Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Tennis Anyone? Just Follow the Bouncing Ball …

• December 22, 2008 • 6:00 PM

Flaws in human vision produce incorrect “out” calls by tennis referees at Wimbledon.

Tennis referees are not universally beloved figures. (Just ask John McEnroe; he’s still yelling, “You can’t be serious!” over a point he lost in 1981.) But are bad calls really their fault? New research in Current Biology, which received some press coverage in England, suggests McEnroe should have focused on inherent flaws in human vision rather than the fallibility of individual refs.

Scientists have long known that the human eye often misperceives moving objects and shifts them in the direction of their motion so the objects appear to be farther along their path than they really are. David Whitney, of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, realized it might be possible to study this optical illusion in a real-world context after watching a Wimbledon match in which a player’s challenge overturned a referee’s call.

If tennis referees were free of visual bias, Whitney reasoned, they would make incorrect “out” and “in” calls with roughly the same consistency. So he went to the tape. And in a review of more than 4,000 randomly selected Wimbledon tennis points, Whitney’s research team discovered 83 incorrect calls; 70 of the errors were in the “out” direction, showing that visual bias was indeed affecting calls in the most prestigious competition in professional tennis.

The implications for the sport, according to the study, are legion. Now that players have the ability to challenge calls, they should focus exclusively on balls that are ruled “out” because they are much more likely to be incorrect. Whitney would also like instant replay for every shot — or at least a better method to allow players to challenge.

And McEnroe will love this: If all else fails, Whitney suggests, we should do it the French way. “Perhaps professional tennis venues should follow the French and universalize the clay court,” he says, because the skid marks left behind on the clay provide visual evidence to counterbalance the referees’ inherent perception bias.

TRANSLATION, PLEASE
The paper “Stress-Induced Neurogenic Inflammation in Murine Skin Skews Dendritic Cells Towards Maturation and Migration: Key Role of Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1/Leukocyte Function-Associated Antigen Interactions” appears in the November 2008 issue of The American Journal of Pathology. … In other words, stress might make you itch.

GOOD NEWS FOR PINOCCHIO OR YET ANOTHER REASON TO POWDER YOUR NOSE
Perhaps the poet was right — the eyes truly are the windows to the soul — but the nose is what people notice first. That’s according to a study in the October 2008 issue of Psychological Science, which reports that the nose is the optimal viewing position for face recognition because information about the face is balanced in all directions.

In the study, which the researchers hope will help cognitive scientists design more realistic models of the brain, participants were shown images of faces they had just seen and images of faces they had never seen. While the subjects tried to decide, in an instant, whether they recognized the face, the researchers used cutting-edge eye-tracking technology to monitor where the subjects looked and how long their eyes lingered at each spot. The study found that people first look just to the left of the center of the nose and then slide to the center; these two visual “fixations” are all people need to recognize a face.

“The location of the second fixation, like the first, was almost always near the center of the nose,” said Garrison Cottrell, an author of the paper and a computer science professor at the University of California, San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. “This means you are just shifting the face you are looking at on your retina a bit. This shift changes which neurons are firing in your retina and therefore changes the neurons in the cortex that the visual pattern goes to.”

And don’t get him started on tennis referees …

AND FINALLY, THE LAST WORD …
“There’s no way anyone’s drinking any of this until we get rid of that, not to mention that there’s only one genetically modified strain of yeast that’s ever been approved for use in beer, period. In short, it will be a long time before anybody consumes any of this.” — Rice University junior Thomas Segall-Shapiro, who for this year’s international Genetically Engineered Machine competition helped create a strain of yeast that will ferment beer and produce resveratrol (a chemical in wine that has demonstrated anti-cancer properties); the resveratrol was linked to unappetizing “chemical markers” that will render test batches of his brew undrinkable. Alas.

The Cocktail Napkin provides a look at current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin. If you have an idea to pass along, send an e-mail to theeditor@miller-mccune.com.

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Add our news to your site.

Miller-McCune Staff

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.


October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.


October 16 • 4:00 AM

Personality Traits Linked to Specific Diseases

New research finds neurotic people are more likely to suffer a serious health problem.


October 16 • 2:00 AM

Comparing Apples to the Big Apple: Yes, Washington, D.C., Is More Expensive Than New York City

Why shouldn’t distant locales tied to jobs in the urban core count in a housing expenditure study?


Follow us


Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.