23 September 2011
MY NAME IS PITT, AND I'M NOT BUYING YOUR [EXCREMENT]
Pardon the paraphrase of Jules from Pulp Fiction. I'll readily acknowledge that turn of phrase did not spring forth first when I read Jason Whitlock's anti-statistics musings. It came as I watched The X Factor last night with Mrs. TetreaultVision. The final Dallas contestant came out spouting attitude and proceeded to sing just well enough that his pomposity earned him a cluster of no votes and a dejected march backstage.
I quipped at first, people buy from those they like, a reality driven home as I work to become a successful salesman of enterprise software. But then the thought coalesced into the title of this post, and I've tried applying it to the stories I've read this morning.
Per Whitlock, statistics are ruining sports. Well no, they aren't. They just make a less informed world view increasingly untenable. Need proof? Come and see how readily Whitlock's intellectual bankruptcy shines through by the end of the piece:
I don't know the answer. But I want to discuss and debate it. And I don't want to do it with people who simply want to quote stats. The answers and the questions that make sports special, unique, our collective national pastime, can't be found on a stat sheet. They're in our imaginations and our individual interpretation of what we witness.
When the "Moneyball" movie hysteria subsides, I hope the sabermeticians [sic] STFU.
Of course. All good debates should center around one faction Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniforming, amirite? Makes it much easier for the ideological opponents on the other side. Because when one group Sierra Tango Foxtrot Uniforms all the debate ceases in a grand crashing halt. Add in your own screeching tire sound effects. Go ahead. Your cubemates will laugh at you, but that's okay.
Debate is the clarification of ideas in open competition. Thus debate is at minimum a dialogue, which etymologists tell us stems from the Greek words dia, which means through, and logos, which means discourse. So through discourse we arrive at agreement. And whether that agreement is the agreement to disagree or at some point of commonality upon which both parties can agree matters not. Debate begins with discussion and ends with clarity.
Sports engender passionate feelings among its many followers. We love our teams. We love the thrilling plays and many of us love a deeper understanding of those contests.
Find yourself in coherent congruence with any of my ideals, I bet you do. All of them, not likely at all. Report writers (and really most every database user) understand this inherently. If I join search terms with OR I get everything that matches at least one, and a big crowd. Couple them together with AND and you get a radically smaller subset. Thus debate is natural and needed among sports fans, and no matter of jargon laced monologues will silence those discussions.
The idea that Whitlock's desire is for those he disdains to Shut The Uck Fup suggests his claims of statistics chilling debate are more projective than steeped in any actual event of sabermetricians telling the other side that they need to zip it. Debate ends either when the moderator declares time is up or one side presents an argument so clear and compelling that it convinces the other side of its wrongness. You cannot silence others with your perspective, unless you convince and convert them to your way of thinking.
Whitlock's disconnect comes from the ignorance of the press about which they cover. Media types tend to align themselves ideologically and philosophically with the sources they cultivate. We buy a line of reasoning from those with which we agree. In the case of folks like the "olde tyme sports writers", these notions of analysis are as incomprehensible to them as they are to the people within the game to whom they speak.
Because the people who help inform his worldview of sports are not espousing a sabermetric viewpoint, there is no effective check on his assumption that statistical analysis is bad. Using that echo chamber to define your point as correct is lazy and incurious. Much like the stat head who regurgitates numbers without adequate observation or context is equally lazy and incurious. Only in combining our powers of observation, concrete data and adequate unseeable context can we best understand the world around us. Including the games about which we are passionate.
We choose to ignore that truth at our own peril. I'll leave you with this quote from F.A. Hayek, which strikes me as entirely relevant:
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.