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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Statistical Easterbrook

Atrios said:
Probably the stupidest person in professional pundtry is Gregg Easterbrook. He's exhibit A for "too stupid to know he's stupid" and more than that he's too stupid to understand that there are people who know things that he doesn't, and more than that he's so stupid that he sets himself up as an authority about things he has absolutely zero comprehension of. It'd be comical except he's helping to make even more people as stupid as he is and what we don't need right now is even more stupid people.
An early science blogger, most people consider Easterbrook particularly weak in relation to this aspect of his punditry. But I did not realize that he has had a parallel career as a sports columnist. Which makes this passage particularly troubling.
The latest silly estimate comes from a new study in the British medical journal Lancet, which absurdly estimates that since March 2003 exactly 654,965 Iraqis have died as a consequence of American action. The study uses extremely loose methods of estimation, including attributing about half its total to "unknown causes." The study also commits the logical offense of multiplying a series of estimates, then treating the result as precise. White House officials have dismissed the Lancet study, and they should. It's gibberish.
How somebody that writes a column about a statistical exercise such as competitive sports can not understand simple concepts such as sampling and extrapolation should really give up any hope of enlightenment. In his heart he probably thinks when a quarterback has a completion percentage of 50%, his passes make it only halfway to their target. And that the conceptual premise of sports betting likely equally baffles him. (He also makes stuff up, because no where does the Lancet say that exactly 654,965 people died)

Alas, hope springs eternal in the world of mindless sports zealots; as an antidote, we need more intelligent sports writing refugees like Keith Olbermann, Charles Pierce, and Dave Zirin branching out and not the typical dunderheads like Easterbrook.

5 Comments:

Professor Blogger PZ Myers said...

Isn't it a prerequisite for sportscasters and writers to be statistically ignorant? In my brief exposure to sports, I've noticed an awful lot of wacky talk about "runs" and hot and cold streaks and teams being due for a win that belie any understanding of how chance works.

7:51 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

Perhaps, but I think more in terms of the young kids and Bill James-types who compile all the individual statistics in their heads. I always thought it was a great way to learn math, trying to figure out what it would take Rod Carew to crack 0.400 during his prime.

The chance runners seem to all watch "Deal or No Deal" these days.

9:37 PM  
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Professor Anonymous Craig Horizon said...

Sportscasters and writers they are always facinated with the stats. For this that and the other thing. Too many numbers that don't mean to much. But alot of time is spent gathering the information.

9:00 PM  

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