Archive for the Sport Category

Beards, Boxing and Bullshit

Posted in Beards, Sport with tags , , on September 14, 2021 by telescoper

I found out today that this year an IgNobel Prize has been awarded for a paper on Impact Protection Potential of Mammalian Hair: Testing the Pugilism Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Facial Hair which was actually published last April in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology. This seems to be a bona fide academic journal, though apparently not one that has very high standards.

Anyway, the abstract reads:

Because facial hair is one of the most sexually dimorphic features of humans (Homo sapiens) and is often perceived as an indicator of masculinity and social dominance, human facial hair has been suggested to play a role in male contest competition. Some authors have proposed that the beard may function similar to the long hair of a lion’s mane, serving to protect vital areas like the throat and jaw from lethal attacks. This is consistent with the observation that the mandible, which is superficially covered by the beard, is one of the most commonly fractured facial bones in interpersonal violence. We hypothesized that beards protect the skin and bones of the face when human males fight by absorbing and dispersing the energy of a blunt impact. We tested this hypothesis by measuring impact force and energy absorbed by a fiber epoxy composite, which served as a bone analog, when it was covered with skin that had thick hair (referred to here as “furred”) versus skin with no hair (referred to here as “sheared” and “plucked”). We covered the epoxy composite with segments of skin dissected from domestic sheep (Ovis aries), and used a drop weight impact tester affixed with a load cell to collect force versus time data. Tissue samples were prepared in three conditions: furred (n = 20), plucked (n = 20), and sheared (n = 20). We found that fully furred samples were capable of absorbing more energy than plucked and sheared samples. For example, peak force was 16% greater and total energy absorbed was 37% greater in the furred compared to the plucked samples. These differences were due in part to a longer time frame of force delivery in the furred samples. These data support the hypothesis that human beards protect vulnerable regions of the facial skeleton from damaging strikes.

E A Beseris, S E Naleway, D R Carrier
Integrative Organismal Biology, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020

This study has attracted a number of silly headlines such as “Big manly beards evolved so we could take punches to the head, study says” and a rebuke from the Beard Liberation Front.

My main problem with the article are (i) that the study itself is very flawed and, worse, (ii) that the claims made of a link to evolution are clearly bullshit; the latter is especially disappointing because the connection to evolution was explicitly caimed by biologists, who really ought to know better.

On point (i) I’ll just point out that the experiment didn’t involve beards or punching. The team built models – sixty of them – made of fibres and epoxy resin to represent human bone, covered in sheepskin to mimic facial hair. Those models were either ‘furred’ (‘full beard’ with 8cm-long hairs), ‘sheared’ (0.5cm length ‘trimmed beard’) or ‘plucked’ (‘hairless’ shaven face). Human hair follicles are four times as thick as those from sheep, but five times less densely packed, so a fleece roughly approximates a beard. The biologists then used a mechanical striker to repeatedly drop a 4.7kg weight onto each model to measure the impact and record the damage.

The results showed that furred models were better than both sheared and plucked models at taking the ‘punch’: a beard will absorb 37% more energy than a shaven face, for example, partly because springy hairs serve as suspension to slow down and soften the blow. As the researchers explain, “the greatest advantage offered by the hair is that it distributes the force of impact over a longer time frame”.


The problem is that this experiment isn’t at all realistic. Dropping a load onto a solid object would simulate hitting a dummy rather than a person; the latter can roll with a punch, the former cannot. In addition, many punches thrown in fights – as opposed to the boxing ring – are not straight to the chin but some variation of the hook that hits the side of the head causing it to rotate. Now allowing the models to rotate is a significant flaw in the experiment.

