Prime Time Superstition


Swingingly, blingingly
Overpaid superstars
Buy their placebos to
Wear round their necks

Cause and effect here are
Counterintuitive—
X may cause Y, but then
Y may cause X

NPR’s Scott Simon reports on the expensive and worthless Phiten necklaces worn by so many major league baseball players. One sentence in his report notes that “[i]t’s made by a Japanese company whose website doesn’t even try to claim the necklace gives athletes an extra jolt of balance, calmness or energy.” Smart company, that; if you don’t make claims, you can’t be sued for false advertising.

There is no reason to suspect that these are any more or less than the various different hologram/magnetic/copper bracelets which have failed tests in the past—and, given the absence of any supporting claims on Phiten’s website, there is every reason to suspect that they know this. But there are testimonials and endorsements, and as Simon notes, millions of dollars worth of superstar athletes in playoffs wearing them.

Surely, if so many superstars are wearing them, there must be a reason! They must have some sort of effect, if the better players are wearing them.

Actually, they are an effect. They don’t cause good performance; they are a byproduct of good performance. As Stewart Vyse notes, the better an athlete is, the more chances he or she has had to associate some trivial (or perhaps heavily-advertised) object or ritual with success. It stands to reason: losers don’t have lucky trinkets.

So it makes perfect sense that more successful athletes will be more superstitious… and it makes perfect sense that there will be people willing to take advantage of that to market worthless crap at exorbitant prices.

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