Guy Griffith

Earlier today I wrote about A Guide to the Classics: or How to Pick the Derby Winner (1936). My post focused on one of the authors of the book, Michael Oakeshott.

The co-author was a colleague of Michael’s at Cambridge, Guy Thomson Griffith (1908-1975).

I thought I ought to redress the balance to find out more about Guy.

The most information I could find about him is an obituary (1986) written in the Proceedings of the British Academy. Guy’s photograph comes from there too.

Guy was a  Classics scholar at Gonville and Caius College from 1926. He was awarded a first class degree with distinction in Ancient history  which was essential to win a University studentship and undertake research. He became a research fellow in 1931. His doctoral research was on The Greek Soldier of Fortune. In 1935, he published The Mercenaries of the Hellenic World.

Nicholas Hammond‘s obituary has this information:

One remembers life in a Cambridge college in the mid-1930s as very enjoyable and relatively leisurely. During the racing season Griffith devoted two hours a day to the study of form and breeding, and he and his closest friend in caius, Michael oakesott, then a bachelor Fellow, went together to the races often at Newmarket and once at Epsom for the Derby and at Ascot. In 1936 they published a book which was remarkable both for its expert knowledge and for its humour and elegance: A Guide to the Classics – or how to pick the Derby winner. … a new edition was published in 1947 with the title A New Guide to the Derby: how to pick the winner. ‘All the learning was Guy’s’, wrote Oakeshott, and learning was the right word, for it was based on fundamental research, pursued over more than a decade.

Nicholas notes that Guy was successful in his horse betting career:

His winnings on the turf, we understood, enabled him to indulge his taste in vintage cars, as in vintage claret.

Guy became a University lecturer in 1937. During the War he was an air traffic controller in the RAF Volunteer reserve.

At the end of the war he returned to the University and was involved in Classics teaching and research for the next four decades.

He died in Papworth Hospital on 10 September 1985.

Photo Credit

Guy Griffith (Proceedings of the British Academy)

Michael, Picking and Predicting

Somewhere on my book shelves I have a worn copy of Michael Oakeshott’s edited edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1946).

It may had been even more worn had I realised that he was the co-author (with Guy Griffith) of A Guide to the Classics: or How to Pick the Derby Winner (1936). Michael and Guy were Cambridge fellows at the time. The publisher of a new edition of the book noted:

The book takes the abstraction out of the Derby by attacking the systems which had been developed by generations of ‘form’ experts. It exposes theoretical solutions as fraudulent – instead it applies hard-headed empirical and historical analysis.

Michael Oakeshott was an influential political philosopher in the twentieth century and I found it fascinating that he applied his approach to picking a Derby winner subsequently “to his analysis of rationalism in politics”.

I like Paul Franco’s (1990:1) view of Michael. He was, Paul suggests:

a traditionalist with few traditional beliefs, an “idealist” who is more sceptical than many positivists, a lover of liberty who repudiates liberalism, an individiual who prefers Hehel to locke, a philosopher who disapproves of philosophisme, a romantic and a marvelous stylist.

I think this makes him perfectly suited to a role as analyst, particularly with his interest in second order questions.

Ed Smith (2017) says of the Derby book (despite some of its assumptions dating):

Although the specifics have dated, the ­intellectual disposition is more relevant than ever, especially as sport is experiencing a revolution driven by data analytics. All decision-making in sport (not just gambling, but also recruitment and selection by coaches) hinges on probability. Oakeshott’s second chapter – to what extent does past form determine future performance? – now preoccupies sport’s cleverest thinkers and mathematicians.

Michael’s approach was to use historical judgement. Ed notes:

The more we know about data in sport, the more the Oakeshott position – confidence in good judgement rather than scientific “proof” – gains strength.

He concludes:

Oakeshott’s ideas on racing provide a case for the value and usefulness of the humanities – inexact but wise, sceptical but informed by deep knowledge.

I think this is excellent advice and comes in a week when Alan McCall, Maurizio Fanchini and Aaron Coutts (2017) urge caution about prediction in sport.

Their invited commentary in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance:

  • Highlights the common misinterpretation of studies investigating association to those actually analysing prediction
  • Provides practitioners with simple recommendations to quickly distinguish between methods pertaining to association and those of prediction.

I do believe that the quest for prediction can be undertaken with humility and the humanities.

Ed’s alert to Michael Oakeshott’s work is very timely. It speaks to the possibilities of disciplined historical insights in conjunction with the remarkable innovations in data capture and analysis. It should encourage us to think about we construct analyses of performance that entangle past present and future.

Photo Credit

Epsom Derby 2010 (Monkeywise, CC BY 2.0)

Going for Home (Monkeywise, CC BY 2.0)