Mathematician apologises for wrong Malta Eurovision prediction

A Michigan mathematician who predicted that Malta would come second in the Eurovision Song Contest has issued an apology.

Martin O’Leary had predicted that Sweden would win, but it would be pushed by Malta. Alas, Malta ended up 21st and never challenged for the top. 

In his apology he wrote

The final is over, the dust has settled, and Sweden’s Loreen has won the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. Congratulations to her—it wasn’t my favourite song on the night, but it’s a worthy winner, and obviously very popular across Europe.

Mostly I’m pleased because now I can test the model against new data. How did it perform? I’m going to put off doing a full evaluation because I don’t yet have the full results in a convenient form, but we can still look at some fairly simple measures of success.

First, though, I want to talk about the “Malta thing”. In the model predictions for the final, Malta was given a relatively high probability of victory—in fact they were ranked as the second most likely winners. As this was fairly counterintuitive, given their lack of strong friendship links, I picked out this prediction and tried to explain how it came about.

This prediction caused quite a stir in Malta, with a story in the Times of Malta and over 16,000 pageviews from Malta1 on Saturday alone. Many took this as good evidence that Malta were going to do well in the contest, and some people were rather annoyed with me when they did not.

I’d like to apologise if I misled anyone. I didn’t expect anyone to take the model predictions particularly seriously, and if I had known, I would have included some more caveats and explanations of exactly what the model was predicting. Instead, I was fairly loose and jokey about the model results, and didn’t really talk about what they meant in real terms. Sorry, guys.


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