In old textbooks, physics is often described as “the science of inanimate nature,” and according to a more recent definition, it is “the science that deals with the structure of matter and the interactions between the fundamental constituents of the observable universe.” So it sounds like an oxymoron to talk of the physics of socio-economic systems. (And oxymorons btw have nothing to do with morons. If you learn anything from this blog it's that Stefan likes Greek.)
However, during the last decades, methods developed in condensed matter physics and statistical mechanics have been applied successfully to financial, economic and social systems, from the analysis of financial data and nonlinear market dynamics to the emergence of traffic jams and the outbreak of cooperation among success-driven individuals (a phenomenon you can witness on every physics workshop. The disease is in many instances short-lived and victims recover quickly when back in their home office). Thus, at the Spring Meeting of the German Physical Society (DPG) that we visited some weeks ago in Dresden was discussed, alongside more traditional topics such as semiconductor physics and vacuum science (pumps, is all I say, pumps!), the physics of socio-economic systems.
As the DPG spring meetings are traditionally well attended by young students, dominantly those carrying a Y-chromosome, the lecture hall was completely crowded when Andreas Heuer presented the results of a study on the “identification of the different ingredients governing the outcome of a soccer match.”
Heuer et al's work* shows that during a whole season of the Bundesliga the quality of a team can be characterized by a single fitness value that can be estimated from the league table. They then examined the question how important fluctuations of the team fitness around its average value are. Surprisingly, the effect of fitness fluctuations is very small. Another question that comes to mind is given the average outcome of a match, what is the probability for a specific result? In contrast to a previously suggested interpretations, Heuer et al find the number of goals per team in a match can be extremely well described by a simple Poisson process (for up to 8 goals). Altogether, soccer turns out to be a surprisingly simple match with respect to its statistical properties.
Entering the building in Dresden where the conference was held, it was impossible not to notice the lack of women. Men, men, men, everywhere - except behind the registration desk obviously. And while women are typically underrepresented at almost all conferences in physics, we had the impression condensed matter is a particularly severe case (data, anybody?). Maybe that explains the attendants' fascination with soccer. Anyway, Bee's talk was in the same session, so we profited from the audience the earlier talks had attracted.
For a German report on this talk see Jan Lublinski's article Mythen und Zufälle.
* Andreas Heuer, Oliver Rubner: Fitness, chance, and myths: an objective view on soccer results (arXiv:0803.0614v4 [physics.data-an]).