(Eli) Manning’s Law

The predictions of “experts” are often wrong.

The victory of the New York Giants in the National Football League’s Super Bowl is the latest in a series of recent news developments that underscore a principle that might be called Manning’s Law, after the Giants quarterback Eli Manning: The predictions of “experts” are often wrong.

You can look it up. Sports Illustrated, the venerable, highly profitable jewel of the Time Warner Corporation’s magazine empire, employs a veteran sportswriter named Peter King. The magazine describes him as “one of America's premier pro football writers.” He’s written at least three books about football, and he’s been covering the sport professionally for more than 30 years. He’s on the board that picks members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mr. King’s 2011 NFL preview predicted that the Giants wouldn’t even make the playoffs.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. King or on Sports Illustrated. What about ESPN, which is the Walt Disney Corporation’s entry in the sports journalism category? ESPN has not just one NFL expert but 12. Not a single one of the 12 experts in the ESPN NFL season preview picked the Giants to win the Super Bowl. Only one of the 12 even thought the Giants would make the playoffs.

Andy Benoit writes about football for The New York Times and CBS Sports. His NFLTouchdown.com site bills itself as “the best NFL analysis and commentary on the planet.” His season preview didn’t pick the Giants to win the Super Bowl this year, either.

Even on the eve of the game, the Las Vegas oddsmakers favored the New England Patriots to win, not the Giants.

We expect a degree of chance and unpredictability in sports, which, after all, are just games. What about really important matters, such as the nation’s economy?

On Friday, Politico’s “Morning Money” daily email led with its take on the job statistics that would come out that day from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first prediction cited was this: “Moody’s Analytics Mark Zandi emails: “The January employment report will be on the soft side. I expect payroll employment to increase by just over 100K and private sector employment to increase by 125k. Unemployment will edge higher to 8.6%.”

Mr. Zandi, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, was an adviser to Senator McCain’s Republican presidential campaign who is also often described as President Obama’s favorite economist. His own web site describes him as “a trusted adviser to policymakers and an influential source of economic analysis for businesses, journalists and the public.” But his prediction for the January employment number was as spectacularly wrong as the NFL season previews by Sports Illustrated and ESPN. When the numbers came out Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they showed that rather than edging higher to 8.6%, as Mr. Zandi had predicted, the unemployment rate dropped, to 8.3%. And the non-farm payroll number grew 243,000, more than double what Mr. Zandi had predicted.

What about the stock market?

"Stocks Are Still Expensive" was the headline over a New York Times item posted August 4, 2011 by David Leonhardt, a Yale graduate and winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary for what the Pulitzer Board called “his graceful penetration of America’s complicated economic questions.” Mr. Leonhardt’s “Stocks Are Still Expensive” item began, "The main problem for the stock market is obviously the economy. But it's not the only problem. Stocks are also under pressure because they are fairly expensive right now relative to earnings." It went on, "stocks would have to fall another 6 percent from their current level to return to the 50-year average." The Times at one point that day was linking the item from its home page.

Later in August 2011, Mr. Leonhardt was praised by Yale President Richard Levin as “but one of many visible examples of the profound way in which the liberal arts education you are about to experience can help you to develop the capacity to see the big picture.” Mr. Leonhardt has since been promoted to Washington bureau chief of the Times.

Since Mr. Leonhardt posted the “Stocks Are Still Expensive" item, the stock market, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, rather than falling by 6% as the item predicted, has risen 12%.

I’m not here to make fun of Mr. Leonhardt, Mr. Zandi, Mr. King, or the other experts. The point is that even smart, experienced, and accomplished people can be wrong, which is why humility is so important, and elitism is so dangerous. Complex systems are hard to predict.

Sure, it’s possible to take skepticism of expert authority too far. But the mistake made more commonly is listening to the experts. Eli Manning didn’t pay much attention to them, and look where it got him.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and NewsTransparency.com, and the author of Sam Adams: A Life

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  • Tim||

    Top. Men.

  • ||

    Oh wait, did the Giants win the Superbowl? Over the Patriots?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Bingo||

    9-7 in the regular season #smh

  • Sparky||

    I'm a huge Pats fan but they really didn't belong there this year. I was pleasantly surprised when they made it but opposing teams aren't going to screw up every game. Hopefully they put together a real defense in the off season.

  • ||

    Or invest in a top flight receiver. They are so arrogant. They think that because they are the Patriots and have Brady they can just put anyone at wide out. The only elite receiver they have ever had was Moss. And they got him cheap and he had two of the greatest seasons in NFL history. You would think they might want to give their HOF quarterback someone to throw to.

