Thursday, May 7, 2015

Confirmation Bias of Confirmation Bias

      Digesting the content of the Wells report has been difficult. Investigator Ted Wells found that Tom Brady likely deflated footballs and was complicit in the process, which by the letter of the law is cheating. For many people, this is just another reason to hate Bill Belichick, Brady and the New England Patriots. Whether's it's true anger, perverse happiness for joke fodder, or jealousy manifested into faux anger means little, but it does confirm two facts about the present state of sports right now: The silliest of silly stories become national epics, and more than ever people believe what they want to and shut their minds off to the other side.

   Do I believe Tom Brady deflated footballs deliberately? What would he have been doing participating in deflating footballs otherwise? Does this really matter all that much in the grand scheme of changing the outcome of games? Spygate had far more serious implications and accusations. It's also apparent that the Patriots have been tampering with game balls (snicker, snicker) for a good period of time before the AFC Championship game. All of this is irrelevant to me because any of us who have played sports have tried to find slight legal advantages (such as when I played tennis, I called close shots out more than in), and a few slightly deflated footballs isn't going to change the outcome of a 45-7 game.

   But since this was the Patriots and not say, the Rams, this story has become front (and back) page news across the country, and even garnered a quad-box on CNN (since there wasn't anything else important going on the world at the time like an election in a country with nuclear weapons). These stories that become massive news in the sports world like this or Lebron's headband makes one really wonder why they'd invest themselves in sports as so many of us do. But in an area when hard news and good reporting is often shunted for silly stories, shouting and #hottakes, this is not much of a surprise.

  And then, oddly enough, Patriots reporter Tom Curran tweeted out a link to a four year old article from Psychology Today which is a confirmation of confirmation bias. This should be taken with a grain of salt since a Patriots reporter did tweet it out, but most of the reaction to BallGhazi is proof of not only confirmation bias' existence, but its power. In everything, we believe what we want to believe and end up subconsciously talking ourselves into confirming our own biases. In a world where almost everyone has the ability to speak their mind freely and stand atop a large platform to pronounce their opinions to the world, confirmation bias will only end up being stronger.

   So if you wanted to believe that the Patriots and Tom Brady are serial cheaters, this will do nothing but enhance that notion in your eyes. If you are the staunchest defender of the "Patriot Way" and the people in charge in Foxborough, almost everything you will say will confirm that view, even if your logic and reasoning makes no sense (tune into Boston sports talk radio and have fun). Nothing from this silly, pointless story means anything to me other than the existence and strength of confirmation bias in sports.

   Which includes my own biases about confirmation bias. Have fun deciphering that when you get a chance. 

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