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February 12, 2013 11:27 AM A Different Theory for why the Pope Resigned

By Erik Voeten

I am teaching causal inference today and was reminded of this article from the British Medical Journal. Below is the abstract:


Objective To explore the perceived wisdom that papal mortality is related to the success of the Welsh rugby union team.


Design Retrospective observational study of historical Vatican and sporting data.


Main outcome measure Papal deaths between 1883 and the present day.


Results There is no evidence of a link between papal deaths and any home nation grand slams (when one nation succeeds in beating all other competing teams in every match). There was, however, weak statistical evidence to support an association between Welsh performance and the number of papal deaths.


Conclusion Given the dominant Welsh performances of 2008, the Vatican medical team should take special care of the pontiff this Christmas.



The pope implausibly survived Wales 2012 win. The 2013 version is going on with Wales expected to do well….

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Erik Voeten is the Peter F. Krogh associate professor of geopolitics and global justice at Georgetown University.
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