Tag Archives: hindsight bias

Yet Another Consequentialism Lesson From Baseball

It's for your own good, kid.

It’s for your own good, kid.

Consequentialism is the ethical fallacy of  judging an action right or wrong according to its ultimate effects, which are unknowable at the time the decision is made. This is, essentially, the equivalent of a “the ends justify the means” philosophy applied as a backward-looking tautology: if the end result turns out to be desirable, then it  justifies the means and the act was ethical. If the ends are undesirable, then the conduct was wrong unethical. People do tend to think to think this way, which is why decisions that don’t work out are frequently called mistakes. Conduct is not a mistake, however, if it was the best possible decision at the time, arrived at logically and according to sound principles.

Sports, and particularly baseball, reinforce the adoption of consequentialism, which is one way sports can make people stupid….especially sportswriters, who love to second-guess managers, players and coaches by using hindsight bias: it’s easy to pronounce a decision a mistake once you already know its results. Easy, and unfair.

On Saturday afternoon, Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams punished his 21-year-old star outfielder Bryce Harper for not running hard to first base on a ground ball tapper back to the pitcher in the top of the sixth inning. The punishment Williams levied was Old School: Williams benched the young player—just like Joe Cronin did to Ted Williams in 1939 and 1940–sending the message that either you hustle and play hard, or you don’t play, no matter how good you are. This is his duty as a manager, a leader, a mentor and a teacher, and it makes a vital statement to the entire team. Continue reading


Filed under Leadership, Sports

Jerry and Jared Remy, Parental Accountability, Hindsight Bias, and The Bad Seed

This is a tragic local story with vast ethics significance.

Father and son.

Father and son.

Long-time Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, a native Bostonian and former player who has been a vivid part of the Boston sports scene since 1977, was stunned by tragedy last summer when his oldest son, Jared, 35, allegedly murdered his girlfriend by stabbing her to death as their  ive-year-old daughter looked on. Prior to the incident, most New Englanders were unaware of Jared Remy’s problems, but his ugly past soon found its way into the newspapers.

A recent Boston Globe investigative report appeared to be the saga of a “bad seed” right out of a horror movie, for Jared Remy, son the popular, affable Jerry, had been arrested, and released, 19 times, for an assortment of alleged crimes, many of them violent. They included battering and threatening a high school girlfriend; pushing a pregnant girlfriend out of a moving car; texting death threats to her, and attempting to beat her up; threatening to kill yet another girlfriend;  terrorizing a fourth sufficiently that police were called to their apartment eight times; and involvement in steroid peddling and abuse. The Globe also obtained the testimony of a woman who alleges that Jared joined her in brutally beating a high school boy, causing him permanent brain injuries.

The Globe story (and others) raised the question of how and why the Massachusetts justice system kept releasing Jared. It is a valid question, not peculiar to his case, unfortunately. Many have speculated that Jared’s  status as the son of popular Boston sports figure played a part in getting him extraordinary leniency, but as Remy’s lawyer pointed out, several of the incidents also involved complainants and alleged victims who refused to testify or withdrew their complaints. In the realm of domestic abuse, evidently Jared Remy’s specialty, this is too common. The Globe writer, Eric Moskowitz, also insinuated that the Remys went too far in supporting their disturbed, violent and troubled son, who had learning disabilities and other clinical behavioral problems. They apparently paid for psychiatric treatment, counseling and legal fees, and helped with his rent and other expenses, though the extent of this has not been confirmed by the Remys, the only ones who could be authoritative on the topic. The rest is hearsay.

Jerry Remy, who has battled depression his whole adult life, withdrew from his role as color commentator after his son’s arrest, missing the Red Sox championship run. Outside of a brief statement condemning his son’s actions and expressing condolences to the parents of the victim, Jennifer Martel, Remy was silent until announcing this Spring that he would try returning to the broadcast booth for the upcoming season. Then, as Spring Training for the Red Sox ran down and Remy seemed, outwardly at least, capable as ever of being an affable presence with whom to watch the home team’s exploits,  the Globe story appeared. The revelations about Jared unleashed an unexpected (by me, at least) backlash against his father, and Bostonians in droves bombarded the sports radio talk shows, blogs and news media websites with the opinion that Remy should step down as Red Sox color man for cable broadcasts. How they reached this ethically indefensible position is instructive regarding how inept and unskilled most people are in day-to-day ethical analysis, how emotion becomes a substitute for objectivity and logic,  how hindsight bias makes experts and judges out of individuals with the credentials of neither, and also how ignorant most of the public is about the ethical obligations and duties of the legal profession.

Here are the reasons being cited for why Jerry Remy should give up his career:

Continue reading


Filed under Family, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Rights, Sports, U.S. Society

Life Imitates Hoax: The Cruel Back Tattoo Revisited

THIS was a hoax, but...

