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In a message dated 1/23/2002 2:51:41 AM Central Standard Time, Derek Gatherer
> The following came up in a recent thread but seems to have passed below
> critical radar....
> "An example [of a thought contagion] that is clearly not a disease metaphor
> is the spread of baseball in children due to the need to recruit
> nine players per team."
> This is clearly not just an off-hand comment as it was published in a
> journal. So presumably it is a serious proposition. But what does it
> actually say, and what does it say about this particular kind of
> of cultural change? It isn't qualfied by any if, buts or elses, so again
> presumably number of players is really proposed as the main driving factor
> the game's spread.
> To say that a game spreads as a cultural phenomenon due to "the need to
> recruit nine players per team." implies that games with even more players
> would spread even faster.
> So why then is the Orkney Ba' Game (100 players per side) not the world's
> most popular sport? This is a real game that has been played for
> It is possibly the oldest kind of football. For Ba' Game pictures:
> The straight fact that sheer number of players does not impinge on a
> popularity baldly falsifies the claim that "spread of baseball in children [
> is] due to the need to recruit nine players per team." The claim is
> manifestly and patently nonsense.
> Clearly there must be other reasons why some games spread and others
> A long list of other reasons could be provided. Most will have far, far
> stronger effects than number of players. Why did football (soccer) spread
> though South America? Why did rugby union spread though Wales? Why is
> southern-eastern Australia mad for Aussie rules while Queensland loves
> League? There are well accepted sociological explanations for these
> phenomena that I won't bore you with. Suffice to say that none involve
> number of players.
> Regarding the parochiality of the Ba' Game, it isn't just lack of
> See the Korean camera crew (picture ny02_0006 at the above website). If
> number of participants is the only factor or even the main factor we should
> now have the Pyongyang Ba' Game. We don't because the 'need to recruit'
> explanation is frankly absurd.
Without agreeing to launch into one of our notoriously epic debates, I should
point out that the quoted material is from a footnote in a paper on the
spread of ideas about stocks and the stock market. The point of the footnote
is to provide a very brief, and extremely oversimplified example that
nevertheless indicates that finding a thought contagion mechanism (even if it
is one of many for sports) does not mean that the sport should be likened to
It is late at night here as I write this, but somewhere either in my
published works or in my unpublished notes is a discussion of how and why the
specific number of players needed does not all by itself correspond to a
replication rate or a prevalence for a game. Perhaps I will recall a
published citation in the morning. In any event, the stock market paper
("Thought Contagions in the Stock Market, Journal of Psychology and Financial
Markets 1, 2000) clearly indicates that thought contagion analysis is not
meant to replace other kinds of analysis. If the paper were on sports, it
would have been quite appropriate for me to also discuss some of the many
other factors in the spread of baseball, including sociological aspects and
other contagion aspects.
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