Sports Technobabble

Over in Twitter-land, Rhett Allain drew my attention to this "Sports Science" clip from ESPN, about a wild 4th-and-25 play in the Arkansas-Ole Miss game. This is nominally because I've been writing about big hits and bouncing balls over at Forbes, but really, I think Rhett's just working on a "misery loves company" theory, here:

It's a cool play, but as science, this leaves a lot to be desired. It's less "sports science" than "sports technobabble"-- mostly, they seem to be going for a science-y air by quoting lots of largely irrelevant numbers. I'm not sure why it matters how far most of these passes flew, or how much force was applied in the crappy leg tackle that failed to bring down the initial receiver, or how tall the offensive lineman who tipped the pass is. There's also the requisite garbling of units when talking about the "force" needed to stop a running hog, which doesn't make any sense, because that's really a question of momentum and time-- any force at all will eventually bring a moving object to a stop. You only need a big force if you want to stop it quickly.

And I haven't the foggiest idea how they did their "conservative" estimate of the odds of the ball bouncing the way it did. Though since I'm stuck at home with SteelyKid today, I may enlist her to help me take video of some bouncing footballs just for giggles.

Anyway, to answer Rhett's question from Twitter, I think this stinks. It's "science" in the same way that Star Trek scenes set in the engine room are science: they say a bunch of numbers mixed in with words you'll find in the index of a physics textbook (also, the phrase "prolate spheroid"), but it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.


Having gotten slightly rant-y here, this might be a lousy place to stick a plug for Paige Jarreau's blogging survey, but it's the most physics-y thing I've written in a while, so I probably ought to. If her survey gets overrun by Arkansas fans outraged that I slagged this video, well, I guess I'll owe her a beverage if we ever meet in person...

You need a third B in "technobable."

By F Victor Hastings (not verified) on 10 Nov 2015 #permalink

It seems their philosophy is "if it's measureable, lets measure it." On its face that's a good science-based philosophy. Where they go off the rails is trying to make connections to things that don't quite connect (like the force to stop something). My question is how could we use a semi-popular vid like this in teaching? Maybe have students critique it, or maybe ask them to make their own audio that has the same combination of accurate numbers and just-off comparisons to see if they can trick their classmates.

By Andy Rundquist (not verified) on 10 Nov 2015 #permalink