Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Monday, January 28, 2019

The So-Called Sports Illustrated Jinx

The Sports Illustrated Jinx is the notion that being featured on the cover of SI leads to bad-luck that negatively affects future performance.

Examples of the Sports Illustrated Jinx (Wikipedia excerpts):
“May 26, 1958: Race car driver Pat O’Connor appears on the cover of the magazine. He dies four days later on the first lap of the Indianapolis 500.

August 7, 1978: Pete Rose appears on the cover the same week that his 44-game hitting streak ended.

May 8, 1989: Jon Peters, of Brenham High School in Texas, sets the national high school record for games won by a pitcher, with a 51-0 record. The next game after his cover appearance, he loses for the first (and only) time of his high school career.

In November 2007, Kerry Meier of the Kansas Jayhawks appeared on the cover with the caption “Dream Season (So Far)” at the time when the Jayhawks’s record was 11-0. In their next game they lost to their arch rivals, the Missouri Tigers, 36-28, ending the Jayhawks’s perfect season.

November 9, 2009: Iowa’s Derell Johnson Koulianos appears on the front cover with the words “Still Perfect.” The Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern two days before the issue date, ending the longest winning streak in school history.”

Can the SI Jinx be explained by a statistical concept? Statistical regression to the mean indicates poor performance is typically followed by better performance, while exceptionally good performance is typically followed by decreased performance. How does this apply to the SI Jinx?

"It does not take much statistical sophistication to see how regression effects may be responsible for the belief in the Sports Illustrated jinx. Athletes’ performances at different times are imperfectly correlated. Thus, due to regression alone, we can expect an extraordinary good performance to be followed, on the average, by a somewhat less extraordinary performance. Athletes appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated when they are newsworthy- i.e., when their performance is extraordinary. Thus, an athlete’s superior performance in the weeks preceding a cover story is very likely to be followed by somewhat poorer performance in the weeks after. Those who believe in the jinx, like those who believe in the hot hand, are mistaken, not in what they observe, but in how they interpret what they see. Many athletes do suffer deterioration in their performance after being pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the mistake lies in citing a jinx, rather than citing regression as the proper interpretation of this phenomenon." Gilovich, 1991, p.26 

The term regression to the mean was discovered and coined by Francis Galton in the late nineteenth century (Kahneman, 2011).  The term might be hard to understand, as causal reasoning often overrides this type of statistical thinking. It might be a hard concept to understand for those without training in stats. Kahneman reports this sort of thinking doesn't come naturally and often leads to confusing outcomes. "The statistician David Freedman used to say that if the topic of regression comes up in a criminal or civil trial, the side that musty explain regression to the jury will lose the case. Why is it so hard? The main reason for the difficulty is a recurrent theme of this book: our mind is strongly biased toward causal explanations and does not deal well with 'mere statistics" (Kahneman, 2011, p.182).

References available upon request.   

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Myths About Critical Thinking

Critical thinking (rational thinking) is good thinking; it involves forming appropriate goals, goal optimization and forming evidence based beliefs. Two common myths associated with critical thinking are emotion prevents critical thinking and critical thinking is synonymous with formal logic.

Emotions may enhance instrumental rationality, or they may impede it. Emotions provide an approximation of the correct response.  If more accuracy than that is required, then a more precise type of analytic cognition will be required (Stanovich, 2009)  It is possible to rely too much on the emotions.  We can base responses on an approximation when what is really needed is a more precise type of analytic thought.  More often than not, processes of emotional regulation enhance rational thinking and behavior....

Myths About Rationality

Although many people feel (mistakenly or not) that they could do without the ability to solve textbook logic problems (which is why the caricatured view of rationality works to undercut its status), virtually no person wishes to eschew epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality, properly defined.  Virtually all people want their beliefs to be in some correspondence with reality, and they also want to act to maximize the achievement of their goals.  Psychologist Ken Manktelow has emphasized the practicality of both types of rationality by noting that they concern two critical things:  What is true and what to do.....

Formal Logic

Formal logic consists of different categories. It is concerned with evaluation of argument, often involving what are presumed to be  true premises that lead to a conclusion, that may or may not be valid. Logic isn't a complete system of thinking, as it is incomplete in evidence search; what matters is the construction of the argument. Categories of formal logic include: propositional, categorical, predicate and modal (Baron, 2008). Baron provides a discussion on logic and its various forms in his book - Thinking And Deciding 4th Edition (Baron, 2008). 

Critical Thinking

Educators, so-called evidence based practitioners and researchers  often pay lip service to the idea of teaching “critical thinking”.  But, when asked to define “critical thinking” answers are often weak and sometimes so ambiguous they are virtually worthless.  Common responses when asked to define critical thinking includes, “teaching them how to think”, “teaching them formal logic”, or “teaching them how to solve problems”.  They already know how to think; if they have a normal functioning working memory. When they are awake they are thinking about something. Logic is only a portion of what is needed to increase critical thinking, and teaching them how to solve problems is an ambiguous answer, that is context specific.  Stanovich argues, “that the superordinate goal we are actually trying to foster is that of rationality” (Stanovich, 2010, p.198). Critical thinking, as it is commonly referred, is a weak concept that lacks converging evidence. And, if measured at all, it is often measured in a subjective way, not susceptible to replication. Cognitive science, conceptualizes clearly and provides an array of measures of rational thinking tasks. The first comprehensive assessment was made public in 2016.