But the bigger problem with the study is (ii), that its results are interpreted as evidence for evolution on the grounds that facial hair represents a form of ‘sexual dimorphism’ leading to the suggestion that certain facial features evolved as a result of competitive fighting between human males .There is then the idea is that, just as a lion’s thick mane covers vital regions such as the jugular vein, beards help protect against potentially lethal punches to the throat and jaw. This is the so-called ‘pugilism hypothesis’ (from the Latin pugil, pugilis meaning a boxer) and this study says nothing at all about whether or not this is true. Even if you think the experiment is realistic, its results shed no light on the pugilism hypothesis. That is not a matter that can be settled by biomechanics but has to involve evolutionary biology, and specifically how the trait in question might have evolved through natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s 1871 book The Descent of Man discusses hair in great detail but didn’t make the mistake of equating the lion’s mane with human hair: although he argued that the thick hair of various mammals might provide protection in fights between competing males, he believed that human facial hair is a ‘secondary sexual character’ that evolved as a result of female preferences, and rightly pointed out that human populations differ in their ability to grow thick beards — not something you would expect if facial hair has a protective function. Not every biological feature is the result of natural selection either: a given characteristic could be an adaptation that evolved for a specific function, but it could also have no “purpose:

Anyway in reading this silly article I became interested in beards in boxing, given that boxers are generally clean-shaven. A ban on beards in boxing has been in place in many forms of the sport and still is in, for example, the Olympics. There has been recent discussion about a beard ban being a form of discrimination against, say, Sikh boxers and the amateur sport. I think beards are only allowed in professional boxing if both sides agree.

So why would anyone forbid a boxer to wear a beard? I don’t buy the argument about a beard cushioning a punch, for the reasons outlined above and for the fact that the gloves play the role of “distributing the force of impact” far more effectively than a beard would. Some have argued that a full beard may make it difficult for an opponent to locate the line of the jaw and hence strike the wearer’s chin. Another suggestion is that a beard would conceal cuts and bleeding and possible hinder medical attention.

I’m not sufficiently expert to say whether any of these are reasonable, but reading an article like this one by promoter Frank Warren convinces me that the major factor in the beard ban is just an irrational aversion to beards among the boxing hierarchy. In other words, pogonophobia.

The 2021 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final

Posted in GAA with tags , , , , on August 22, 2021 by telescoper

This afternoon’s All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park saw reigning champions Limerick beat Cork by 3-32 to 1-22 at Croke Park. The margin of victory (16 points) reflected Limerick’s dominance; their total of 41 points is one of the largest ever in a final. The Bookies were right in having Limerick odds-on favourites (1-5) before the match and they thoroughly deserved their victory. Congratulations to them!

As a neutral I was hoping for a less one-sided match, and Cork actually started off quite well, responding quickly to Limerick’s opening goal with an impressive goal of their own. The game started at a frantic pace and for about ten minutes it looked a pretty even contest, but once Limerick got into their stride they imposed themselves on all areas of the game. The Limerick team not only looked physically bigger than their opponents but also put in a phenomenal work rate, to such an extent that it frequently seemed they had more players on the pitch than Cork. I know it’s a cliché, but at times it really did look like men against boys.

When not in possession, Limerick harried their opponents into making mistakes and when in possession they ruthlessly exploited errors in the Cork defence. In particular they exerted their trademark dominance of the middle third of the pitch, scoring points from long range like a boxer with a longer reach than his opponent and making it very difficult for Cork to play through them. By half time, when the score was 1-11 to 3-18, Limerick were already 13 points ahead and the game was effectively over as a contest. It was more like an exhibition match or some sort of masterclass.

Credit to the young Cork side for the way they stuck to their task despite being comprehensively outplayed. There’s no disgrace in losing to a team as good as the one they played today. In the end, though, the Championship title goes once again to Limerick, who were magnificent.

Incidentally, Croke Park was about half-full for this showcase event with about 40,000 spectators in the ground. Hopefully next year it will be possible to fill it to capacity. I watched it on TV but it makes a huge difference to the atmosphere if there’s a big crowd watching it in the stadium.