  • ||

    You would think they might want to give their HOF quarterback someone to throw to.

    They did pretty well this season with Welker, Hernandez, and of course Gronkowski. And I'd go so far as to say that the Pats' loss last night was largely due to Gronkowski's ankle injury.

    It's amazing how, in recent years, tight ends have gone from being slightly more agile blockers to full-on wide receivers.

  • ||

    Welker would be lucky to be in the league if he didn't have Brady throwing to him. And Welker dropped what could have been a game winning catch.

    And yeah, the Gronk injury probably tipped the game. But it wouldn't have if the Patriots had a decent WR.

  • Gojira||

    That first Super Bowl they won they didn't have anybody noteworthy at wideout (that I recall).

  • Ska||

    No, but they had a defense.

  • ||

    Randy Moss?

  • ||

    Ochocinco and Randy Moss were attempts at that.

    Receivers have a shorter shelf life than in the past it seems.

  • ||

    They could have invested a high draft pick in one or signed a higher priced younger free agent like Anquan Bolden.

  • ||

    Boldin was traded from my Cards, he wasn't a free agent.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Mr. King’s 2011 NFL preview predicted that the Giants wouldn’t even make the playoffs.

    Well, when you're right 52% of the time, you're wrong 48% of the time.

  • Anonymous||

    Holy shit, I thought A. Barton Hinkle's op-eds were bad, but this shit is fucking awful. People can be wrong? I would've been embarassed to see such a mind-numbingly trite article in a fucking college newspaper.

    There's some smart arguments to be made about the degree to which economics falls within the definition of a science. But I guess they sure as fuck won't be found on Reason.

  • ||

    The NFL is the most evenly matched pro league in sports. And it is also the professional sport most likely to have injuries. So you have a league where the difference between the best and worst teams isn't that great and there are a ton of injuries that can totally change a team's fortunes at any time.

    It is basically impossible to predict. That is why gamblers lose so much money betting on it. I can't stand Peter King. But who is Stoll kidding here?

  • spencer||

    or it's all rigged.

  • ||

    Yeah because they would risk a multi billion dollar business by rigging it. Not likely.

  • spencer||

  • ||

    This may come as a shock to you, but both teams had similar websites already made up so it could go up immediately after the game. The Giants just put theirs up accidentally.

  • spencer||

    I'm just taking the piss.

  • ||

    And there were already "Patriots, Super Bowl Champs" T-shirts made. A conspiracy!

  • ||

    or it's all rigged.

    Do you mean that games are sometimes thrown on purpose? I seriously doubt it. It's not like boxing, where you all you'd have to do is offer one guy a large payday to take a dive in the fifth. In the NFL, you have too many players who are too eager to win for that sort of conspiracy to remain under wraps. Sure, teams sometimes lie down when they're demotivated, when their season is already lost, when they can't stand their coach, etc. But the idea that an entire team (or a significant portion of a team) could be persuaded to deliberately throw a game? No way.

  • spencer||

    You don't need an entire team. Take the quarterback out, or an offensive lineman, and you're a gonner- plain and simple.

    However, I don't think this happens. It's much more likely to be a ref like in the NBA. However, I don't think that happens either. I was just kidding.

  • BigT||

    Sports Illustrated did a feature story on this about a year or so ago. The home field advantage is largely attributed to referees/umpires being influenced by the home fans - not intentionally, but psychologically.

  • ||

    The home field advantage is largely attributed to referees/umpires being influenced by the home fans - not intentionally, but psychologically.

    I can easily see that being the case. Being booed by tens of thousands of avid fans for an unfavorable call is definitely going to weigh on a guy.

  • spencer||

    That's why we need cyborg officials.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    You mean a digital umpire? The future is here with D'ump!!!

  • ||

    Not quite true. While parity is the hallmark of the NFL the NBA and MLB offer more variation than injuries.

    An NBA team is a likely underdog on the second of consecutive road games no matter how good they are.

    And the starter in MLB determines the odds more than anything.

  • ||

    That is true. But that makes them easier to predict than the NFL.

  • ||

    IMO, the greatest season ever in any sport was Steve Carlton's 27-10 record for a last place Phillies team that may have won 70 games.

    Statistically - that can't happen.

  • Shrieek,||

    "Lefty" was one of the greatest of all time. He impossibly won almost half their games.

    "...he won 27 games for the last-place (59-97) 1972 Phillies..." wikipedia.

