THIS is Hindsight Bias, So You’ll Know a Jerk When You Hear One

I haven’t watched a Red Sox game for over a month now; more on that soon. I do check on the game results however, and observed with interest that Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, currently being dressed for the guillotine by New England sportswriters who want him punished for a miserable season in which his own work has been outstanding, is being criticized today in a textbook example of hindsight bias at work. I am flagging it for any of you who might want to explain the phenomenon to the next jerk who criticizes you for a reasonable choice you made not knowing how it would turn out, based on the jerk’s knowledge of how it in fact did turn out.

My least favorite personal run-in with hindsight bias was the time I lost a poker hand—and a lot of money– in Vegas despite having four of a kind in a game of seven card stud. The old man sitting next to me looking pathetic also had four of a kind, and in a higher denomination, the odds of two four of a kind hands appearing in the same deal in a non-wild card game being approximately six-gazillion to one. Naturally, I was betting the limit until the old man called my hand—he said later that he felt sorry for me. When he revealed that he had my four sevens beat with his four %$#@%$*& tens, it caused a genuine uproar in the casino, and the dealer said that he had never seen the like in eight years on the job.

“You should have known he had you beat,” said the ass sitting on my right. That’s hindsight bias. And so is this.

The Red Sox were locked  in a scoreless game yesterday against the Blue Jays entering the 7th inning. Since all the Red Sox players who could hit are either injured, out for the year or were traded away when the team decided to pronounce 2012 a total loss, scoring runs has become a chore. The team is also looking at young players, among them a shortstop named Iglesias who has a magic glove but a hole in his bat. With two outs in the inning, Pedro Ciriaco, now playing third base in place of the injured Will Middlebrooks, singled. Iglesias, who is not hitting his weight, came to bat, and had worked the count to 2-and-2  when Ciriaco stole second. In an unconventional tactic, Valentine lifted Iglesias for pinch-hitter Daniel Nava, who is beyond any question more likely to get a hit than Iglesias. He quickly made an out anyway.

In the bottom of that inning the Jays scored, and that was the ballgame. Later, reporters grilled Valentine on the move. Isn’t it humiliating to a young player to lift him mid-at bat?  (Answer: There was a chance to score a run and take the lead late in the game.) What are the chances that Nava could get a hit with only one strike left? (Answer: Better than Iglesias’s chances.) Why didn’t the manager just pinch-hit for Iglesias immediately? (Answer: In a 0-0 game his glove could be a deciding factor, but when the situation changed and only one single might win the game, the manager took the step that had the best chance of making that single happen.) The real problem with Valentine’s move is that it didn’t happen to work. If Nava had hit a double off the Wall and the Sox had gone on to win, nobody would have dared question Valentine’s move. Genius!

Hindsight bias is the close relative of consequentialism, in which the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined after the fact, based on the results. Consequentialism, in turn, leads to extreme utilitarianism, better known as “the ends justify the means.”

Hindsight bias is unfair, not to mention infuriating (I “should have known…” Grrrrr!) . The way to analyze the wisdom of a decision is to look at what the conditions were when it was made. Was the chance of scoring a run in that situation improved by Valentine’s pinch-hitting move? Beyond any question, it was.

End of argument.

Shut up.



Graphic: Bob Report


6 thoughts on “THIS is Hindsight Bias, So You’ll Know a Jerk When You Hear One

  1. Thanks for making the point, it is infuriating. At least with baseball a decent number of fans/sportswriters understand that it’s a game of statistics. In football the standard coaching move is to take the lower probability, but more conventional, play and let the players get the criticism for the loss.

  2. Regarding consequentialism, a prime example to me has always been the assertion that since we did not find any nukes in Iraq, Bush had to have been lying about Iraq having WMDs. Sometimes, your best information turns out to be wrong, but you are seldom issued any guarantees in life.

    In baseball there are certain standard moves that managers make that are dictated by percentages — most people accept that they only work, ummm, a percentage of the time. But then there are unconventional moves, such as Valentine’s, that are based on the same sort of percentages. I think more people judge that sort of move on the specific result obtained, even though the reasoning and logic is pretty much the same.

    Either way, you make the best decision you case, based on the information available to you at the time.

    • The WMD’s are the best example of hindsight bias I know of in recent years. If you start a war, you better be 100% sure, and you are accountable for being wrong. But the accusations that “Bush lied” because no WMD’s were found is the worst sort of hindsight bias. He must have known there were none, because we learned after the fact that there were none. Absurd and unfair.

      • Bush lied because his intelligence did not suggest there were WMDs. No hindsight bias needed.

        On an unrelated note, many casinos now have bad beat jackpots. It’s often better to lose with your quads than to win with them.

        • To be blunt, that’s revisionist bullshit. The intelligence as well as common sense did more than suggest it. Every intelligence agency among Western countries believed it, and it STILL might be true. Saddam admitted that he intentionally helped reinforce suspicions that there were WMD’s. There was no rational reason to attack Iraq, not fidn the WMD’s and be embarrassed. That’s a ridiculous position, and it is not backed up by objective sources.

          On that other note, the dealer was kind enough to tell me that at the time: “Too bad this didn’t happen in Tahoe: you would have won $10,000!!” Thanks a bunch.

          • The intelligence as well as common sense did more than suggest it.

            False on two counts. First, common sense didn’t say anything about Saddam Hussein having WMDs. Second, the intelligence that suggested WMDs mostly came from 1 already discredited source. The conclusions did not match the evidence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.