Pronouns for Yous

Posted in Biographical, GAA, Television with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2021 by telescoper

Last night I was watching a very interesting television programme on the Irish language channel TG4. It was about the origins and history of ice hockey, which began as ice hurling as a sport played by Irish immigrants in Canada. The word “puck” comes from the Irish word poc which means to stroke or hit; in hurling the “puck out” is a free hit from the goal area by the goalkeeper much like a goal kick in soccer. The programme was called Poc na nGael, which roughly translates as “The Puck of the Irish”. I think it was repeated last night because this Sunday sees the biggest event of the year in the hurling calendar: the Final of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship at Croke Park, which this year is between Limerick and Cork.

While watching that programme I got thinking about Irish language lessons and whether I will have time to continue them next academic year and then onto wider issues about differences between Irish and English. One thing that struck me was the second person pronoun, so I thought I’d do the following rambling post about it.

In English the personal pronouns I (first person) and he/she (third person) are unusual in that they change depending on their grammatical role. This isn’t unusual in other languages especially Latin where it is the rule rather than the exception. In English we use “I” in the nominative case (“I hit the dog”) but “me” in the accusative case (“the dog bit me”) or when following a preposition (“the dog gave the stick to me”). The same goes with he/him and she/her.

In the example “the dog gave the stick to me”, “me” is really in the dative case but there is no distinct word for that in English; we can only really distinguish between the nominative (subject) and “other” (non-subject) cases. The words “my”, “our”, etc are often called pronouns but they are really of adjectival form, e.g. “this is my cat” and are more correctly called determiners. There are possessive pronouns (“mine”, “ours”, etc) which are in some sense genitive cases of the personal pronouns (meaning “of me”, “of us”, etc) but I digress.

Notice also that the first person and third person plural also have distinct plural forms (we/us and they/them).

The funny one is the second person “you”, which has neither an accusative nor prepositional form nor a distinct plural: “You hit the dog”, “the dog bit you” and “the dog gave the stick to you” all employ the same word although each is in a different grammatical case.

This is by no means the only oddity in modern English, and I have no idea why it developed. In older forms of English there were distinct forms: “thou/thee” in the singular and “ye/you” in the plural. These forms persist in dialects such as Yorkshire.

For some reason, though, as English evolved these four distinct forms merged into one, i.e. “you”. One can usually tell from the context whether “you” is singular or plural or can emphasize it by adding extra words (e.g. in the American “y’all” which is a contraction of “you all”) but there is no single word in standard English that expresses the difference between singular and plural or between subject and non-subject.

Incidentally, in Irish the second person singular is in the nominative case and thú in the non-nominative cases; the second person plural is sibh which is like “ye” in that it has no distinct non-nominative form.

I was brought up on Tyneside and it is a feature of the Geordie dialect that people use the word “yous” to denote the second person plural. It’s definitely a working-class slang, and was very much frowned upon at school, but it was very commonplace when and where I was grew up. I thought it was only in Newcastle that people used this form but when I worked at Sussex a while ago my boss, originally from Glasgow, also on occasion used “yous”. When I asked here about it she explained that it was common usage in Glasgow but didn’t think it was widespread in other parts of Scotland. Geordie and Glaswegian are thus two regional dialects I know that use this form but there may be others. I’d be interested to know so please feel free to comment via the box below!

Anyway the reason for going off on this tangent was that I’d already noticed that a few Irish people use “ye” in Hiberno-English for the second person plural, it was only yesterday that I noticed some using “yous”. I wonder how widespread that is in Ireland and is it regional or more of a class divide?

Would any of yous like to comment?

A Trophy for Glamorgan!

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on August 19, 2021 by telescoper

Just a brief post but I thought I’d say something about Glamorgan’s cricketers, because it’s such a rare event and I might not get the chance to write a similar post for a while!

This evening Glamorgan actually won a trophy! They beat Durham by 58 runs in the final of the Royal London One-Day Cup (a 50 overs competition) which was held at Trent Bridge. That’s the first competition they have won since 2004.

Glamorgan batted first and managed to score 296 for 9 with skipper Kiran Carlson- who is only 23 – scoring 82 and the last pair, Carey and Hogan, putting on 33 runs. Durham were never ahead of the run rate but Sean Dickson kept them in with a chance until he ran out of partners and was sreanded in 84 not out, with the last four wickets falling for just 12 runs to leave them on 238 all out with one ball less than five overs remaining. The last wicket to fall was the hapless Chris Rushworth, out first ball caught by wicket-keeper Tom Cullen.

