Nba nerd

Basketball and Politics

The Vox website has launched, and so far, I love it. My favorite article so far is "How Politics Makes Us Stupid":

Perhaps there are some kinds of debates where people don’t want to find the right answer so much as they want to win the argument. Perhaps humans reason for purposes other than finding the truth — purposes like increasing their standing in their community, or ensuring they don’t piss off the leaders of their tribe. If this hypothesis proved true, then a smarter, better-educated citizenry wouldn’t put an end to these disagreements. It would just mean the participants are better equipped to argue for their own side.

My immediate first thought was that you could replace "politics" with "basketball" and come to many of the same conclusions, and discover most of the reason that so many of us disagree about the "right" way to measure basketball performance.

Later on in the article:

Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart. Partisans with weak math skills were 25 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. Partisans with strong math skills were 45 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. The smarter the person is, the dumber politics can make them.

Consider how utterly insane that is: being better at math made partisans less likely to solve the problem correctly when solving the problem correctly meant betraying their political instincts. People weren’t reasoning to get the right answer; they were reasoning to get the answer that they wanted to be right.

And I think we see this all the time in analyzing basketball performance. I see people with graduate degrees in STEM fields make glaring mistakes in statistical analysis. How is this possible? Well, one possibility is that they are ignoring what they know because they are trying to make the data fit their current worldview. Since many of us feel almost as strongly about basketball as we do about politics, this article provides some strong evidence that we are seeing a cognitive bias in action.

It's a really interesting article, and I suggest reading the whole thing.