'Psychic' octopus backs Spain to win World Cup

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Paul the Octopus in his aquarium tank.
Image: Tilla.

Football fans in Spain were rejoicing on Friday after an octopus called Paul predicted their team will win the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Paul the Octopus, who lives in an aquarium in Oberhausen, in western Germany, has so far correctly forecast who will win every World Cup game involving the German side. Paul also predicted that the German team will beat Uruguay in Saturday's match for third place.

The octopus has become something of a celebrity during the World Cup, as all six of his predictions for Germany's World Cup games proved accurate. His final prediction, for Sunday's final between Spain and the Netherlands, was broadcast live on television. The eight-legged sea creature was given two boxes to choose from — one marked with a flag from the Netherlands and another with the flag of Spain. In the end it was the Spanish flag he went for.

Rupert Adams of William Hill, one of Britain's largest bookmakers, said that the octopus's success rate is remarkable.

"If you had had ten pounds on each and every prediction then re-invested your winnings you would currently have over 1,450 pounds," said Adams. "It's an astonishing feat to get six predictions in a row. I am told people are walking into our shops and saying 'I will have what the Octopus predicted.'"

But David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, was less convinced of the animal's abilities, pointing out that many other creatures failed to predict the correct outcomes of matches and went unreported.

"It's like seeing footage of a golfer getting a hole-in-one," Spiegelhalter said. "We're not seeing the millions of times the golfer made the shot and it didn't go in."

At least one other animal has weighed in on the World Cup final. Mani, a 13 year old parakeet from Singapore, allegedly correctly predicted the results of the four quarter-final matches, and also Spain's semi-final victory over Germany. The parakeet apparently thinks that the Netherlands will defeat Spain in the final.

Which of the supposed oracles is correct remains to be seen. The final takes place on Sunday in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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