People will say that the Royal London Cup has been devalued by the absence of players on account of The Hundred, but that has affected all the teams and the competition has produced some really good games and I am delighted for the players to have won a trophy at last. Congratulations to them!

(It’s still not proper cricket mind….)

Back in the office!

Posted in Biographical, Cricket, Maynooth on August 16, 2021 by telescoper
high-tech digital calendar display unit

Well, as promised yesterday I went back into my office at Maynooth University this afternoon. I didn’t achieve very much apart from resetting some of the sophisticated equipment (see above) but it’s a start…

To be honest I was a little distracted by the cricket at Lord’s where there was a remarkable turnaround in Indian’s favour on the last day. Looking like they were going to struggle to save the game with six wickets down for 181, a lead of just 154 overnight, and losing two quick wickets in the morning, India went on to declare on 298 for 8, then bowled England out this evening for just 120. It’s been an excellent Test Match, full of twists and turns, ending in a result that seemed very unlikely at the start of the day.

Call me old-fashioned but you can’t beat Test cricket. Nothing compares to it!

An Olympic Story

Posted in Sport with tags , , , , on July 26, 2021 by telescoper
Louise Shanahan

Just a quick post to mention a wonderful Olympic story. Louise Shanahan (pictured above) from Cork is competing in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the 800m for Ireland. She is also in the second year of a PhD in Physics in the University of Cambridge, working in the Atomic, Mesoscopic and Optical Physics (AMOP) group in the Cavendish Laboratory. I wish her all the best in the heats on Friday 30th July and hopefully beyond!

UPDATE: Louise came seventh in Heat 3 so is now eliminated. She kept pace with the leaders before falling away on the final 150m stretch, finishing in a time of 2:03.57.

Back to Civilisation

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Covid-19, Cricket, GAA, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 24, 2021 by telescoper

So last night I returned safely from Cardiff to Ireland via Birmingham. Travel both ways was relatively uneventful. There can’t have been more than 30 people on the flight in either direction. I did however almost screw up the return flight by omitting to fill in the obligatory Covid-19 passenger locator form which I hadn’t realised is now online-only. I only found out that I had to do it before they would let me on the plane, resulting in a mad scramble with a poor phone connection to get it done. After a few goes and quite a bit of stress I succeeded and was allowed to board, conspicuously the last passenger to do so. We still managed to leave early though, and the short flight to Dublin – passing directly over Ynys Môn was relaxing and arrived on schedule; the immigration officer scanned my new-fangled Covid-19 vaccination certificate but wasn’t interested in the passenger locator form that caused me so much stress on departure.

I returned to Cardiff to take a bit of a break, to check up on my house and also prepare to move the rest of my belongings to Ireland. I was relieved when I got there last week that everything was basically in order, although there were lots of cobwebs and a very musty smell, which was hardly surprising since I hadn’t been there for 15 months. The inside of the fridge wasn’t a pretty sight either.

One night last week after meeting some friends for a beer in Cardiff I walked back via Pontcanna Fields and saw, much to my surprise, Camogie practice in progress in the twilight:

Camogie Practice, Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff.

The logistics of my planned removal proved a bit more complicated than I expected but eventually I cracked it and all the arrangements are now in place. I should receive delivery here in Maynooth next month. I’m doing it on the cheap as a part-load, which is why it will take a bit longer than usual.

Cleaning and packing was very hard work owing to the intense heat over the last week or so – it was regularly over 30° C – during the day, so I took quite a few siestas. My neighbours tell me it’s been much the same here in Maynooth, although it is a bit cooler today, around 20° with a very pleasant breeze.

Despite the hard work it was nice to have a change of scenery for a bit and also to meet up with some old friends from Cardiff days. Everyone has been in a state of limbo for the last 18 months or so, and although we’re not out of the woods yet there are signs of things coming back to life. When I went to Bubs in Cardiff for a drink last week it was the first time I’d been inside a pub since February 2020!

