The Hot Tentacle

The World Cup started with vuvuzelas and ended with Paul the octopus. The world’s most famous cephalopod grabbed headlines by correctly predicting the winners of eight straight World Cup matches, including today’s victory by Spain over the Netherlands.

I’ve enjoyed Paul’s exploits, but his success got me wondering: just how many animals are out there picking World Cup winners? Could it be that, oh, 256 animals were making predictions when Paul started his run and he’s just the lucky one?

Well, after a little bit of internet snooping, I haven’t found all 256 yet, but I bet they are out there. For starters, there’s Mani the parakeet who called four quarterfinal matches correctly, but then fowled up by picking the Dutch over the Spaniards in the final.

And then there’s this article in the Christian Science Monitor, which recounts failed prognostications by a sloth, a hippo, and a monkey.

So that’s at least four. As for the other 251 failed psychics that I think are out there, my guess is that Google doesn’t know about them. And that, friends, is what’s known as survivorship bias. That bias is a big deal in financial markets. For example, the performance of existing mutual funds is much better than that of mutual funds generally because the laggards get closed and drop out of the data.

And so it is with animal psychics. The lucky ones grab headlines, while the laggards are forgotten. Which doesn’t mean that I begrudge Paul his fame. Indeed, I think his fame should spread right into finance and statistics classes when school starts in the fall.