|HOME About Christian Blogging About Martin Roth My Novels|
Too Much Information (And Way Too Much Football) – Why Ignorance Is Power
Last weekend was a good one. It marked the end of the regular football season. Only the finals matches remain, and once they’re done there’ll be no more footy until 2003.
Melbourne is the centre of Aussie Rules football, and you can’t live here more than about 10 minutes without being asked which team you barrack for. Most Melburnians seem to develop a passion for the game that transcends reason. I wrote last week of my pastor, who is also chaplain to Essendon Football Club. As a missionary in Ethiopia in the 1960s he used to sit next to a scratchy shortwave radio each weekend to catch the footy commentaries on Radio Australia.
I’ve lived in Melbourne for nearly 10 years, yet each time I take my three sons to a match I find it as enthralling as watching the stadium grass grow. This year’s thrilling soccer World Cup tournament only reinforced my indifference.
I know little about the rules of the game and I could probably name all of about three players. Yet, despite this lack of knowledge, last year I entered the Crikey footy tipping contest. And I won! (My prize: a money order for $200, a copy of Ken Layne’s thriller Dot.Con, and two tickets to the Aussie movie “The Bank”.) This year I entered again, and did less well, though still finished in the top quarter of all entrants.
My point was to show that you don’t need to know much to be an expert. In fact, we’re bombarded with too much information. In the information age ignorance isn’t just bliss. It can also be power.
I came to this view while doing some research on the stock market. I came across the writings of Professor Terrance Odean of the University of California, an expert in the emerging field of behavioural finance - the psychology of investment behaviour. He analysed the share market trading records of 88,000 investors over 10 years at a particular US broking house, and his numerous conclusions include the following:
* the more actively that investors traded, the less they earned;
* most investors are unable to choose systematically between the many stocks available, with the result that they tend to buy stocks that have been in the news or that have recently experienced big price movements;
* other research suggests that the availability on the internet of so much real-time data and so many investor tools - such as the ability to sort stocks according to numerous criteria - encourages investors to take action - any action - when they would probably be best advised just to sit on their existing portfolios.
In the words of Professor Odean:
Studies show that, as people acquire more information, their confidence in their ability to predict outcomes rises far faster than the accuracy of their predictions….Billions of bytes of market data give most investors no more ability to pick individual stocks than to pick numbers on a roulette wheel.
It’s the same with sport. And so, blissfully ignorant of what all the experts were saying about teams and players, each week I simply consulted the previous week’s ladder (the previous season’s finishing ladder for the beginning few weeks of the season), and for each game I tipped the team with the higher number of points, or the higher ratio. When two teams were equal on the ladder I tipped the home team. And that’s about it. Simple (and extremely boring).
After I won the Crikey contest last year I got an email from the Crikey Gadget Man: “…we may even meet up for a beer and get a bit of a photo thing happening? Whaddayareckon?”
I replied that I’d love to meet up for a beer. And I sent him an article I’d specially written - explaining how I’d won the contest - that I thought Crikey might like to publish.
The article was never used. And I never got invited for that beer.