THIS was a hoax, but…

Since we are on the topic of web hoaxes—an Ethics Alarms hot button—I thought it appropriate to mention that one such hoax that effectively tricked me back in 2011—the story about the jilted lover who supposedly tattooed a huge steaming pile of poo on his ex’s back as revenge—apparently came to life for real in Australia.

Christopher William Lord, 23, has been sentenced to a year in prison for inspiring a tattoo artist to trick his “friend” by inking a large tattoo including a penis, testicles and an obscene phrase on the unsuspecting victim’s back, while assuring him that the design the unsuspecting young man had chosen was coming along beautifully. The tattoo artist is serving time for the incident, properly charged as an assault.

Yes, alcohol was involved. As a special nice touch, the man whose back was so defaced is disabled.

The only thing that approaches the obnoxiousness of web hoaxes is the superior sneering of those who, after the hoax, mock anyone so trusting as to believe such  “ridiculous” stories. This is hindsight bias at its most annoying, and this is part of the despicable objective of hoaxers. It is their own, warped IQ test, designed to allow them to feel superior to their victims, while amusing others so toxically cynical that they refuse to believe or trust anyone or anything, and deride the rest of us for promoting and encouraging trust the only way possible—by doing it. Web hoaxers and their enablers,in contrast, make life a little bit crummier, nastier and dangerous, because it amuses them.

“If you let them, they will crochet the world the color of goose shit.”

– Jacques Brel.


Pointer: Fark

Source: Metro


Filed under Around the World, Character, Humor and Satire, Law & Law Enforcement, Quotes, The Internet

Tom Yawkey, J. Edgar Hoover, Political Correctness and Gratitude

Yawkey TributeIt’s not often that I am called upon to rebut a web post that relies on one of my articles for its unethical conclusions, but that is the position that Ron Chimelis has placed me in with his recent essay, Why the Boston Red Sox should rename Yawkey Way.

To catch you up quickly: Tom Yawkey was a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast who owned the Boston Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, making him the longest-tenured team owner in the sport’s history. Yawkey was almost certainly a racist; if he was not a racist, his team’s policies certainly were for many years. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and blacks did not have a significant place on the team’s roster until the late 1960s, two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. From the beginning, Yawkey ran the Red Sox as a public utility, paying little attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a winner out of the franchise that had been a perennial loser since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. After his death, Yawkey’s wife Jean continued the family tradition, running the Red Sox, except for a few years, until her own death in 1992.

When Tom Yawkey died, the City of Boston re-named Jersey Street, which runs past the entry to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, Yawkey Way in his honor.

In the unerring clarity of hindsight bias, Chimelis argues that Tom Yawkey is undeserving of any recognition by the city that he devoted much of his life to representing, enhancing, serving, inspiring and entertaining because racism is the ultimate crime, and anyone possessing that vile state of mind should be consigned to shame forever. It is a common point of view, and an unfair one. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Sports

When Evil Doesn’t Seem Wrong: The Post World War II Lobotomies

The recent, shocking discovery that the Soviet Union forcibly lobotomized thousands of World War II veterans when the battle-weary soldiers could not cope with the post traumatic stress created by the horrors of war reaffirms our convictions about the dehumanizing effects of totalitarian government.

Wait…did I say the Soviet Union? My mistake. It was our government that did this, and sent letters to their families like this one:

lobotomy instructions

From the Wall Street Journal this week: Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Health and Medicine, History, Rights, U.S. Society, War and the Military

The 27th Victim


Somehow, before yesterday, it had escaped my notice that the various commemorative events relating to the massacre in Newtown, Conn. have intentionally omitted mention of Adam Lanza’s mother.  This week, Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked that churches across the Connecticut toll their bells 26 times, once for each victim of the massacre–each victim other than Nancy Lanza, that is. A vigil with 26 candles was attended by President Obama last December, and moments of silence at sporting events around the country often are timed to 26 seconds. Last April’s Boston Marathon was dedicated to the grieving Newtown families, with one mile of the traditional 26 mile race dedicated to each victim. There were 27 victims that day, of course: Adam Lanza’s long-suffering mother was victim #1, shot dead in her bed by the son she loved. Why doesn’t her death count? Continue reading


Filed under Family

Hindsight Bias Case Study: Shooting D.C.’s Post Partum, Mad-Dog Driver

"Ok, now, let's talk about this: what other options do we have to stop this mad-dog driver, other than shooting her? Ma;'am, will you pleas take 5 in your murderous rampage while we meet? Ma'am?"

“Ok, now, let’s talk about this: what other options do we have to stop this mad-dog driver, other than shooting her? Ma;’am, will you pleas take 5 in your murderous rampage while we meet? Ma’am?”