  • rather||

    onetime I found a pair of shoes and I put them on but when I got home they were diapers instead.

  • ||

    It's not like the Giants were the best team in the NFL for most of the season. But they peaked at the right time, and the AFC apparently has like two teams with any defense at all.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The prediction that the Giants wouldn't make the playoffs was ridiculously close to coming true.

  • ||

    Exactly. I think this recent trend of teams coming "out of nowhere" is tied to the NFL's attempt to juice the ball by killing defense. Which is ruining the game for those of us who like good defense.

  • ||

    . . . the NFL's attempt to juice the ball by killing defense.

    What do you mean by that?

  • spencer||

    I think he means that you supercharge the offense when you don't allow people to touch the quarterback or the receivers, etc. At the same time you allow holding on EVERY SINGLE play of the game.

  • ||

    Yeah, that makes sense. I can understand throwing the flag on some of the more egregious late hits, spearing, stuff like that . . . but football is a violent, high-speed contact sport, and I agree that you hurt the sport when you treat these guys with kid gloves.

  • ||

    I mean seriously?

    You and I would be limping to the locker room crying after spending a quarter playing QB in an NFL game in 2011. All these net tough gais talking about "you might as well put skirts on them" are pretty laughable for those in the know.

  • ||

    when you don't allow people to touch the quarterback or the receivers, etc.

    Hooray for exaggeration!

    QBs and WRs are getting touched in every game. Very, very hard. (not in a masseuse kind of way)

  • spencer||

    It's called Hyperbole.

    It's also called relative. I made no claim I could play in the NFL, but bradshaw did it. Aikman did it. Montana did it. Give them today's protections and they'd break every record in the book.

    I'm not one of those golden age wishers either. It was an intended consequence meant to increase offense and decrease hits.

  • BigT||

    Some of the rule changes have come about because today's equipment can be used as a weapon - helmets are so rigid the act like spears without hurting the wearer. Put today's players in 1960's equipment and you'd see a different style of play.

    The most significant rule change was when they moved the hash marks to the middle of the field. In the old days there was a wide and narrow side of the field. It impacted everything - running, passing and field goals. It was a better, more strategic game then.

  • newshutz||

    This year I noticed that there was a lot more contact down the field on pass plays . It was a dramatic increase from just the hand fighting of last year. It looks much more like basketball on pass receptions, then the old rules where you had to wait for the receiver to touch the ball, before you could touch him.

  • ||

    The Giants have a pretty good defense, while the Pats have a horrid one, so I have even less idea what you're talking about than usual on this topic.

  • Urk||

    Getting a hit just 1/3 of the time over a long enough span will land you in the HOF my friend

  • spencer||

    Unless you played for the Astros.

  •  ||

    I predict Ron Paul will be president.

  • spencer||

    Wait, shouldn't this event NOT be politicized?

    Isn't reason mainly a potlically minded org?

  • ||

    Obama is 57% to win on Intrade.

    Long or short?

  • spencer||

    I'm going long.

  • ||

    You would win today easily.

    But we don't know the variables that will occur.

  • spencer||

    No, but it's not gambling if you KNOW everything.

  • ||

    Except the election's not being held today, and that fact influences the distribution of shares.

    For example, you can think Romney would win if the election were held today but at the same time realize that BO has a huge-antic war chest to pillory the Mormon with over the next few months. (which of course would be a triumph of the people rather than eeeeeeeeeeevil corporate money corrupting elections)

  • ||

    I would short Obama today at 57 for two months.

    He could fall to 45 but 60 is his top short-term. (but I won't tie the money up - most likely there won't be a big move)

  • ||

    He'll probably win on Intrade. Not sure whether he wins the actual election though.

  • spencer||

    Then you are in denial. He will win.

  • ||

    I guess you don't need Intrade if you're so sure then.

  • spencer||

    Nope, I don't. It's called a mix of history, pessimism, and understanding of the american public.

  • ||

    The point being, Intrade is overused as a prognosticator for events far in the future. GM's stock was high 10 years ago; that didn't mean it was going to be profitable forever, or even that people thought it was going to be profitable forever, only that people perceived that they could find a buyer at a good price for their stock.

  • ||

    Intrade's only value is that it removes the noise from prediction.

    It is a market and not a popularity or "my guy" poll.

    Granted, I watched it when Harry Reid "upset" the crazy GOP woman from Nevada. It spiked 60 points in a minute several times on election night.

  • ||

    Except it's not predicting what people think it's predicting. See my GM example.

  • spencer||

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • ||

    "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future."

    -- you know who

  • Gojira||

    Abraham Lincoln?

