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We CAN be serious

13 June 2008

Tennis ball and net

Ahead of Wimbledon fortnight (23 June to 6 July), researchers from Cardiff School of Social Sciences are advising that sports decision aids such as the Hawk-Eye system should come with a ‘health’ warning attached.

Hawk-Eye, and similar officiating tools which are used to supplement or replace decision-making by umpires and referees, are becoming an increasingly common part of televised sports coverage.

But the new technology has also attracted its critics, including Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, who during his Final in 2007 against Nadal, claimed the technology was flawed. Although Nadal hit a ball which appeared to television viewers, to the umpire, and to Federer as impacting well behind the baseline, but Hawk-Eye called it in. Federer appealed to the umpire but the umpire accepted Hawk-Eye’s judgment.

Led by Professor Harry Collins and Dr Robert Evans the new research to be published in the journal Public Understanding of Science draws on the claims made by Hawk-Eye Innovations’ on its website about the famous disputed line call.

The paper ‘You cannot be serious! Public Understanding of Technology with special reference to `Hawk-Eye’ challenges whether aids such as the Hawk-Eye system can actually always be right with the team arguing that such devices could cause viewers to overestimate the ability of any technological devices to resolve disagreement among humans. It also suggests that a more detailed understanding of how the device works could play a vital role in public education the benefits of which could spread to all technological decision making in the public domain.

Professor Collins said: "We used Hawk-Eye as the principal illustrative example as it is the most well-known of the commercial systems and is currently being used to make decisions in major tennis competitions such as Wimbledon. Technologies such as Hawk-Eye are meant to relegate line call controversies to the past, however, our analysis has shown that Hawk-Eye does not always get it right and should not be relied on as the definitive decision maker."

The paper puts also forward the Automated Decision Principle. If adopted, this Principle, would involve significant changes in the way devices such as Hawk-Eye are currently used in sport.

Professor Collins says: "To avoid any chance of misleading the public we believe that Hawk-Eye’s conclusion should be accompanied by statements and/or displays of the size of the possible errors, as is normal in science. This would ensure that the public is much better informed as to the limits and possibilities of technology.

"Such systems could actually become a useful way to educate the public of the limits and possibilities of technology and serve to ask questions about the degree of certainty the public can actually attribute to scientific measurement and technological tools.

A pre-print is available from the Cardiff University Public Relations and Communications Division or from www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise.

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