Are Bridge Players Subconsciously Changing Their Game Strategy in Response to Trump?

A small amount of nonsense research suggests so. But it’s statistically significant so let’s take it extremely seriously.

Trump and old ladies playing bridge.
Disbelief is not an option.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Laura Buckman/Getty Images and Monkey Business Images/Thinkstock.

Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency has made waves throughout much of society. Members of the Republican Party establishment probably engage in some strange form of cognitive dissonance just to get out of bed each morning. Much of the country has got to be willfully suppressing the fear that would decimate their mental health if they allowed it to take over. I can say that because I’m a science journalist and misinformed mental health diagnoses are my specialty.

But how are elite bridge players taking the news? Yes, elite bridge players. A team of social scientists decided to take on a completely irrelevant question that has no meaning for anyone (besides the authors’ own desire to get a paper published). They came up with some fascinating results that I am sharing with you because of my own vested interest in getting clicks.

The researchers assumed most bridge players are Democrats, which just sounds right. Then they set out to learn whether American bridge players subconsciously changed their strategy in response to Donald Trump’s unpopularity among Democrats. In order to find out, they assessed how many times bridge players utilized a contract move called “No Trump.” It doesn’t really make sense, but preliminary data suggest that more American bridge players used No Trump after the rise of the Donald.

The researchers used data from tournaments in 1999 and 2015, played by both Americans and Europeans. A statistical assessment of plays, which I don’t fully understand, showed that Americans played more No Trump contracts in 2015 compared with in 1999, particularly when researchers cherry-picked which data to analyze. This was not the case in Europe, which the authors say lends more credence to their theory. The p-value is less than .05, which is what I know makes something statistically significant, probably. Of course, there’s no actual reason this correlation means there’s any reason to assume causation. But personally, I’ve already bought into the idea.

Helpfully, the researchers went so far as to explain exactly why their shoddy work should stand even if it fails to show significant results when replicated, as is the scientific standard for confirming results:

To save everyone trouble, we will preregister now the following responses to any future failed replications: (1) The replication was unfaithful to our original study because of various details not mentioned in this publication because of lack of space; (2) The replication was successful in demonstrating a heretofore unhypothesized interaction with outdoor temperature, relationship status, parental socioeconomic status, or some other crucial variable not included in our original study; and (4) Had the replication used a large enough sample size, it would surely have been statistically significant.

In short, disbelief is not an option. The results are not made up, nor are they statistical flukes. You have no choice but to accept that the major conclusions of these studies are true.

For a look at the entire paper, which is, in fact, as much of a joke as this article, please see here. Shoutout to the footnotes.