  • ||

    This is hilarious - apparently Gisele had some harsh words for the Pats' receiving corps:

    http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/s.....lvi-020612

  • Gojira||

    That is hiliarous, but it's a truism that no game was ever won or lost on a single play.

    Even if it comes down to a field-goal attempt with 1 second left on the clock, there were a thousand variables that led up to that moment, any of which might have lead to a touchdown earlier, or a turnover, or anything else that would have prevented it from coming down to that.

    So I try not to make a goat out of anybody unless they fucked up throughout the entire game. One or two bad plays can happen to anybody.

  • ||

    So I try not to make a goat out of anybody unless they fucked up throughout the entire game. One or two bad plays can happen to anybody.

    Absolutely. As good as some of these guys are, they're only human, and are easily capable of muffing what should be a gimme play. Unfortunately for Welker, his muff came in the waning moments of the Superbowl. Every veteran quarterback, no matter how good, can think back to a game that was lost due to a last-minute pick-six. That's why Brady spoke highly of Welker after the game.

  • spencer||

    That's the same argument that allows blown calls to be waived off. While I don't disagree, some plays are obviously bigger at their moment than others.

  • BigT||

    What does Giz-bag say about her hubby's intentional grounding safety??? He lost the game the first time he touched the ball. Douche.

  • ||

    What does Giz-bag say about her hubby's intentional grounding safety???

    My guess is that she doesn't know what a safety is. A dropped ball is obvious to anyone who sees it; an intentional-grounding safety isn't as visual, and requires the cognitive ability to recognize that an infraction has been committed.

  • The Other John||

    Instead of being tackled in the endzone for a safety, instead of trying to force a pass into a covered receiver and risk an interception, Brady takes the chance that the refs won't call the IG. Sounds smarter than anything you'd do.

    A safety at that point in the game was less harmful than a 3-and-out.

    At worst, the Pats gave up 2 points for 30 yards of field position in a 0-0 game and still had 50+ minutes to make it back.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Even if it comes down to a field-goal attempt with 1 second left on the clock, there were a thousand variables that led up to that moment, any of which might have lead to a touchdown earlier, or a turnover, or anything else that would have prevented it from coming down to that.

    Doesn't the same reasoning apply to a guy who runs a red light and plows into a crosswalk full of people?

  • Sevo||

    So long as everything the guy did that day contributed to the disaster.
    Ball games turn on a single play if the teams are so evenly matched that a single muff *at the right time* can do it. In most games, one team dominates sufficiently that a single oops, even at the wrong time, ain't going to have an effect.
    It was a good game, they were well-matched, they both made mistakes. At the end, the Pats made one more when they had no chance to recover from it.

  • Craig||

    "I don’t mean to pick on Mr. King..."

    Peter King is a gaping asshole. The fine folks at KSK do a good job of trashing his MMQB column everyweek:

    http://kissingsuzykolber.uprox.....itect.html

  • Rrabbit||

    Peter King's predictions are notoriously bad. A simple strategy such as "home team always wins" or "team with the better record always wins, if records are equal, take the home team" usually scores better than Peter King.

  • Dan Smith||

    I didn't check all the comments. Someone has probably already made this point. You should call it Yogi Berra's law. He's the one who said: "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."

  • Sevo||

    Hat-tip to Tulpa, 5:15.

  • ||

    Woman cries hysterically over Pats' Superbowl loss, boyfriend videos it and posts it to Youtube:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/.....14909.html

  • RoboCain||

    The audio hurts my ears.

  • ||

    The audio hurts my ears.

    The video hurt my eyes.

  • Ace||

    The point of this article is that people don't have a good track record of making predictions when dealing with so many variables...such as the government trying to make predictions with the economy.

  • ||

    "The point of this article is that people don't have a good track record of making predictions when dealing with so many variables...such as the government trying to make predictions with the economy."

    Oh no! its about Tom Brady's wife, moran.

  • ||

    Sounds pretty rock solid to me dude. Wow.

    www.Be-Anon.tk

  • Almanian||

    Preach on, Anon Bot

  • ||

    This article would have been better if Hinkle has just written, "Hayek, the Knowledge Problem", and submitted that as his entire article instead.

  • ||

    The only thing that financial (or sports for that matter) experts are good at is explaining why what happened actually happened. They are almost always wrong with their predictions.

  • Derivative||

    Financial experts aren't the people you see on TV. They are the ones making money.
    The people on tv are like coaches: if you can't do...

  • ||

    GIANTS!!!!

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