January 18, 2017

Jose Canseco

Jose Canseco

Source: Wikimedia Commons

After all, the United States military severely screwed up the scoring of their I.Q.-like AFQT enlistment test from 1976 to 1980. Senator Sam Nunn kept asking the Pentagon why sergeants were complaining to him that the military was suddenly letting in some real dumb-asses.

The brass, however, scoffed at Nunn’s lowly informants. Obviously, the sergeants were irrationally biased. What could drill instructors possibly know about psychometrics?

But after several years of denial, the Pentagon suddenly announced that their psychologists had accidentally inflated the test’s scoring.

Yet, according to Kahneman, it is irrational for you to worry about real-world concerns like these. He has stipulated that the sample is random and the mean is 100, so that’s all you need to know.

Hence, the rational answer is 101 and no other responses are acceptable.

Here’s the duo’s most celebrated trick question:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

1. Linda is a bank teller.

2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

A majority of people chose the second answer, probably because they are familiar, at least in practice if not in theory, with the storytelling principle of Chekhov’s gun. The great dramatist Anton Chekhov advised:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn”€™t be hanging there.

But what did Chekhov know about human nature? To the Aspergery Israelis, it was indisputably irrational for listeners to assume that Tversky and Kahneman didn”€™t just put in the details to fool them. After all, that’s exactly what the professors were trying to do: con them.

Why aren”€™t humans rational about noticing when they are being hoodwinked?

What’s wrong with people?

Lewis himself isn”€™t the most cynical inquirer. He’s by no means as gullible as, say, Malcolm Gladwell, but he seems to have a prudent sense of how far to push his reality checks.

For example, it never seems to have occurred to him that Oakland A’s baseball general manager Billy Beane might not have drawn back the curtain on his statistical techniques for the benefit of Lewis”€™ Moneyball purely out of a disinterested love of advancing learning.

One possibility is that Lewis”€™ book served Beane’s need to permanently distract from the large role played in the success of the A’s by performance-enhancing drugs, at least since Jose Canseco arrived in Oakland in the mid-1980s. I heard from a baseball agent in the early 1990s that “€œJose Canseco is the Typhoid Mary of steroids,”€ but in Moneyball a decade later Lewis mentioned the word “€œsteroids”€ only once.

Moneyball diverted attention to obscure Oakland fringe players and away from Beane employing in 2002 a slugging shortstop, Miguel Tejada, who won the Most Valuable Player award by driving in a remarkable 131 runs.

And then, two years later, Tejada knocked in 150 runs.

A shortstop with 150 RBIs is about as plausible as a randomly chosen child with a 150 I.Q.

(See? There was a reason I put in those details.)

A couple of years after Moneyball hit the best-seller lists, Tejada was mentioned in Canseco’s memoir Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant “€™Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big.

In 2009, Tejada pleaded guilty to perjuring himself to Congress regarding steroids.


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