904: Sports

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Sports
Also, all financial analysis. And, more directly, D&D.
Title text: Also, all financial analysis. And, more directly, D&D.

Explanation

First, a random number generator is something that can give a person any number within a range of numbers - or, possibly, any number at all. For example, a single six-sided die will give you any integer between 1 and 6 inclusive.

Second, with an unweighted random number generator each number that is possible has an equal chance of coming up. For example, on a single die there is usually an equal chance of getting a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

Third, a weighed random number generator is one where some numbers are more likely to come-up than others. For example, a weighted die might favor the 6 side more, and thus it will come-up more often.

This comic is referencing the fact that sports, all sports, generate numbers that are essentially random. The rules of the sport and the skill of the participants weighs the numbers toward certain outcomes. Every game produces a new batch of numbers: more home runs, more sacks, more passes, more shots, more hits, more misses, more goals. If the generator is weighted to favor a specific team in a specific game, that is discussed. Then the results of the game (more random numbers) are discussed. It's the discussion that is the narrative part. If a player breaks a record, that becomes part of the narrative. The number is random, but weighted because of player skill or the rules of the sport.

The title text applies this to financial/stock results/forecasts as well. And, most appropriately to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), which is a game where most aspects of the game are determined by rolling dice of various numbers of sides and the numerical results are woven into a narrative by the Dungeon Master.

Transcript

[Two commentators sit behind a desk.]
Commentator 1: A weighted random number generator just produced a new batch of numbers.
Commentator 2: Let's use them to build narratives!
ALL SPORTS COMMENTARY


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Discussion

This comic highlights the tendency to interpret so-called "events" based on essentially random, day-to-day changes that are indistinguishable from trends. Sports writers and directly accused of this. Financial analysts are equally culpable. D&D Dungeon Masters are guilty as well, but I reckon Randall states this somewhat tongue-in-cheek as the role of a DM is to deliberately spin a good yarn. --Smartin (talk) 04:21, 3 January 2013 (UTC)

having lived in america and abroad, i think this applies heavily to america more so than other countries, although, more generally, we could throw in other countries that have 24-hour sports coverage (which is not most). similar to 24-hour news coverage, eventually you're going to be left with dead air once you're done with real news and so you invent narratives and sensationalise the most insignificant events. as for some evidence that this is an american thing and not "all sports commentary", see trevor noah's take: Trevor Noah - Sports in America --141.101.99.23 19:53, 16 January 2015 (UTC)

Got a link?

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 19:46, 23 January 2015 (UTC)

It feels more like Randall talks about sports with a kind of affection rather than with vicious sarcasm. While financial narratives derived from essentially random fluctuations are a bad thing in general (as people invest money in the belief that such things are more predictable than they are), sports is something different. For most people sports are just entertainment and part of the fun of is anticipation which means crawling over every drop of information and trying to guess if it'll make a difference or not. Fans want to be emotionally invested and somehow in control of their teams fate. And I'm pretty sure Randall knows that and as ever is just poking fun rather than trying to undermine a whole industry. It's very human to create narratives around our lives because it makes our day to day lives feel less random. When it's 'just for fun' then there's nothing bad about it it's only when it starts to involve people deluding themselves about large sums of other peoples money that it becomes a bad thing.

LostAlone (talk) 11:57, 6 April 2015 (UTC)
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