has not -- beat the Giants in a playoff game -- and match Rodgers' total of Super Bowl wins, after the two have been in the league the same amount of time.

But Smith, remember, did not inherit a team that had a lengthy winning record and had just come off a 12-4 season, and while Rodgers has played under two coaches, starting for just one, while Smith has had 3.

Then again, Smith plays in the easier NFC West, so keep that in mind.

Hey, the important thing is,
we both hate Brett Favre, right?

Anyway: the 49ers, after the preseason, were tied for 20th in Las Vegas oddsmakers' minds in terms of the likelihood of winning the Super Bowl. Arizona was ranked equally with them; Miami just below them. This site had them at 40-1, so the fact that they're perched one home-win away from going to the Super Bowl is remarkable, if you think that the Las Vegas odds say anything more than simply "what people think is likely to happen," because Vegas odds aren't statistical probabilities at all: Vegas odds are laid based on getting people to bet on stuff, and if lots of people think something is going to happen, the odds will be low because Vegas doesn't need to encourage people to place a preseason bet on, say, a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl; that's what everyone thought would happen, so Vegas didn't have to do anything to juice the betting.

But Vegas makes its money not by everyone losing bets, but by all the bets being even, and taking a cut of the total betting money. So Vegas doesn't want everyone to win or lose; they just want an equal number of people taking all propositions. When nobody is willing to bet on the 49ers, the oddsmakers just keep upping the odds until a sufficient number of people bet on them.

In other words: the odds are not what the pros think will happen, the odds are what all those people sitting in the stands in weird makeup think will happen.

So it's not maybe so remarkable that the 49ers made it to the NFC Championship; they simply did what lots of people thought they wouldn't do this year -- but the collective knowledge of those people is, simply put, not very good.

That, in the world's longest, most rambling nutshell, is why the 49ers SHOULD win the Super Bowl: because while it will be described as "against the odds," which it is not, and will therefore contribute to the general misunderstanding of both statistical probabilities and Vegas odds, it will also encourage people, in the future, to place more bets on longshots, which will enhance, in the long run, the likelihood that there will be no longshots, which will, in turn, mean that almost every team will be seen as having a roughly even chance of winning the Super Bowl in a given year, which is, of course, the actual statistical likelihood, and therefore the 49ers' winning the Super Bowl will eventually result in people being smarter.


(In reality, the probability of a given team winning a Super Bowl based purely on the fact that there are 32 teams, and assuming all other factors to be equal, is 0.031. Probability always lies between 0 and 1.)

Why The 49ers should NOT win: Because the 49ers are letting their fans be subject to risks while charging the city to try to protect them.

The 49ers made the headlines early on this year when a fan of theirs was beaten in the preseason and two were shot at the game. While the incident was blamed on Raiders fans, it's not like 49ers' fans are innocent: 54 fans were ejected from the game against the Saints, a number that is equal to 1/3 of the total 49ers' fans who were ejected during the entire season in 2008.

The 49ers, like many teams, have "BadFan," a text messaging service that lets fans report problems to security via text message. They've had it for three years, and for three years, ejections and arrests have risen each year. That's not just because of the ease of reporting: arrests and ejections don't occur just because someone reports a problem; a problem has to exist in the first place.

What sets 49ers' fans apart from others is that Niners' fans abuse that system: team officials estimate that half the texts sent to the service are "pranks or fakes," something I find amazing.

Not the statistic. I don't find it amazing that a bunch of drunken young men think it's hilarious to text a fake report to security.

I find it amazing that the NFL would refer to a false report to security as a prank. Diverting security resources, especially in a stadium where fans try to kill each other, is not a prank. To have a team official refer to it as such and not have the NFL say anything about that shows that the NFL's so-called commitment to fan safety, like it's so-called commitment to ending concussions, is mostly just PR and not for real at all.

This is especially important because the 49ers want San Francisco to give them a new stadium, and the city provides police officers for security at the games. It's not clear to me from reading whether the 49ers reimburse the city for those costs -- hiring off-duty cops as security guards is a common practice, but the articles don't say that's what's going on -- which means that in addition to making the city poorer simply by having a franchise located there, the 49ers are taxing public resources by not properly monitoring their fans.

That's another subsidy that goes to the owner of the 49ers, Denise Debartolo York, whose personal wealth is estimated at at least $900,000,000.

44% of all NFL fans earn $100,000 per year or more. NFL fans are more likely to have investments that require monitoring, such as stock accounts and mutual funds. Being an NFL fan means you are 59% percent more likely than the average person to have played golf in the past year.

NFL fans are predominantly upper-middle-class, Republican, well-off people. NFL teams, with the exception of the Packers, are owned by multimillionaires. Study after study has shown that having a pro sports franchise costs a city money at worst and provides no net benefits at best to the city.

So why are the people of San Francisco, half of whom make less than $81,000 per year, paying to provide security for the 49ers, when the 49ers don't want to and the NFL isn't serious about it? Fans go to the games -- and the vast majority aren't troublemakers-- and the owners net the money from ticket sales and concessions, while the fans themselves pay for the security to sit in the stadium.

Someone needs to #Occupy NFL Stadiums, I think -- but they'd do so at their own risk, and either way are hiring their own security to sit there.

49ers fans, the majority of whom are people who don't cause trouble, are being placed at risk every game by a woman who is worth nearly a billion dollars but who wants the city to continue to pay operating costs for her business, and she is backed by a league that considers fake calls to emergency responders harmless pranks.

Final Decision: Should win. Because I've decided to say that every team should win the Super Bowl, so that I can claim I was right when one does.

In closing: here is a meteor flying over a football game:

So attending today's Niners-Giants game increases your odds that you'll have to text BadFan and tell them the guy next to you tried to shove you into the meteor's path.


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