DeflateGate Nominee for Hall of Fame to the “Journal of Irreproducible Results”?

Many scientists recognize the Journal of Irreproducible Results (JIR) as being a journal which pokes fun at rather absurd conclusions being made from seemingly correct experimental facts.  Witness their journal article on the dangers of pickles, where a study done in the 1800’s resulted in a 100% mortality rate (not one is alive today!).

A couple of scientist friends and I came up with these 10 reasons for nominating the DeflateGate Wells Report for introduction into the “Hall of Fame” for the JIR.

  1. It sensationalizes a commonplace occurrence, the deflation of footballs as the temperature drops.  At least 50% of football games are played with balls deflated below the minimums required by the NFL, and at least 25% are played with footballs deflated below those of this particular AFC championship game, just because of variations in game day temperatures. And it was sensationalized by the NFL as an evil plot.  Its sensationalization exceeded that of the JIR report on the evils of pickles!
  2. It is written in a very credible and scholarly manner — even the scientists themselves believed it when they wrote it.
  3. It contains Irreproducible Results!  Charts 27 and 28 show experimental results that should exactly match the Ideal Gas Law, but deviate almost 30% from Ideal Gas Law predictions. These charts are lynch pins to the report’s conclusion that the Patriots are guilty regardless of which gauge was used.
  4. It has meaningless statistics. It computed statistics accurately and in a scientific way, and demonstrated this with many pages of calculations. However, these calculations were rendered meaningless by the failure to account for the differences in time and temperature of the two football populations being considered —  a central thesis of the entire report.
  5. It contains drama. The tension in this page-turner of a report comes down to which gauge was used by the referee, the gauge which measured .4psi higher than the actual pressure, or the gauge which was roughly accurate.  In scenario 1, we use the inaccurate gauge (the gauge the referee remembered using), adjust for it’s inaccuracy, and correct the Irreproducible charts, we find that both teams’ footballs align with the Ideal Gas Law, a nearly impossible situation if someone actually removed (or added) all but the smallest amount of air from the footballs.  The Patriots are good guys.  In scenario 2, we use the other gauge, the Colts balls align with the ideal gas law, but the Patriots are a little bit low, just outside the range of the computed statistics, leading to the scientists conclusion that it was “probable” that something nefarious happened. The Patriots are bad guys.
  6. It contains Sherlock Holmes like deductions regarding the gauges.  The scientists give a detailed account of their clever deduction that it must be the accurate gauge.  However, those who read carefully, and know their physics will remember that early on in this 200+ page tome, a little noticed interview account with the Patriots equipment manager described how he rubbed the footballs (which had the side effect of warming them, and increasing the ball pressure), and adjusted the pressure in each one immediately after the rubbing to a legal pressure at the low end of the range allowed by the NFL. The balls cooled from the rubbing, and ultimately ended up with the referee, but by then their pressure had dropped.  Only the inaccurate gauge which read .4psi high could have been used to get the pressure as measured by the referee at the start of the game. This contradicts the scientists conclusion, and rules out the use of the accurate gauge.  (To the scientists defense, they appeared to not have the details of the interview at the time they made their conclusion.) It appears that Mother Nature acted alone to cause the football deflation, and the Patriots are good guys.
  7. It contains a Keystone Cops scene, as a group of officials and NFL representatives tried to measure the balls in a crowded locker room at half-time.  While they got measurements of some of the footballs, the accuracy was compromised as the pressures and temperatures of the footballs were rapidly changing in the warm locker room, and they were confused about the timing and the whole process.  Then, the referees destroyed the primary evidence of the alleged crime when they pumped up the balls, and sent them back out to the field.  Saving some footballs for after the game and re-measuring the pressure at the original temperature would have saved us all from this agonizing story.
  8. It contains mysterious manipulation of assumed initial conditions, apparently to generate the desired results.  Sometimes the starting temperature was 71F, and sometimes 67F, just enough to swing the resulting pressure differential in and out of the allowed range.
  9. And it has the intrigue of activity outside the report as the star football player gets called a liar by the NFL commissioner and  dubbed a ring leader in ball deflation.  He is penalized heavily, much more than players guilty of beating their wives or engaging in drugs and doping. To add to the drama the player destroys his cell phone, which diverts attention from the report, and is used as an indicator of his guilt.  However, since you cannot be guilty of destroying evidence in a crime which never happened, even this is questionable.
  10. And finally it came close to being considered by the Supreme Court, however it won’t be.  The appeal to the SCOTUS was not because the science in the report was Irreproducible, there was only a brief window of opportunity to appeal that, and even then it could only be appealled to the Commissioner of the NFL who commissioned the report in the first place and declared it as A+ science.  It was because of labor laws and the legal process, which never question the original reason for the declaration of guilt. So we missed out on our chance to see the preposterous headline “Supreme Court Overrules the Ideal Gas Law, Votes Against the Patriots”.

It has been entertaining to watch this story unfold.  And we must give credit to the many scientists who have now looked at this report and discovered the mistakes it made, and the false impression it gives.  That has taken time, because of the complexity of the report that was generated.  A simple back of the envelope calculation shows that the Patriots were very close to the correct pressure, and only a scientific treatise like this one could have come up with reasons to not believe that back of the envelope calculation.

So for the sake of science, and recognizing the difference between good science, and misleading science, this has my vote as one of the most entertaining documents containing Irreproducible Results, and should be a Hall of Fame candidate.


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