Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sports Illustrated Jinx: Is it really a jinx?

By Jamie Hale

There are many coaches, athletes, sports commentators and sports fans that believe being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated is not a good thing for an athlete. Supporters of the Sports Illustrated Jinx claim being featured on the cover leads to bad luck. SIJ proponents can cite numerous cases to support their belief.

Victims of the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx (Wikipedia excerpts):

“May 26, 1958: Race car driver Pat O’Connor appears on the cover. He dies four days later on the first lap of the Indianapolis 500.

August 7, 1978: Pete Rose appears on the cover the same week that his 44-game hitting streak ended.

May 8, 1989: Jon Peters, of Brenham High School in Texas, sets the national high school record for games won by a pitcher, with a 51-0 record. The next game after the cover, he loses for the first (and only) time of his high school career.

In November 2007, Kerry Meier of the Kansas Jayhawks appeared on the cover, which stated "Dream Season (So Far)" after the Jayhawks were 11-0. In their next game they lost to their archrivals, the Missouri Tigers, 36-28, ending the Jayhawks perfect season.

November 9, 2009: Iowa's Derell Johnson Koulianos appears on the front cover with the words "Still Perfect." The Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern two days before the issue date, ending the longest winning streak in school history.”

Maybe the SIJ is a real phenomenon, or maybe, or almost certainly, it is an erroneous belief produced by the regression fallacy. Gilovich explains (1991) how the regression fallacy applies to the SIJ Myth:

It does not take much statistical sophistication to see how regression effects may be responsible for the belief in the Sports Illustrated jinx. Athletes performance at different times are imperfectly correlated. Thus, due to regression alone, we can expect an extraordinary good performance to be followed, on the the average, by a somewhat less extraordinary performance. Athletes appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated when they are newsworthy- i.e., when their performance is extraordinary. Thus, an athlete’s superior performance in the weeks preceding a cover story is very likely to be followed by somewhat poorer performance in the weeks after. Those who believe in the jinx, like those who believe in the hot hand, are mistaken, not in what they observe, but in how they interpret what they see. Many atheltes do suffer a deterioation in their performance after being pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the mistake lies in citing a jinx, rather than citing regression as the proper interpretation of this phenomenon.

I wonder what SJM supporters think of Michael Jordan's 57 appearances on the cover (Greenfield, 2010), or Vince Young who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice during Texas's National Championship season (Zahn, 2002)?


Gilovich, T. How. (1991). How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason In Everyday Life. New York: Free Press.

Greenfield, J. (2010). Michael Jordan: The Sports Illustrated Covers. http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/sports/2010/01/michael-jordan-the-sports-illustrated-covers-1.html (accessed August 23, 2010)

Wikipeida. Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Illustrated_Cover_Jinx (accessed August 23, 2010)

Zahn, P. (2002). Is Their (sic) a “Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx. CNN. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0201/25/ltm.01.html. (accessed August 23, 2010).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Common Sense Doesn't Matter

by Jamie Hale

“Albert Einstein said common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of 18. It is also a result of some pervasive and extremely stupid logical fallacies that have become embedded in the human brain over generations, for one reason or another. These malfunctioning thoughts--several of which you've had already today--are a major cause of everything that's wrong with the world” (Shakespeare, 2009).

Webster’s New World Dictionary (2003) defines common sense as: “good sense or practical judgement.” This is probably the most commonly accepted definition of the word.

Wikipedia says:

“Common sense, based on a strict construction of the term, consists of what people in common would agree on: that which they "sense" as their common natural understanding.

Some people (such as the authors of Merriam-Webster Online) use the phrase to refer to beliefs or propositions that — in their opinion — most people would consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people "in common".

The most common meaning to the phrase is good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.”

A better definition of Common Sense is: commonly held belief, regardless of it’s truth value.

It doesn’t matter which definition you prefer to use when discussing Common Sense, referring to Common Sense as reason for a particular claim is fallacious, it makes an argument invalid. Yesterday’s Common Sense is often today’s Common Nonsense. Once upon a time it was common sense that the World was flat. History is replete with examples of Common Sense failure.

The list below was contributed by Frank Lovell, Kentucky Assocation of Science Educators and Skeptics Member.

Common Sense Counterfactuals

“The sun orbits Earth once a day. FALSE -- Earth rotates under the (relative to Earth, essentially) stationary sun once a day, and orbits the stationary sun once a year.

Velocities are simply additive (1mph+1mph=2mph, and 100,000mps+100,000mps=200,000mps). FALSE -- special relativity.

Time is absolute. FALSE -- Special Relativity.

Space is absolute. FALSE -- special relativity (what IS absolute is "space-time").

Earth's continents do not move. FALSE -- plate tectonics.

Everything that happens is rigorously mechanically determined. FALSE -- quantum mechanics.”

From Lilienfeld et al. (2010, p.6):

“…French writer Voltaire (1764) pointed out, ‘Common sense is not so common.’ Indeed, one of our primary goals in this book is to encourage you to mistrust your common sense when evaluating psychological claims. As a general rule, you should consult research evidence, not your intuitions, when deciding whether a scientific claim is correct.

As several science writers, including Lewis Wolpert (1992) and Alan Cromer (1993), have observed, science is uncommon sense. In other words, science requires us to put aside our common sense when evaluating evidence (Flagel & Gendreau, 2008; Gendreau et al., 2002).”

When engaging in argument avoid using the Common Sense fallacy, it gives and impression that you have no evidence to support your claim. It may perusade some people , but it will fail when arguing with someone who has a firm understanding of logic.


Lilienfeld, S. et al. (2010). 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Wiley-Blackwell.

Shakespeare, G. (2009). 5 Ways “Common Sense” lies to you Everyday. http://www.cracked.com/article_17142_5-ways-common-sense-lies-to-you-everyday.html. (Accessed August 8, 2010).

Webster’s New World Dictionary. (2004). Wiley Publishing Inc.

Wikipeida. Common sense. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_sense. (Accessed August 8, 2010).