The Hazards of Confidence


This NYT piece isn't about sports, but it deals with the subject matter we cover on this site. First an admission from someone who examined the results of his experiments: "We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each particular prediction was valid." And an anecdote that might very well have been from dealing with a pro sports team: "What we told the directors of the firm...was [that they were] rewarding luck as if it were skill. This should have been shocking news to them, but it was not. There was no sign that they disbelieved us...I am quite sure that both our findings and their implications were quickly swept under the rug and that life in the firm went on just as before. The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration; it is deeply ingrained in the culture of the industry. Facts that challenge such basic assumptions — and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem — are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them. This is particularly true of statistical studies of performance, which provide general facts that people will ignore if they conflict with their personal experience."