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Scientifically sneaky snipers

Don't you just hate it when you've kept up with an online auction for that bauble you've been lusting after, only to see it fall instead to a out-of-the-blue bidder in the final moments? If you're not armed with the software to put in a last-second bid, the practice of "sniping" or "bidnapping" hardly seems fair.

But hey, who said science had to be fair?

That's right: Research published in the June 6 issue of Physical Review E confirms that sniping is "a rational and effectivestrategy" for winning eBay auctions. In fact, the researchers - I. Yang and B. Kahng of Seoul National University in South Korea - propose a "master equation" that links the frequency of bidding with the likelihood of actually winning the item. One key equation goes something like this:

"The successfully transmittedbidding rate by the k-frequent bidder is likely to scaleas qk(t)~k–1.4, independent of t for large t."

The American Physical Society discusses the study in its latest Physics Tip Sheet:

"... The model confirms previous statistical studies of winning bidders that show that people who refrain from bidding at all until the very last seconds are much more likely to win than people who take part in earlier incremental bidding. Although snipers miss out on occasion (if their late bids are not registered in time for the auction close) they are usually successful. Unless online auction companies adjust their rules to extend bidding deadlines when large, last-second bids come in (as live auctioneers do), you’re going to be better off sniping if you really must have that rare Pokemon card or Chia Pet planter."

You can mark this off as another case of scientists confirming what most of us learned back in the mists of the Beanie Baby era.