Recommended reading: ‘Likelihood and the way humans think’

I’ve recommended this article before, in part because I find myself re-reading it pretty often. It has so many things going for it but in particular the eloquence is tremendous and it explains some pretty big, abstract mathematical concepts with minimal use of numbers. It is, to me, excellence defined.

Sure it’s focussed on ice hockey but the concepts are universal. Yes it’s two years old but the discussion is still very valid today and will be for the forseeable future.

What’s really cool about this article is that it’s written by someone who does this stuff for free (the venerable Vic Ferrari) on a blog full of equally talented writers who also do this stuff for free. Seriously, if you are looking to learn from some very smart people then check out their archives and the hockey symposium. (I have serious respect for anyone who can get to the end of this and understand what’s going on by the way)

The last thing I love about that blog is the level of discussion, which is often as considered as the posts themselves. If the discussion here ever reaches their level I’ll feel very privilidged.

For example this comment in the discussion of that very post seems particularly pertinent given the recent fun we’ve had with respect to Xavi:

“The idea is that we’re taking what we know about a tree … adding it to what we know about the forest at large, then going back to apply it to the tree. If we apply the same thinking to all the trees and it implies a forest that can’t be … well we’ve effed up, so it’s back to the drawing board. 

Sadly the drawing board didn’t get a lot of use in that case.

Finally, if anyone can point me in the direction of any bloggers or members of the main stream media who write this well I’d be very greatful.


2 thoughts on “Recommended reading: ‘Likelihood and the way humans think’

  1. I’ve been mulling it all over these past few days … the stuff from the links that is … 🙂 I have no idea if I’m an “A” or a “B” thinker and actually not really bothered either way because, as Vic Ferrari notes, he’s never seen anyone switch as of yet and so I figure I’ll have to do with whatever way I am and make the best of it 🙂 I’ll let others place me in either camp.

    Nope, can’t think of any other bloggers/media who write with such clarity. The only person I really respect is Johan Cruijff, but he’s about tactics and not about stats. I love listening to him explain the game.

    Anyway, why I’m really replying … the example Vic Ferrari uses about the rookie with a shooting percentage of 15.5% and what people expect of him in his sophomore year.
    Can we do the same with players like C.Ronaldo, Messi, Van Persie, Carroll etc.? They have either had stellar or “crap” years.

    We know how many shots C.Ronaldo took this past season, how many were on target, how many his team took, how many goals he scored and his team scored (limit it to La Liga) … furthermore, we know the same for the previous years that he has played for R.Madrid (limit it to this team as the tactics and players have been fairly equal, adding ManU. gives completely different players and tactics and considering he’ll probably play for R.Madrid the coming season). We can calculate the percentages for all; accuracy (SoT/shot), goals/shot, goals/SoT, percentage goals/shots etc C.Ronaldo compared to his team, etc.
    Can we then predict the most likely number of goals he’ll score next season and thus see if he is performing under or over again? … e.g. predict around 30-35 goals, he scores 33 so is (possibly) playing to potential, scores 38 has been a bit lucky/is playing above potential, scores 25 has been unlucky/is playing below potential. In general, is he still improving as a player or has he reached his peak?
    I know how to do part 1, but the second part, the predicting (creating the histogram, as it were) is what I don’t know how to do (the formulas to use etc.) I am both dyslectic and have dyscalculia … I understand what Vic Ferrari is writing but I cannot apply it to data that I may have, I need to physically have someone stand beside me and show me how to use each number before I know what to do. 🙂

    Anyway, point being, I see tons of players get rated by people and media on what they are doing that very moment but not relating it to past or future (saying “oh his transfer fee is sure to go up now”, when a player is actually only doing what he normally should be doing). Another example is A.Kone at Levante, scored a ton of goals this season but each season previous has been terrible (I know cuz I watched him at PSV, ouch) and people suddenly saying he’s a top striker. I’d be surprised if he scores more than 10 goals next season!

    You usually write about teams … just wondering if you think it is possible to start applying some of the basic ideas to individual players or if more research/data/theory is needed?


  2. oh … I like reading Jonathan Wilson too, he writes for The Guardian and Sports Illustrated ( ) though I haven’t read any of his SI articles since the start of 2012.

    Not really sure this is what you mean though. 🙂 Will mail you a copy of The Blizzard #0 if you want, has articles on football history etc. I haven’t gotten around to buying #1 to 4 yet, don’t have a PayPal account set up. 🙂

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