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Is Home Field Advantage Real?

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As the World Series heads to Game Six tonight, the Red Sox are up three games to two. Boston lost once at home in Fenway Park, and the St. Louis Cardinals got beat twice at their own Busch Stadium. They’ve each won only one game at home. Both teams are missing out on that certain something, that edge that seems to come from playing in your own stadium in front of the hometown fans. Is that home field advantage real?

The science points to yes. Plenty of researchers have crunched the numbers on various sports and found that the home team consistently wins a greater proportion of games. In a review of bunch of these types of studies in 2010, Jeremy P. Jamieson, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, concluded that a home team will win approximately 60 percent of all games.

What contributes to this advantage? Researchers have found a number of things that give an edge to the home team, some more obvious than others. Jamieson arranges them into a few categories.

The hometown crowd

Larger and denser crowds, which the home team would expect to have with their fans living nearby, are associated with bigger advantages for the home team. The crowd’s behavior also has an effect, and studies have found that when the fans boo the home team for poor plays, it acts as a motivator for better performance—more so than when a visiting team is booed. Other research suggests that noise from the crowd can influence the judgments of referees and umpires, and fewer calls are made against the home team when the officials can hear the crowd than when the fans are quiet. 

The familiar field

Another factor is the players’ familiarity with their stadium’s facilities and the playing surface. One study found that teams that relocate to a new stadium enjoy a reduced home field advantage for a while. Even if it’s their stadium, the unfamiliarity takes away from their edge over away teams until they get settled in to the new home. 

Business travel

The third factor Jamieson found was travel. Away teams sometimes have to travel a long way to their competitors’ home stadium, and studies have linked the away team’s travel distance to the level of advantage that the home team has over the visitors. One of the main drivers behind this effect was the jet lag from long-distance east-west travel affecting visiting teams’ performance and game outcomes. 

Positive thinking

Finally, these three factors all feed into a fourth: the psychological states of the players. Athletes report feeling more positive and motivated when playing at home, which can affect their performance. 

In his review of the research, Jamieson found that baseball teams generally have a weaker home field advantage than teams and competitors in other sports. Jamieson thinks that the one underlying cause here is season length and game importance. Major League Baseball teams play 162 game in a regular season, so each individual game contributes less to their final win percentage. If the players see an individual game as less important to the overall season, it might reduce a home team’s motivation. 

The crowd factor also seems to come into play here. In 2007, Jamieson writes, the average MLB stadium had a capacity of 45,097 and average attendance for the season was 32,717. So, for an average regular season game, about three quarters of the seats are filled. The English Premiere football league (soccer, to us Yanks), in comparison, filled a little more than 80 percent of the seats on average that same year, and showed a much larger home field advantage effect. A lower crowd density might help explain why baseball shows less of a home field advantage effect than more well-attended sports. 

That said, NFL football has a shorter season than MLB baseball and denser crowds (around 98 percent of the seats were filled, on average, in 2007), but Jamieson found those teams had a similar home field advantage to MLB, so something else has to be going on here to account for the differences between sports. Jamieson suggests that fan behavior could contribute. While soccer and football fans are known to be active and rowdy, baseball, he says, has a “less intense atmosphere in which fans routinely leave even before the game is over.” 

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Big Questions
Why Is Soda Measured in Liters?
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Never a nation to fall in line, America is one of the few countries to resist the metric system. We stubbornly measure distance in miles and weight in pounds. So what’s with those two-liter bottles of soda?

First, a clarification: Soda is far from the only substance we measure in metric units. Heck, it’s not even the only beverage. Wine, liquor, and bottled water are sold by the milliliter. The healthcare field is all about metric units, too, from cholesterol levels to prescription, over-the-counter, and supplement dosages. We run 5-kilometer races, ride on 215-millimeter tires, and use 8-millimeter cameras, or at least we used to.

In most other things, we determinedly cling to our imperial measurements. Attempts to convince Americans to join the rest of the metric-measuring world have been met with great resistance.

Ken Butcher of the National Institute of Science and Technology has been working with the government’s tiny Metric Program for years. Speaking to Mental Floss back in 2013, Butcher explained that we’re so entrenched in our way of doing things that switching measurement systems now would be both chaotic and expensive.

"If we were going to start a new country all with the metric system, it would be easy," he said. "But when you have to go in and change almost everything that touches people’s everyday life and their physical and mental experience, their education, and then you take that away from them—it can be scary."

Here and there, though, when it’s convenient, we have been willing to budge. The soda bottle is a good example. Until 1970, all soft drinks in the U.S. were sold in fluid ounces and gallons, mostly in glass bottles. Then the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle came along, and soft drink makers decided it was time for a product redesign.

The redesign process coincided with two key factors: a short-lived wave of government interest in going metric, and the burgeoning environmental movement.

The folks at PepsiCo decided to meld all three into its exciting new vessel: a lightweight, cheap, recyclable, metric bottle, with built-in fins so it could stand up on supermarket shelves. Two liters: the soda size of the future.

The two-liter bottle took off. The rest of the soft drink world had no choice but to get on board. And voila: liters of cola for all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Where Is the Hottest Place on Earth?
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The summer of 2017 will go down as an endurance test of sorts for the people of Phoenix, Arizona. The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat warning, and planes were grounded as a result of temperatures exceeding 120 degrees. (Heat affects air density, which in turn affects a plane’s lift.)

Despite those dire measures, Phoenix is not the hottest place on Earth. And it’s not even close.

That dubious honor was bestowed on the Lut Desert in Iran in 2005, when land temperatures were recorded at a staggering 159.3 degrees Fahrenheit. The remote area was off the grid—literally—for many years until satellites began to measure temperatures in areas that were either not well trafficked on foot or not measured with the proper instruments. Lut also measured record temperatures in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

Before satellites registered Lut as a contender, one of the hottest areas on Earth was thought to be El Azizia, Libya, where a 1922 measurement of 136 degrees stood as a record for decades. (Winds blowing from the nearby Sahara Desert contributed to the oppressive heat.)

While the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) acknowledged this reading as the hottest on record for years, they later declared that instrumentation problems and other concerns led to new doubts about the accuracy.

Naturally, declaring the hottest place on Earth might be about more than just a single isolated reading. If it’s consistency we’re after, then the appropriately-named Death Valley in California, where temperatures are consistently 90 degrees or above for roughly half the year and at least 100 degrees for 140 days annually, has to be a contender. A blistering temperature of 134 degrees was recorded there in 1913.

Both Death Valley and Libya were measured using air temperature readings, while Lut was taken from a land reading, making all three pretty valid contenders. These are not urban areas, and paving the hottest place on Earth with sidewalks would be a very, very bad idea. Temperatures as low as 95 degrees can cause blacktop and pavement to reach skin-scorching temperatures of 141 degrees.

There are always additional factors to consider beyond a temperature number, however. In 2015, Bandar Mahshahr in Iran recorded temperatures of 115 degrees but a heat index—what it feels like outside when accounting for significant humidity—of an astounding 163 degrees. That thought might be one of the few things able to cool Phoenix residents off.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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