AP Hockey Story of the Day: March 16 – Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?

For those of you that have been following me for a while, you’ll know that I don’t throw around the term “must-read” every day. I reserve it for an article that I truly feel every person with an interest in hockey, sports, analytics — whatever it may be — has to take a look at. Take my word for it, therefore, that when I classify an article as one of the top 10 I’ve ever read, I’m not exaggerating. I would produce a list if necessary. This recent piece by Joel Achenbach is absolutely in my top 10. It is a great read on the scientific process, but it can be applied to analytics and sports and really any aspect of life.

Here are just a few excerpts from the masterpiece. It’s not too hard to draw the necessary inferences when it comes to hockey analytics.

“Science is not a body of facts,” says geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who once headed the U.S. Geological Survey and is now editor of Science, the prestigious journal. “Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” But that method doesn’t come naturally to most of us. And so we run into trouble, again and again.

(Note: This relates back to what I discussed in my NHL.com article from last month. Analytics are not numbers. Analytics are a process by which one analyzes and scrutinizes data to draw conclusions.)

“Science will find the truth,” Collins says. “It may get it wrong the first time and maybe the second time, but ultimately it will find the truth.”

The idea that hundreds of scientists from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable—scientists love to debunk one another.

The media would also have you believe that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that it usually advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years.

When we argue about [climate change], Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this.

“We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school,” says Marcia McNutt. “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”

(Note: Only now is there starting to be a downside for GMs to ignoring analytics.)

Liz Neeley, who helps train scientists to be better communicators at an organization called Compass, says that people need to hear from believers they can trust, who share their fundamental values.

(Note: This is why people like Kyle Dubas are so important. As smart as analytics consultants are — most of whom have dense professional and educational backgrounds in statistics or engineering — it is people who come from similar backgrounds as GMs and other executives who will convince them of their fallibility and the need to scrutinize decision-making.)

“Everybody should be questioning,” says McNutt. “That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.” We need to get a lot better at finding answers, because it’s certain the questions won’t be getting any simpler.

(Note: Amen.)

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