Knowledge Decay and Elo Ratings

Ever read something and be initially baffled, only to research it and discover that you knew this concept?  It somehow had totally evaporated from your immediate recall knowledge corpus?

I had this happen with Elo ratings today.  I was looking at FiveThirtyEight’s NFL team predictions and ran across their Elo rankings of teams.    I initially had no clue what an Elo ranking was, and was off to Google. I was about a minute into the reading before I was going “wait a minute, I know this”!  It was something from the distant past,  but it was different than the “I used to know this” brain freeze.

FYI-  The Elo rating system is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in competitor-versus-competitor games.   It was first used for chess players back in the 1960’s.

I had just finished reading a blog post that talked about knowledge decay by Ben  Northrup after listening to him being interviewed on Software Engineering Daily podcast. I was only thinking about it terms of skills knowledge, not general knowledge.  Skills knowledge like a language that you don’t use – be it either programming (REXX, SNOBOL, 8051 Assembler)  or linguistic (in my case, French, Chinese or Vietnamese)  or physical skills like woodworking, soldering or just muscle atrophy from not exercising enough.

I’m  trying to reconcile Ben’s points to the concepts from the “The Half-Life of Facts” by Samuel Arbesman.  While not the same thing,  there should be some parallel on the “half-life of knowledge that you can recall”.   The ability to recall  facts and the speed at which you can re-establish neural pathways that have long decayed should be an interesting research project.  Maybe it will help to figure out what makes a person a great trivia player.


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