Introduction to the Pisces Effect
What I didn’t reckon with was fate intervening and sending me down a
The way that happened was as follows.
In order to answer questions like: “Who gets their medals
at an earlier age -Gymnasts or Swimmers?”
I had to get their dates of birth from
somewhere. Luckily, this had already been done and published on
www.databaseolympics.com so I didn’t have to spend any time and effort
hunting out source data. Where I could, I checked these dates against
Wikipedia’s entries to be sure that they were accurate and only in a very few
occasions have I found any discrepancies.
Now that I had these birth dates, I realised it was a
simple thing to produce a chart with Zodiac signs on the x (horizontal) axis
against a count of medallists on the y (vertical) axis. Twelve lines of code
later and it was done.
To understand what happened next, you have to realise that,
if you have done your data design correctly, Qlikview allows you to filter
results on a chart just by clicking on what you want to filter.
So, to test that
this was working, I clicked on the Olympic discipline of Swimming and this is
what I got.
The numbers on the data points show the exact number of
athletes who have received Olympic medals (gold, silver or bronze) since modern
Olympics began in 1896.
Note that I have used the same sequence of zodiac months as
you’ll find in most newspaper horoscopes, i.e., the zodiac year begins with
Aries on the spring equinox.
Now, if you are thinking that this chart does not look like
a random spread of numbers over the year, you are right. Actually it is almost
exactly mapped by the function of a 3rd degree polynomial!
That’s one to shut people up at a pub.
“Did you know that the distribution of Olympic swimming
medallists against the tropical astrological zodiac signs can be almost exactly
mapped by a polynomial function of the third degree?”
there is something far more obviously
noticeable about this chart, namely the large number of swimming medals received
by people born in the month of Pisces (February 19 – March 20).
Wait a minute, Pisces is the Latin name for fish and here
is a chart showing that Pisces medallists receive about 30% more medals than
expected by chance. Yes, that’s not a mistype. Subtract 127 from 97, which is
the number you would expect Pisces swimmers to receive, and you get 30. Divide
30 by .97 and you actually get more than 30%.
Now, just saying that something is 30% more than expected
may not mean a lot. If you toss a coin 20 times and you get 13 heads, then
that’s 30% more than the 10 heads you would expect from an unbiased coin. But
few people would take that on its own to mean that the coin was biased towards
heads. In contrast, if you toss a coin 200 times and get 130 heads, then this
is still only 30% more than expected but it would mean that the coin is almost
So, how do you know if something is significantly different
from expected if percentages don’t tell you?
Well, statisticians have developed
a relatively simple test to do just that. You feed in the observed values that
you see in the chart and you get a probability. And the one I got for the above
chart shocked me. The probability that you could get this many medals given to
Pisces swimmers by chance was greater than 1 in 1,500.
Why did this shock me?
Well, there are about 50 Olympic
disciplines and there are 12 zodiac signs. So that means you could do about 600
(50*12) tests. With that many tests, a probability of 1 in 1,500 isn’t all that
noteworthy. But I had not done 600 tests. This was the first test I had done and
I had chosen it specifically because there was such an obvious association
between Pisces and swimming. In a sense I had struck gold with my first dig.
What to do next?
The answer was obvious.
There is another
Olympic discipline called Water Polo that is so closely linked to swimming that
there are several Olympians who have won one or medals in both disciplines.
there really was a “Pisces effect”, as I was already calling this association in
my own mind, then this would be the acid test. An association here, even if it
was not as strong as 1,500 to 1, would almost certainly mean that there really
was a provable link between a zodiac sign and something measurable in the
With one click on the screen, I would know.
Yes, Pisces was again the sign with the highest number of
medals. There was no messing about with percentages this time though. I went
straight to the probability calculator and there it was. The probability was
over 1 in 300.
So the next question was: “What was the combined
probability of these two disciplines?” The way I did this was to work out the
probability as if Water Polo and Swimming were the same discipline. Here is what
the combined chart looks like.
athletes awarded Swimming and/or Water Polo Medals
It’s a pity that there is a bump at Libra as it spoils the
aesthetic appeal, but what is most important is that the probability of Pisces
being abnormally high is now almost a certainty.
If there was no Pisces effect,
we would have expected Pisces athletes to have won in the region of 140 medals.
The odds of Pisces receiving as many as 191 medals are well over 100,000 to 1
How could this be?
What was so special about these two
Olympic disciplines and Pisces?
Or were there other disciplines that Pisces was also
associated with? I hadn’t tested that yet. My reasoning went that
if Pisces was
related to any others then they would most likely be aquatic in some way too.
So on testing all Rowing, Sailing and Canoeing sports
it was no great surprise to again find a significant positive association of
these sports, taken as if they
were one sport, with Pisces. It was also no great surprise for me to discover
that the probability was a lot lower than Swimming or Water Polo. (It’s actually
just under 1 in 30).
So now there was only one thing left to make the Pisces
Effect cut and dried. I had to make sure that there was also a “Pisces
non-effect”. By that, I mean that Pisces athletes in all the other sports did
not get significantly more than expected. Here is the actual result.
athletes awarded Medals other than Swimming, Water Polo, Rowing, Sailing and
Canoeing compared with the nos. of athletes expected to win in these sports
From comparing the actual number of medals with that
expected if all Zodiac signs received them in the same proportions (shown here
and in all future charts as a grey line) you can see that Pisces athletes do
receive slightly more than expected. This difference is not significant however.
The reason for the grey line being different for different
signs is because, just like our calendar months, zodiac months differ in their
number of days. Those with 31 days for example, will show a higher value than
those with 29 days.
For the record, the medal figures for Capricorn, Aquarius
and Aries are significantly higher indicating a huge overall seasonal
increase in medals from athletes born from late December to late April compared
with the rest of the year.
We now know about Pisces and what sports have caused its
higher than expected number of medals but what about the other signs? It was
time to find out...