Paul the Octopus
| Putting the psycho in|
|Men who stare at goats|
|By the powers of tinfoil|
Early life and career
Hatched in Weymouth, England (2008) to two loving parents, Paul's main claim to fame was his alleged ability to "predict" football match results, in particular matches concerning Germany, beginning with the UEFA Euro 2008 tournament, in which he called the right outcome four out of six times. The octopus "picked" winners by selecting, opening, and entering a transparent plastic box with a hinged lid, in which a country's flag is placed along with a parcel of food made from either mussels or oysters. His purported oracular activities then received worldwide coverage during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, in which he predicted eight out of eight match results. Statistically his career overall record is 12 correct picks out of 14 matches or 0.86 (where 1.00 is equal to 100% success). Comparably, flipping a coin one hundred times for heads or tails will give a result close or equal to 0.5. The probability of picking 12 successful out of 14 attempts is 1 in 180.
Skeptic fun time!
It should be noted that Paul's predictions did not occur in a controlled environment. The lack of controls could result in potential bias and the possible skewing of results. Even though the boxes are of equal shape, size, and weight, he may at any one time be in a different area of his tank when they are lowered into the water. For example, during the selection for the 2010 Word Cup final, Paul was already floating in the corner of the Spain box, and may have simply gone for the first box in reach. During the World Cup, Paul picked six out of seven boxes to the camera/viewer's right. Only two boxes are ever lowered for each prediction. He was never tested with multiple boxes, or with boxes that are not transparent. It may simply be a lucky run — in a similar box set-up, a Dutch female octopus called Pauline selected a different team (the Netherlands) to win the 2010 World Cup final compared with Paul's selection (Spain).
Attraction to hues and shapes
The common octopus is colour-blind but they are attracted to levels of brightness and horizontal shapes. Paul has a strong tendency to pick the German box (OMG nationalism!) — he did so in all of his 2008 predictions, and in five out of seven opportunities in 2010. Moreover, all of the boxes picked by Paul have flags that are relatively bright in colour and/or have simple horizontal fesses (stripes), namely Spain (2 picks), Serbia (1 pick), and Germany (11 picks) — and it may be coincidence that these happen to have the statistically better football teams. Germany and Spain, in particular, have very strong football teams that win much more often than not, and if Paul is biased towards selecting them on the basis of colour, he'd get more hits than one would expect based on genuine random chance. In addition, Octopuses are also equipped with more than 10,000 sensitive chemoreceptors on their tentacles and lips, which are capable of detecting small variations of chemicals in the water, and possibly on residues left on and in the boxes - which may attract him.
So really, it's not a case of whether Paul is psychic, but whether his owners or traditional flag designers are!
manager keeper announced his retirement from predicting on 12 July 2010, despite offers from punters to buy him and a career in Hollywood. Paul died in October 2010, cueing several funny/tired "I bet he didn't see that one coming" gags. Inevitably, the early death of such a celebrity has spawned a conspiracy theory — in this case, that he actually died the previous July, and had been replaced by a double, bizarrely echoing a previous "Paul is dead" theory.
- 10 things you didn't know about Paul the psychic octopus, The Daily Telegraph
- World Cup 2010: Paul The Octopus Makes It Seven Right as Germany Finish Third, Bleacher Report
- Probability of 12 successes in 14 trials on WolframAlpha
- RT video of Paul picking Spain over the Netherlands to win the World Cup
- Why Paul the Octopus Chose Spain, Die Welt (in German)
- Now Pauline the octopus gets in on the act, The Times of South Africa
- Messenger, John B. (1977) "Evidence that octopus are colour blind" in Journal of Experimental Biology 70, pp 49-55.
- Sutherland, N. S. and Muntz, W. R. A. (1959) "Simultaneous discrimination training and preferred directions of motion in visual discrimination of shape in Octopus vulgaris Lamarck" in Pubbl. Staz. Zool. Napoli 31, pp 109-26.
- Hanlon, Roger T. and Messenger, John B. (2005) Cephalopod Behaviour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 16. ISBN 978-0-521-64583-6
- Young, J. Z. (1961) "Learning and discrimination in the octopus" in Biological Review 36, pp 32-96.
- 'Psychic octopus' Paul retires triumphant, BBC News
- Paul the 'psychic' octopus dies, The Guardian
- Paul the octopus is dead – but conspiracy theories are thriving, The Guardian