As an engineer, acquiring and analyzing data has always been a big part of my job. Iâ€™m always amazed at how the same basic mistakes are made over and over again by otherwise intelligent people. Having witnessed all of these mistakes many times, I shouldnâ€™t be surprised when I see the exact same mistakes being made by State fans on internet message boards. Here are a few examples of these mistakes:
Ignoring Data That Is Not Understood
After the spring game, there was a good deal of discussion about Bobby Washingtonâ€™s rushing yardage and what conclusions should be drawn. Was Bobby going to be the man? Were there problems brewing with the defense? Of course, anyone who questioned Stateâ€™s defense was soundly trounced from all sides.
These discussions immediately sprang to my mind when Barrington Edwards ripped off 62 yards on the second play of the UNC game. For the first two games this year, UNC averaged less than 60 yards net rushing for the entire gameâ€¦..and that was bested on just two plays against the Pack. (I wish I knew where the defense that played against FSU was during the early part of the season.)
LESSON LEARNED: Never discard data just because you donâ€™t understand it. Sometimes things not immediately understood become much clearer once more data is obtained.
Drawing Conclusions with Insufficient Data
My least favorite posts and/or threads are the ones that start with â€œWhy isnâ€™t ______ playing more? I would guess that at least 99% of the time, a player isnâ€™t playing because:
- The guy starting is practicing better.
- Undisclosed medical issues
- Undisclosed discipline issues
What are the odds of a coach intentionally keeping a better player on the bench? The coaches see the players at every practice since they first stepped foot on campus and the fans only get to see the players during the games. Can we give the coaches just a little credit and quit bringing up the same stupid discussions over and over again?
LESSONS LEARNED: Know when you donâ€™t have enough information to start drawing conclusions. If the information is available, then make some reasonable effort to get it. If you donâ€™t have any facts, then exactly what are you talking about?
Shooting the Messenger
Unpopular opinions are often attacked without even bothering to provide evidence to rebut the claim. After the GT game, someone started a thread on the premium board at Pack Pride with the title, â€œWhat is Everyone so Happy About?â€? The poster explained that he was happy with the win, but the problems evidenced during the UNC game were still evident and the team wasnâ€™t playing well enough to win many more games.
Many people lined up to jump all over the poster. At the same time, there was a poll started to predict what Stateâ€™s final record would be. When I last looked at the poll, 581 votes were cast. 59% of the votes were predicting that State would finish at 7-4 or better. The poster that recognized problems was obviously far more accurate than his critics.
LESSON LEARNED: Sometimes unpopular evaluations turn out to be accurate. Offering or rebutting evaluations should always be supported with factsâ€¦.not happy thoughts.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics (or Looking for Chicken Salad in Chicken %$#!)
How many times over the last 12 months was the passing yardage from the 2004 season used to draw conclusions about the 2005 seasonâ€¦without bothering to include the fact that there were more interceptions thrown than TD passes? It should come as no surprise that the predictions that often accompanied this statistical travesty did not turn out to be even close to the truth.
LESSON LEARNED: The only statistic that matters is the final score. All other statistics should be used to explain the outcome, not to spin the observed results into some favorable light.
Ignoring Data That You Donâ€™t Like (or Assuming the Ostrich Position)
My hopes and expectations for the 2005 football season were flushed during the UNC game. Note that I said duringâ€¦.not after. Long before the clock wound down to 00:00, Stateâ€™s performance against its biggest rival convinced me that this was going to be a long year. The offensive line couldnâ€™t protect the QB or open even a small crack for the running backs. The defense couldnâ€™t stop an anemic rushing attack. When you throw in where UNC was expected to finish in the ACC, all of these things added up to some very unpleasant conclusions.
However, after nearly every win, opinions and projections soared. Iâ€™ve already mentioned how nearly 60% of the posters taking a survey expected a 7-4 record (or better) after the GT win. After the FSU win, many posters were expecting to roll over BC. In nearly every case, the problems and deficiencies of the team were ignored in favor of concentrating on one â€œpositiveâ€? fact.
LESSON LEARNED: Ignoring facts that you donâ€™t like will not improve them or make them go away. Concentrating on only the â€œhappy stuffâ€? does not provide the entire picture. Include all available data before making projections about future performance.
As everyone knows, â€œfanâ€? is short for fanatic. The term implies raw emotion and energy, not cold, calculating logic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with screaming wildly for your team from the opening kickoff to the last tick of the clock. Fans are supposed to be happy when their team wins and sad when they lose. However, fans should be able to discuss their favorite teams like adults, not like children that canâ€™t handle the truth. No one has a crystal ball that foretells the futureâ€¦..but ignoring or misusing the information that is available will usually lead to poor projections.