Sports, loyalty, science

I realize that it is dangerous to criticize any science for being a waste of money or a nonsensical project because saying such a thing only encourages the crazies to claim that all science is useless, wrong or a reason to vote for Sarah Palin or to work for defunding all science, urge creationism in the classroom or emit more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. The problem is, however, every time I read a new social psychology study I have this urge to scream. And after a while it just builds up and is triggered by something that I just have to comment on.

And so we have the news release by the University of Illinois about a new work by Professors Scott Tainsky and Monika Stodolska. The first jolt I received was in discovering that there exists such a thing as a professor of recreation, sport and tourism, of which both Professors Tainsky and Stodolska are. What next? A professor of malls, boutiques and shopping? of potato chips, video games and alternative lifestyle?

But I suppose it’s unfair to focus on their titles. After all, if someone is teaching Homer, it really doesn’t matter if he is a professor of Greek, of Classics or of philology, right? It’s what they do with the title.

But here’s the second shock. They actually wrote an article in the September issue of Social Science Quarterly, entitled “Population Migration and Team Loyalty in Professional Sports.” Those who do not receive all the issues of Social Science Quarterly can go here for the abstract and to register to pay for access to this piece for one 24 hour period. (And what a 24 hour period that will be!)

Here’s the teaser: Using data from the US Census Bureau and Nielsen Company the authors create a linear mixed model to analyze the effect domestic migration on demand for National Football League games. And the conclusion is that when a person moves from one city (call it, for eample, A) to another city (call the other city, for example, B) and each of them (that is, both A and B) have NFL teams, the person who moved (we forgot to give him a designation but I’m pretty sure you can follow) will retain his loyalty to team A. And a possible reason is nostalgia for A.

Startling as that is, they go further. They look at interational immigration. Say an immigrant (we won’t forget to label him [or her], so call him [or her] G) moves from a foreign country (say, for example, Thessolonyica) to the US (that is a real country, not an example). The immigrant, G, will retain his interest in the sports of Thessolonyica. But the children of G (call them G’ and G”) will lose interest and begin following the sports of the US.

Those who have not yet had enough of the combination of sports and science will want to watch the Science of NFL Football — the co-production of NBC and the National Science Foundation. Anyone who has ever watched a professional football game has often wondered, How can I find out more about the physics of this game? And not a few scientists, who fear the effects of the current anti-intellectual wave sweeping this country, have said to themselves: If only we could show football fans the wonders of the science behind it, surely there will be no more clamoring for Intelligent Design in the classroom. So this series seems to be a godsend. (Whoops. I mean this random mutation seems to have important adaptive advantages).

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