Incidentally, most people I saw observed social distancing, wore masks, etc. The rules in Wales are still fairly strict. Although open for indoor service, bars and restaurants seem to have few customers. Some people on trains to and from Birmingham didn’t wear masks. One group of unmasked and obnoxious English passengers on my return journey were loudly boasting how backwards Wales was compared to England, where the rules have relaxed despite a huge surge in cases. I moved to another carriage.

The only other thing I managed to do was attend a Royal London One-Day Cup match at Sophia Gardens between Glamorgan and Warwickshire in the baking heat of Sophia Gardens. It turned out to be a good tight game, with Glamorgan winning by 2 wickets courtesy of two consecutive boundaries. Most of the time I was sitting there in the shade I was thinking how glad I was not to be fielding in such conditions.

One thing that was very noticeable during my stay in Wales was that it was very hard to get fresh salad vegetables and the like. That may be partly due to weather-related demand or it may be due to a shortage of lorry drivers or other staff owing to Covid-19 isolation requirements and may be a consequence of Brexit. Who knows? I’ll just say that there’s been hot weather in Ireland, where the Covid-19 pandemic is also happening but there are no reports of shortages of fresh food here. I’m very much looking forward to having a nice salad with my dinner this evening.

Anyway, I suppose that’s enough rambling. At some point I’ll have to open up my email box to see what horrors lurk therein. Still can’t be worse than the fridge I opened last week. Can it?

Why Do England Always Lose on Penalties?

Posted in Biographical, Football with tags , , , on July 12, 2021 by telescoper

I’m reblogging this post from a few years ago. It remains topical.

I thought I’d add my own (very limited) experience of taking penalties. In the period from 1988-90 or thereabouts I played for a team called the University Associates in the Sussex Sunday League (2nd Division). The League also had a cup competition, and one day we played a game that ended in a draw after extra time, so went to penalties. I used to play in midfield for that team, rather than as a striker and I scored only 2-3 goals a season. I wasn’t one of the five nominated penalty takers but after those it was 2-2 so it went to sudden death and my turn came up at 3-3 after one round. It was the only penalty I’ve ever taken (not counting 5-a-side). I wasn’t at all confident but my biggest fear was the ribbing I would undoubtedly get if I didn’t even hit the target, so I decided to hit it as hard as I could straight at the goal. I thought my natural level of inaccuracy might take the ball to one side or the other of the goalie.

So I paused, took a deep breath, ran up and blammed it as hard as I could. It went quite hard straight at the goalie. If he’d stayed where he was standing it would have hit him at chest level. Fortunately for me he dived out of the way and I scored. 4-3! So I have a 100% success rate at scoring penalties (based on a sample of one).

The story didn’t end entirely happily though. My opposite number scored to make it 4-4 and we ended up losing 5-4.

IB Maths Resources from Intermathematics

penalties2

Statistics to win penalty shoot-outs

With the World Cup nearly upon us we can look forward to another heroic defeat on penalties by England. England are in fact the worst country of any of the major footballing nations at taking penalties, having won only 1 out of 7 shoot-outs at the Euros and World Cup. In fact of the 35 penalties taken in shoot-outs England have missed 12 – which is a miss rate of over 30%. Germany by comparison have won 5 out of 7 – and have a miss rate of only 15%.

With the stakes in penalty shoot-outs so high there have been a number of studies to look at optimum strategies for players.

Shoot left when ahead

One study published in Psychological Science looked at all the penalties taken in penalty shoot-outs in the World Cup since 1982. What they found was pretty incredible – goalkeepers…

View original post 1,070 more words

The Morning After…

Posted in Biographical, Football with tags , , , , on July 12, 2021 by telescoper
Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka who missed the last penalty in the shootout against Italy

Well that’s that. Last year’s European Championship is over. Italy beat England in the final last night on penalties. England lost in the semi-final of the, World Cup in 2018. Many people suggested they would go a step further this time, and they did: they lost in a final.

