Jul 2, 2010

vectors and victors

Longtime readers of the blog know that every now and then I feature the latest speculation about Toxoplasma gondii and its potential influence on human behavior, and... the World Cup?
Rank the top 25 FIFA team countries by Toxo rate and you get, in order from the top: Brazil (67 percent), Argentina (52 percent), France (45 percent), Spain (44 percent), and Germany (43 percent). Collectively, these are the teams responsible for eight of the last 10 World Cup overall winners. Spain, the only one of the group never to have won a cup, is no subpar outlier—the Spaniards have the most World Cup victories of any perpetual runner-up.

What is going on here? Does Toxo really make people better at soccer?

The relationship is neither linear nor foolproof. Italy managed to win the World Cup in 2006, despite its relatively average infection rate of 33 percent. Certain African countries plagued with public health problems have astronomical Toxo rates. Yet the heavily infected players of Ghana, Gabon (71 percent), and the Ivory Coast (60 percent) have not yet managed to win a single cup. On the other end, England (6 percent), the U.S. (12 percent), and Japan (6 percent) are pretty OK at soccer yet have some of the lowest rates in the world.
Read the whole thing for the rest of the nuances and caveats.

Speculation is speculation, and this one, I'll say, kicks its hypothesis a little too far past the post.

Although something has to explain Bill Simmons' recent unabashed and unabated soccer love.

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