Athletics, Damn Lies and Statistics

Statisticians are a funny bunch. They claim that theirs is the discipline that is most scientific.

Stats don’t lie, so the say. That is probably true but they can and frequently are being presented in a way that bends and shapes the truth.

A recent article appeared in the press intriguingly written by someone called Grant Russell ( no relation surely ) pointing out the remarkable number of top athletes who have birthdays on March 23rd.

Four examples were given, Roger Bannister, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Chris Hoy and Mo Farah who have 82 medals between them in Olympic and Commonwealth Games, and Championships both world and European.

Then they wheel out some statistician to make sure we understand that it’s all complete coincidence and certainly nothing that could ever be possibly connected to some kind of astrological influence.

First of all they remind you of the birthday paradox which states that in any class of 23 people the chances that 2 have the same birthday are 50%.

Which instantly makes us all think – Doh, can’t understand statistics, way too clever for me.

And once the reader is taken into that space all kinds of obfuscations can go on.

The same statistician claims that the chances of any four people out of a group of 200 having the same birthday is also 50 %.

Then other general factors are introduced. Like the fact that more top English footballers are born in the Autumn because they were the oldest in their class at school and so are used to elbowing their peers out of the way, while their mates lumped it up to the big man up front.

And this is linked with an utterly unconnected statement that the cut off for Olympic athletic events is January 1st.

This is used to explain why athletes are more likely to have been born between January and March.

As of course we know that all potential athletes and footballers are weeded out at the age of 4 and sent to two different schools which start their years at different times.

So pretty quickly we are manoeuvred into a zone where we will believe the chances of anything occurring are 50%, presumably because either it happens or it doesn’t.

Why pick a group of 200 in the first place ? If you asked anyone to pick the top 30 British Athletes there’s a good chance all 4 names would be there.

But if that’s not a very scientific method of selecting a sample, we could just do it on a show us your medals basis. It’s likely that those same 4 would still be in the top 30.

And the chances of any 3 people in a group of 30 having the same birthday is about 2.5%.

The chances of 4 is extremely small indeed.

But it’s not just any old birthday either, it’s in Aries, the sign that most astrologers associate with Sport. Because when it comes to it Aries is the Fastest Sign

And the chances of 4 people sharing a birthday in Aries is extremely small indeed divided by 12.

Now of course the ruler of Aries is Mars and anyone who has read an introductory book about astrology would expect Mars to be strong in the chart of a top athlete, particularly by aspect.

So of our 4 super athletes – Bannister, Redgrave, Hoy and Farah – What is the chance of

All 4 having Mercury in Pisces

3 of them having the Moon in active, movement oriented Cardinal signs

3 of them having Moon / Mars aspects

3 of them having the explosive major Mars / Pluto aspects and all 4 if you allow an 11 degree orb.

3 of them have dynamic Mars / Uranus aspects

3 of them have major Jupiter / Uranus aspects

Oh, probably about 50 %

But then statisticians only exist to show that nothing can be proven apart from statistics.



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