Hindsight bias isn’t the worst or most pernicious reasoning fallacy, but it may be the most annoying, and is certainly the most common. After an event in which one or more instant decisions had to be made in seconds or minutes, critics with time a-plenty solemnly explain how they would have done things differently, and how the original decision-maker was stupid, cowardly, misguided, incompetent, unethical, or even criminal. The most striking example of a hind-sight bias victim in recent years is Penn State’s Mike McQueary, but at least in his situation there is room for argument, though I argued here that few of his critics can know how they would have responded under similar circumstances. In the case of this week’s shooting of a crazed Capitol Hill kamikaze motorist, later determined to be a troubled dental hygienist who may have been suffering from post-partum depression, I don’t think the criticism is rational, fair or justified, and shows hindsight bias at its worst.


Of course the Secret Service had to shoot her. It would have been reckless and negligent had they not. She had tried to crash through the White House barricades in an automobile. She had run down one officer, for all anyone knew at the time, fatally. She was refusing to stop, and was near D.C.’s Union Station, where there are people everywhere, and a car can easily run up on the sidewalks, which are wide. She had to be stopped immediately, or innocent people, maybe many people, were likely to die.

After she expired from the shots fired at her (but not before peeling away at a high speed), it was determined that the driver, later identified as Miriam Carey, was unarmed. The shooting agents didn’t know that, so it’s irrelevant. Besides, she was armed, with a deadly vehicle, and her motives were unclear. For all the officers knew, she was trying to kill as many pedestrians as she could. This wasn’t a typical situation or traffic stop. This was occurring at the center of our government, and security officers have to take enhanced precautions. The welfare of the individual causing the threat is not, and should not be, the primary concern.

Two factors in the incident seem do drive the unethical amateur second-guessing. One was that the woman’s toddler was in the car, and might have been harmed. This was not the Secret Service’s problem. Carey put her daughter in harm’s way, and if her conduct resulted in the child’s injury or death, she would have been totally responsible, not the agents who shot into the car. (They apparently were not aware of the child’s presence, so again, this in not a fair factor to consider after the fact.) The other factor: guns were involved. Thanks to programmed paranoia and gun-phobia irresponsibly planted in the culture by anti-gun zealots, many, too many, Americans arrive at a reflex position that any gun-related death is unnecessary, because guns, after all, are evil and should be banned. Such opinions should be treated as the products of deranged minds, or excessive Piers Morgan viewing.

A Facebook friend (and regular friend too), a distinguished and intelligent former journalist who I’m sure won’t mind my quoting him, asked his social network, “WAS THERE NO OTHER WAY?” That question is the epitome of hindsight bias. Sure there were other ways. Maybe an agent could have dived in the car window and dislodged her. Maybe a well-aimed shot at her hands could have made it impossible to drive. Perhaps they could have shot out the tires, hoping that the driver didn’t realize that you can still make a car with flat tires move at a pretty good clip, at least for a while. An electro-magnetic pulse might have stopped all the engines in the vicinity, neutralizing the car. Maybe Batman was nearby, or Corey Booker. None of that matters, because the security officials involved were in a unique and unprecedented situation, and had to accomplish their prime objective, stopping a dangerous individual in a highly populated area, under pressure, while in peril themselves, as quickly as possible. The proper question is not whether they could have done better, upon calm analysis and reflection. The question should only be, “Was the response reasonable under the circumstances?”

It was.


Sources: Washington Post 1, 2


Filed under Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Valentining Bobby Valentine, Victim of Three Biases

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

Hindsight bias is bad, confirmation bias is worse, and naked bias is the worst of all. 2012 Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was the victim of all three with a vengeance during that disastrous Boston baseball season, and is still. I have been tempted to write about Bobby’s plight since last August, when the Red Sox management threw in the towel on the season and the long knives really came out in the Boston press corps. Now Valentine has been gone for six months, half the team has been replaced, and spring is dawning, yet hardly a day passes in which one of these ink-strained wretches  doesn’t take a pot-shot at the deposed manager, leaving the absolutely false impression that he could have done anything to forestall or mitigate the cataclysm that befell the Red Sox in 2012. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Professions, Sports

Consequentialism, Bias, Moral Luck and Malpractice on PBS’s “Downton Abbey”


The fourth episode of the PBS sensation “Downton Abbey” provided a clinical examination of how bias of all kinds can rule the most important decisions in our lives, and how moral luck so frequently determines our conclusions about whether those decisions were right, wrong, or really, really wrong. It also shed some light on the  current policy conundrum of how best to consider medical malpractice suits—as a fair and necessary means of rewarding the victims of professional errors, or as a decidedly unfair device that distorts the practice of medicine and inflates its costs without improving treatment.

