Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Aces and Spaces

Theory of Aces: High Score by Skill or Luck?

M.V. Simkin & V.P. Roychowdhury
Journal of Mathematical Sociology, April 2008, Pages 129-141

We studied the distribution of World War I fighter pilots by the number of victories they were credited with, along with casualty reports. Using the maximum entropy method we obtained the underlying distribution of pilots by their skill. We find that the variance of this skill distribution is not very large, and that the top aces achieved their victory scores mostly by luck. For example, the ace of aces, Manfred von Richthofen, most likely had a skill in the top quarter of the active WWI German fighter pilots and was no more special than that. When combined with our recent study (Simkin and Roychowdhury, 2006), showing that fame grows exponentially with victory scores, these results (derived from real data) show that both outstanding achievement records and resulting fame are mostly due to chance.


Anonymous said...

Coolest. Paper. Ever.

Angus said...

same reasoning applies to successful fund managers and stock pickers a la Taleb's "fooled by randomness".