Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny

There is not a huge amount happening in Australia on the electoral front. The next elections (barring any early disillusions) are the two territories more than twelve months away (Northern Territory on 27 August 2016 and the ACT on 15 October 2016)

Nevertheless, I have been encouraged to maintain an at least nominal output. I’m not planning anything drastic like actually tallying up my results and updating my counters just yet, though.

Some time back, Randle Munroe posted this bracket on his web comic XKCD. It’s not exactly enraged-bobcat-in-a-box slapstick, but it’s there. Now normally I don’t dabble in bracket construction; I have people to do that sort of thing for me. But then #xkcdbracket came along and made the whole thing psephological.

If you haven’t been playing along at home, the idea is simple – people vote, winner progresses. In reality, the whole exercise has been confounded by vote rigging, trash-talking and botanical classificatory disagreement. Some people might argue that a vote with no context or impact is meaningless. People like @xkcdbracket, for example. However, this is actually quite meaningful in that it eliminates a whole bunch of unquantifiable variables from normal elections (such as policy communication or making a choice that could shape several years of the nation’s politics and day-to-day life) and allowing us to analyse popularity and voting patterns in a relatively controlled environment.

The first vote for the preliminary finals is now open, which is a good time to start with some data under out belt and some excitement still to follow.

Here is my initial suspicions, based on my assumptions about the likes and interests of the standard XKCD audience:
A more repeatable approach, however, is as follows: all initial pairings (or three- or four-cornered contests) were decided based on the number of google hits for each name. Fred Astaire was used as the search term for Mr Rogers, Gordon-Levitt was hyphenated (does that make a difference?) and Beyoncé was spelt without the accent. Live with it.

After that, Google Fight was used to determine the individual with the most exposure on the internet. I was looking forward to watching a stick-figure of Ginger Rogers laying into a stick-figure Doc Ock, but apparently Google Fight was overhauled some time since I was a young teenager and now you just get a boring graph.

This provides some very different results. For example, commercial ventures pay a lot of money on advertising which is why Wells Fargo and the cinematic juggernaut Dr. No made it to the finals, narrowly squeezing out The Body Shop.

I also see the potential for what I might call the Bieber effect but, in accordance with the Bieber effect, decide the name Kardashian effect is microscopically less off-putting. Basically, the idea that a person’s popularity on the internet does not equate to popularity – especially if they exist largely as the butt of jokes of subjects of complaint. Thus, while Justin Bieber may score very highly in a google-fight against the guy Neil Armstrong sued for the return of his hair, but we all know who’d win in an internet voting contest.

Nonetheless, that method gives these results:
Meanwhile, the actual progress into the preliminary finals so far is:

(Since the Doctor was taken out by Mr Spock (How did I ever imagine Whovians would outnumber Trekkies?) by unofficial prediction is Rickman v Spock in the Final)

How to Fight the Internet (and Win):

(Added 23/7/2015)

So, this is how the two methods did in the preliminary rounds:

Ticks represent correct predictions, crosses wrong ones. After the first tier, dashes indicate wrong answers resulting from a matchup that never occurred (i.e. influenced by earlier errors) while circles indicate that a correct prediction was made despite earlier errors.

Round 1
PsephologyKid: √:31 X:13 TOSSUP: 1
The Internet: √:17 X:28

Round 2
PsephologyKid: √: 8 X: 2 O: 2 -: 8
The Internet: √: 1 X: 1 O: 2 -:16

Round 3
PsephologyKid: √: 1 X: 2 O: 2 -: 7
The Internet: √: 0 X: 0 O: 0 -:12

Round 4
PsephologyKid: √: 1 X: 0 O: 1 -: 4
The Internet: √: 0 X: 0 O: 0 -: 6

PsephologyKid: √:41 X:17 O: 5 -:19 TOSSUP: 1
The Internet: √:18 X:29 O: 2 -:34

So, my method (or "hunch") had consistently more right answers and fewer wrong answers. Despite the fewer errors, my method also had more corrections ("O"s), probably helped by having more brackets with viable (tick or "O" candidates) and, obviously, fewer dashes.

My hunch also got one correct nomination into the preliminary finals (unfortunately we now know that Alan Rickman has been knocked out.) This doesn't help us develop a reliable predictive tool, but it DOES quite conclusively illustrate that internet popularity is not very useful to the predictive psephologist. (Sorry Wells Fargo.)


  1. Neil Armstrong was trumped in round one based on the Internet preferences, but I found that branch of the bracket reasonably predictable. The XKCD fan base's love of space carried the first man on the moon through successive victories against Lance Armstrong, Stretch Armstrong and George Orwell. (My only wrong call on that entire tree was that Orson Welles would trump H.G. Wells. Science Fiction points I guess.)

    Alan Rickman's diabolical scheming took out Lex Luthor and Wolverine in a single blow to begin with, which heralded a very promising start. Easy victories over the more artistic Alan Parsons and Oscar Wilde bookended the only real gladiatorial combat in his tree - Rickman v Russell Crowe. Perhaps Mr Rickman was overconfident in his duel with the Astronaut, because Mr Armstrong took him in one small step.

  2. In bad news for Gotham City, the Joker (AKA Jack Nicholson) has just trounced Robin (AKA Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It's not exactly surprising, since Batman (AKA Dolphy?) is not there to save the day, but it's still bodes ill.

    If were honest, Gordon-Levitt had some easy rounds and is lucky to have made it to the prelims, having only beaten Jennifer Love Hewitt and Colin Firth (the Jane Austen Televisation - XKCD audience overlap is probably not the larges voting block and everything that Mr Darcy brings in brooding solitude JGL can match in sheer prettiness). Thanks to his second round bye, JGL has faced fewer (and in my opinion easier) opponents than Eugene V. Debs did in the first round alone.

    Nicholson seems to have been tempered in the flames of Internet warfare already, toppling both literature (championed by Nicholas Nickleby) and music (which retreated leaving Fats Domino to hold the forte alone). Fresh from a third-round bye, Nicholson had the energy and experience to deal with the combo actor-filmmaker-singer. Having demonstrated victory against multiple art forms the question for Nicholson is: can he bring his A-game against Science in the semis when he goes toe-to-toe with the very foot that made that one giant leap for man kind?