It wasn’t a great game. Finals seldom are – there’s too much at stake for the players to play with any freedom. But it was tense and dramatic and in the end, for England fans and players, heartbreaking. Italy have been the most consistently impressive team in the tournament, and had a far more difficult draw than England (who, in my opinion were very lucky to beat Denmark in the semi-final thanks to a very dodgy penalty) and didn’t have home advantage.

Overall I think Italy deserved to win the tournament and happy for them, though sad a bit for Gareth Southgate who has proved himself the most gentlemanly of managers. The manner of this loss – on penalties yet again – must hurt him, but he will be gracious in defeat. I wish the same could be said of some of the England supporters.

People have been critical of Southgate’s rather defensive tactics for last night’s match. For what it’s worth I think his cautious approach was dictated by his awareness of the weaknesses in his side. He had good attacking players but lacked strength in midfield. Italy were much more tenacious and comfortable in possession. For large parts of last night’s match England were just unable to get the ball; the official possession stats were 65:35 in Italy’s favour. A playmaker in the centre of the park would make a huge difference to England’s chances of landing a major trophy.

The great thing about this young England football team is how it has managed to provide so many positive role models, through its dignified response to racism and embrace of inclusivity, while at the same time respecting the time-honoured English tradition of losing on penalties. They will no doubt be feeling awful right now but they have a lot to build on for the World Cup next year if they can pick themselves up, though they might not get such a favourable draw.

I have enjoyed the tournament. I didn’t watch all the games because I was too busy, but I watched most of the 8pm matches and found them a welcome distraction. As an émigré I no longer feel any obligation to support England, but I don’t feel any need to despise them either so I was able just to enjoy the football. As I said above, I think Italy performed most consistently at a high level throughout the competition but I also enjoyed watching Spain (who would be world-beating if they had a decent striker) and Belgium, either of whom would have been worthy finalists had the draw. I feel a bit sorry for Denmark given what happened in their first match. They can be very proud of the way they rallied to reach the semi-finals without their star player Christian Eriksen.

Anyway, well played Italy! I have quite a few Italian friends and colleagues and I know they’re all delighted. Il Calcio sta tornando a casa…

End of Term Hiatus

Posted in Biographical, Education, Football, Maynooth on June 24, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday was quite a busy day because, as well as my talk in the afternoon, we had the main University Examination Board in the morning. Because many students in Maynooth are taking courses that spread across more than one Department, this is an opportunity to raise any issues arising when marks are combined. The full results for each student are presented on “Broadsheets” which I suspect in days gone by would have been broad sheets of paper, but which nowadays are hefty PDF files, one for each faculty. Science & Engineering was the first session, kicking off at 9.15 via Teams but because we all had access to the Broadsheets since last Friday we had time to identify any relevant matters and the meeting itself went quite smoothly.

Now there’s a short hiatus because the formal results will not be communicated to students until tomorrow (Friday 25th). Next Tuesday (29th June) is Consultation Day, on which students can discuss their results and any matters arising with staff. Obviously we can’t do this in person this year because of Covid-19 restrictions but, because the examination scripts were scanned and uploaded electronically this year the students will actually have the originals, discussing any issues of marking shouldn’t be too difficult.

Some students will need to take repeat examinations before they can progress. These are in the period 4th-14th August in Maynooth so I’ll have to be around for those. I was hoping to try to get some summer holiday this year – which I didn’t last summer – starting on 5th July, but that has already been pushed back because something important has arisen that means I have to be working on 7th July. I hope nothing else eats into my leave entitlement. It says in my contract how many weeks holiday I should have per year so I will not accept another year of not being able to take it.

Although we have a short break in the examination process that doesn’t mean everything stops. I have to work this Saturday (26th June) at the Summer Open Day here at Maynooth, recruiting the September intake…

The sense of hiatus is amplified by the fact that there are no matches today or tomorrow in the European Championship, the final group games being last night and the first in the Round of 16 being on Saturday. I’ve got quite used to watching the 8pm matches over the last couple of weeks!