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Spreadsheet maniacs are spoiling our fun

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Americans are falling out of love with one of their favourite sports, says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Ever since the “Moneyball” revolution – when number-crunchers turned a mediocre baseball team into a brilliant one, as depicted in the 2011 Brad Pitt movie – teams have been using deep statistical analysis to work out the best way to win. And it’s become dull as hell to watch. The batters now hit way more home runs, but they also completely miss the ball three times in a row (a “strikeout”) much more often. In the century and a half since records began, “the 10 years with the most strikeouts per game are the past 10”. The spreadsheet nerds are also ruining basketball: ever since they worked out that going for loads of tougher three-point shots was more effective than racking up two-pointers, the games all look the same.

Something similar is happening elsewhere in the culture. The Billboard charts used to be rigged by the music labels, which wasn’t really fair, but did mean we were exposed to different genres. Now it’s all the same – rap and hip-hop have dominated the top spots for “longer than any other musical genre” in history. And look at Hollywood. This year the top blockbusters have included two Marvel sequels, one animated-film sequel, a reboot of a 1990s blockbuster, and a Batman spin-off – exactly as it did three years previously. This stuff matters: sport and entertainment are important precisely because they’re “about living, not just staying alive”. If we’re not careful, we’re going to “ruin culture through our attempts to perfect it”.