Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An NCAA basketball pool for experts

Carl Bialik, the Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy," is running a March Madness pool for scientific prognosticators of college basketball.

It's an entertaining exercise, but I wouldn't make too much of the results.

For one thing, as Tom Federico says in the article, there's a lot of luck involved in any small sample, and the ultimate winner would probably have been aided more by good fortune than by ability. Second, the sample is in a sense actually "smaller" than it looks at first glance, because the results of one round affect the next. So a single upset could actually cost you several games' worth of losses.

I'd call this more a publicity exercise than a true test of an expert's abilities. The ultimate test of a forecaster is still how well he does against the Vegas betting market – the best aggregate predictor of sporting events known to humankind.

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