For those who have not caught the trans-Atlantic mania of following the saga of the Earl of Grantham and his extended family as they try to maintain their life of luxury as members of the landed aristocracy post-World War I, here are the relevant plot points of the most recent episode (in the U.S.; Great Britain is a season ahead of us):

Sybil, the much loved but rebellious daughter of the Earl is staying at the family estate (all right, castle) as she prepares for childbirth. (She and her Irish revolutionary husband Tom are on the lam from British authorities, but never mind that). The Earl naturally wants the best medical care for his daughter, and rejects the long-time family physician, Dr. Clarkson, for the task, because he has made some faulty diagnoses of late that led to all kinds of sorrow in last season’s drama. So the Earl calls in a renowned surgeon to the upper crust who is upper crust himself, Sir Philip Tapsell. (He appears to be an arrogant, pompous jerk, but the show’s writers show him giving sage and well-worded advice to the Earl’s non-Irish revolutionary son-in-law on the delicate matter of his sperm count, so we know he’s not a fraud as well.)

The Earl’s American but far too deferential wife Cora (in case you wondered whatever happened to the cute Elizabeth McGovern from “Ordinary People,” the answer is, “This!”) seeks to rescue Dr. Clarkson from a stinging snub by insisting that he come to Downton Abbey and be present for the childbirth as what we would call a consulting physician to Sir Philip, who doesn’t want one. Two head-strong doctors and hostile doctors looking after the same patient—yes, this will work out well.

Sure enough, Sybil’s pregnancy takes an ominous turn. Her ankles are swollen (“Perhaps she has thick ankles!” huffs Sir Philip, pooh-poohing the symptom. “She does not!” replies loyal Dr. Clarkson), her mental state is confused, and there is protein in her blood. Clarkson concludes that Sybil is toxemic and believes she could suffer eclampsia if she isn’t taken to the hospital immediately for a Caesarian section. Sir Philip dismisses him as a hysteric hack, and insists that Sybil’s pregnancy is normal and fine. Since Caesarians were risky in the 1920’s, often resulting in the deaths of the mother, the baby, or both, he believes Dr. Clarkson is giving irresponsible advice. As critical minutes tick away, Lord Grantham asks Clarkson if he can guarantee that Sybil will survive the ordeal of a Caesarian. “There are no guarantees,” he replies, correctly. Not hearing what he wanted to hear, the worried father turns to Sir Phillip and asks how certain the blue-blood doc is that the operation is unnecessary. “Completely certain,” is the ridiculous reply.

Announcing that certainty is a better bet than equivocation, Lord Grantham decrees that Sybil will remain at the castle to have her child, which she promptly does. All seems to be well, too, with a healthy baby, a beaming mother, a relieved family, and a smugly gloating Sir Phillip. But then Sybil goes into the violent seizures characteristic of eclampsia, and it is too late to save her. She dies. Dr. Clarkson’s diagnosis was correct. The family is devastated; Sir Philip is stunned, Cora is furious at both him and her husband, and the Earl of Grantham is feeling guilty.

Got that?

Cora’s anger, the Earl’s guilt and the vindication of Dr. Clarkson are all the result of a bad-tasting recipe of hindsight bias and moral luck. Sybil might have not gone into convulsions. She might not have survived the Caesarian, in which case Dr. Clarkson would be the one looking incompetent, Sir Phillip would say “I told you so,” and Cora would be furious at a different doctor but the same decision-maker, her husband, who would still be sleeping in the guest room. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Health and Medicine, Professions

Robert Griffin III, Wally Pipp, and the Catch-22 of Lies

Dan Wetzel would have loved Wally Pipp

Dan Wetzel would have loved Wally Pipp

If you want to see the stark difference between the culture of baseball and the culture of football. look no further than Washington, D.C., where the city’s sports fans are in mourning for the second time in barely three months’ time. The surging Redskins just met play-off elimination, because their young star quarterback was injured but allowed to stay in the game. Back in October, the city’s new sports darlings, baseball’s Nationals, were eliminated in their first play-off round, in part, fans believe, because the team wouldn’t let its completely healthy young star pitcher play for fear that he would get injured.

This week everyone from my local sandwich shop proprietor to the driver of the cab I just got out of is furious  at Redskins coach Mike Shanahan for allowing the obviously hobbled Robert Griffin III to stay in the doomed game against the Seattle Seahawks when there was a competent back-up on the bench. And some, like Yahoo! sportswriter Dan Wetzel, are blaming Griffin, for “lying”:

“Robert Griffin III couldn’t do much of anything Sunday except lie, which is what he’s been trained to do in situations like this.
Lie to himself that he can still deliver like no backup could. Lie to his coach that this was nothing big. Lie to the doctors who tried to assess him in the swirl of a playoff sideline. So Robert Griffin III lied, which is to be excused because this is a sport that rewards toughness in the face of common sense, a culture that celebrates the warrior who is willing to leave everything on the field, a business that believes such lies are part of the road to greatness.” Continue reading


Filed under Character, History, Leadership, Sports