April 15, 2013

The Jakob Mierscheid story

On July 14th, 1983, a forecast model called the “Mierscheid law” surfaced the pages of Vorwärts magazine. It claimed to predict how will the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP) fare in the federal elections based on the amount of steel produced in Western Germany during that same year:
The Vote share of the SPD equals the Index of the crude steel production in the western federal states — measured in millions of tonnes — in the year of the federal election.

The forecast hypothesis was signed by Jakob Maria Mierscheid, member of the DPS. Odd as it may seem, Mierchied’s law nailed the results of the last ten elections in Germany within two units nine times, and within one unit seven times. In 2002, for example, West Germany’s crude oil production stood at 38.6 million tonnes, and the SPD got 38.4% of votes: Mierscheid Law Graph (This is an excellent example of the correlation does not imply causation principle in statistics. Just because two factors are correlated, does not mean that one of them is causing the other.)

But the model’s ability to predict election results quite accurately isn’t the only interesting aspect of this story: Jakob Mierscheid is not a real person. He is a hoax, a fiction. And even more interestingly, he is a maintained one; From Wikipedia:

The Bundestag official web site carries an ostensibly serious biography’ and a photograph purporting to depict Meirschied. In previous versions of the photograph his fashion sense seemed very antiquated and his eyeglasses were added later. The current (2010) image shows a balding man sitting in a chair, facing away from the camera, in the middle of the empty Hall of Representatives. The site lists 615 current names although the actual membership of the Bundestag is only 614. Mierscheid has his own stationery and e-mail address and issues press releases now and then. The picture of Mierscheid at the Bundestag is based on the RTL Samstag Nacht character Karl Ranseier.
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