Seeing the errors in how people intuitively think about the golf swing made Bryson question how other parts of the game were played. Having majored in physics at college, he operates like a scientist. He subscribes to Charles Dickens’ famous line from Great Expectations: “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”…
Trusting empirical data over intuition was one of the defining ideas of the Enlightenment. Through paradigm shifts like the Copernican Revolution, which found that humans weren’t the center of the universe, people began trusting instruments over their senses. That isn’t to say that science is always correct, but ever since the Enlightenment, it’s been obviously foolish to ignore it. Yet, that’s exactly what golfers did—for decades…
Like aspects of Bryson’s swing, some of the computer’s most effective chess moves are ugly to the human eye because they violate our intuition for what a good chess move looks like. But if you spend enough time watching the computer move, you can incorporate those tactics into your intuitive game and become a stronger player. Intuition isn’t as static as we think. With the right tools, it can improve over time.
The long view of analytics points to reasons why pulling Snell was the right move, but it also ignores the individual context clues that Snell’s Game 6 domination provided.
Here are a few more resources on the topic. Depending on your students and their interests,
Interesting if not controversial piece about the science behind concussion research and professional football. This raises interesting questions about the extent to which “good science” is even possible in a situation like this when brains can only be examined posthumously. There is definitely a selection bias here because people only want to have their brains examined if they believe they suffer from the condition.
When we dug into the methodology, we were floored. The study was so badly flawed that it was nearly worthless. But that’s not what had been reported in practically every major media outlet in the world. Thanks to the barrage of sensationalist coverage, the “110 out of 111 brains” story had turned into a wildfire, and we were standing around with a couple of garden hoses, telling everybody to calm down.
There are some interesting debates raging within the sports community about the ways in which statistics can help us understand athletic performance and the value of different players to a team. These statistics also are used to evaluate what are effective strategies and which are not.
Though some of the debate is about whether we should or should not rely on these statistical models, there are some interesting differences among those models themselves. Each model relies on different assumptions and maps the reality of the game differently. Sometimes, as in the case discussed in the article below, different models give us wildly different answers about a player’s value. Which is correct? What does this case tell us about the ability and limits of using math to understand reality? Is it possible to resolve this debate?
How does the quote below apply to this case?
“A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”
“Even in an industry where minority workers sometimes appear to be favored for highly desirable jobs,” the two concluded, “employers may still fall prey to symbolic discrimination, relying on deeply embedded stereotypes about minority groups during the interview process.”
This article connects to some interesting TOK issues. Clearly we can discuss the ethics, or lack of ethics, in the NFL’s manipulation of data to disprove conclusions that undermine its business.
This also illustrates how math can help us understand and possibly prove complex issues like the connection between football and health issues like concussions and CTE. Rather than observing or intuiting a causal relationship between two phenomenon, we have to use math along with the methods of proof in the natural sciences to establish truth and construct knowledge. By misrepresenting data, one might reach incorrect conclusions, which seems to have been the case here.
A second article about how flawed data undermines our ability to construct knowledge.
“Researchers primed to believe that the NFL has concussions under control, a data set that’s missing important information, and publication in a journal edited by a consultant to the NFL — it looks more like an attempt to create evidence for a predetermined message than good science. But even if we throw out these studies, we can’t yet conclude that football inevitably leads to lasting brain damage.”
1. Room for Debate: Is It Wrong to Watch Football?
This first link is from the New York Times’ Room for Debate series. Here, four experts discuss the question about whether it is ethical to watch football.
“How can fans enjoy watching a game that helps ruin players’ lives?”
2. The Ethicist: Is it Wrong to Watch Football
From the New York Times’ series, The Ethicist.
“What you are concerned about involves one disquieting aspect of one specific sport. You want to know if it’s ethically acceptable to watch a game that is dangerous to the athletes who participate. And the answer to that query is yes.”
3. Aaron Hernandez suffered from most severe CTE ever found in a person his age
From the Washington Post, an article that details that brain damage suffered by a young and prominent NFL star who was also convicted of murder. If this type of brain damage is possible from playing the sport, should it be legal? If it legal, with the consent and full information of those playing, is it ethical to watch this sport?
4. The Federalist: Now That We Know Football Hurts Athletes, Should We Keep Watching?
“It’s time for football fans to consider the morality of a sport that turns young athletes into middle-aged corpses, racked by dementia and disabilities.”
“How long can an activity that may carry with it the likelihood of an awful life-shortening ailment continue to hold the imagination of the country? Those who believe football is too big and too popular to ever be cast aside should remember that only 80 years ago, boxing reigned alongside baseball as the country’s only true national sport. Even a half century ago, when Muhammad Ali was heavyweight champion, boxing was still immensely popular even if, unlike in previous generations, the percentage of youngsters who boxed was tiny. Today, it still exists and manages to hold a niche of the sports market, but it is a marginal endeavor derided for its brutality that increasingly few American care about.”
5. Reason Magazine: Is Watching Football Unethical?
From a Libertarian perspective, how should we view the ethics of watching football?
6. I’m the Wife of a Former N.F.L. Player. Football Destroyed His Mind.
He chose the sport, but he did not choose brain damage.
What does this article tell us about people’s motivation to take “correct” actions? What happens when math says one thing but our emotions tell us another? What if the agreed upon consensus correct answer is in fact wrong?
“It’s not that coaches don’t know the math — rather, it seems they don’t want to be criticized. If a coach does the expected and sends out the punt unit on fourth down, and then his team goes on to lose, players are blamed for the defeat. If the coach orders a conversion attempt that fails, the coach is blamed for subsequent defeat.”
“There is a growing concern that the rise in the popularity of basketball analytics (such as player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage) has led to more stat-based personnel hires rather than ex-players becoming general managers.”
This is a clever program that does an analysis of every 4th down play in every professional football game. It determines based on mathematical expected value whether teams should go for it, punt, or kick a field goal. It breaks down the math behind its decision making. What’s interesting is how often the mathematical decisions are not the ones followed by the people on the field. Who is right in a case like this? What happens when the “common sense” approach is different from the mathematically “true” approach?