Six Ethics Lessons As Bill James Falls Into His Own Research Trap

Baseball philosopher, iconoclast and analyst Bill James is one of my heroes for his amazing ability to look past conventional wisdom with an open mind. Beginning as essentially a self-published pamphleteer writing out of his basement, James’ counter-traditional explorations of baseball statistics eventually changed how baseball was watched, assessed, scouted and played, simply on the strength of Bill’s  ideas and his facility in explaining them.

His talents could be used in many other fields–James has recently branched out into examining famous unsolved murders—but it is also true that many of the ideas he has developed in relation to baseball have wider applications. For example, James was the source of the concept of “signature significance,” which is a staple here at Ethics Alarms.

His writing also taught me that bias makes us stupid, and about the insidious power of rationalizations.  Many of James’s observations seemed intrinsically obvious once he made and explained them, and the fact that  baseball executives, writers and players could have been so wrong about their own game for so long seemed incomprehensible. But the reasons were what they always are, in all fields. People are biased toward what they have always believed —confirmation bias–and the “It’s always been this way” variation on the most powerful rationalization of them all, “Everybody does it”  breeds blindness and  intellectual laziness. Continue reading

Late Morning Warm-Up, 1/22/2020, Because I Wasted Two Hours Arguing With Trump Deranged Lawyers On Facebook, And Yes, I’m An Idiot

That’s me. The bee is Facebook…

Bah!

A really low blow (among the other low blows, like the jerk who accused me of getting all of my ideas from Drudge) came from a former commenter here, who accused Ethics Alarms of being an “echo chamber.” That truly ticks me off. If the Trump Deranged don’t have the wits or open minds to test their biases where intelligent, informed, articulate adversaries are likely to  respond, that’s not my fault, and it’s exactly what the left side of the blog’s commentariat did. They didn’t rebut the position here, proven correct, that the Justice Department’s handling of The FISA warrants were part of a dangerous effort to undermine the Trump campaign and his election: they just accused me of “drinking the KoolAid” and quit, or were insulting. They never tried to argue away the smoking gun evidence of the soft coup plans A through S that I have meticulously documents since 2016, they just act as if the current impeachment excuse is justified and offered in good faith, when it is so clearly not. It’s all denial, spin, dishonesty and mob mentality. I ended up in today’s piranha tank by pointing out to a lawyer that the the fact that Trump was intemperate at a meeting of generals was not sufficient to trigger the 25th Amendment, and that lawyers, like her, shouldn’t be misleading the public by making such lame arguments. I posted the amendment, and said that “Unable” to perform the duties of the office doesn’t mean, as she and others are arguing, “Unable to perform the duties that way she and other would prefer them to be performed” and stating that approval polls do not reflect the degree to which the impeachment charade is helping to re-elect Trump.

These are the smart Deranged. Imagine what the others are like.

1. Resistance porn. “A Very Stable Genius” is the latest “tales out of school” anti-Trump book. In this it is no different from those that have gone before, from Omarosa’s tell-all on up the ethics evolutionary scale. This one was authored by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, so naturally the news media is celebrating it as if it is somehow different. What it is a collection of mostly anonymous accounts of people who have axes to grind and scores to settle against Donald Trump, and are violating basic professional ethics to do it. Are all of the stories true? I’m sure some are, maybe most—they don’t sound out of line with what we knew about this President before he was elected. Yet they are by very nature distorted by the theme of the book and the presumed anti-Trump bias of the book’s audience. What is so alarming about Trump’s eagerness to have a meeting with Putin?  So what if he questions why U.S. businesses shouldn’t be allowed to engage in bribery abroad, when it is the accepted norm in many countries? There’s an answer to the question, but it’s not a dumb question; in fact, its one international ethicists still debate. And do you really think Trump saying to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi,  “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border” wasn’t a joke?  Taking it as otherwise is classic conformation bias and disrespect. It sure sounds like a typical Trump joke to me. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/10/2020: Clean Up On Aisle Ethics!

Good morning.

1. Poll report! In the “just what is Pete Buttigieg?” poll, “panderer” and my personal favorite, “asshole,” are running neck and neck:

The previous poll on fat-shaming isn’t close, with about 90% siding with fitness guru Jillian Michaels

The poll asking which idiotic statement about the U.S. blowing up the Iranian terror chief produced a landslide for Rep. Omar:

2. Baseball Hall of Fame Ethics. MLB’s sportswriters who made public their votes for the Hall of Fame (the results of the election will be announced Jan. 21) all voted for #1 steroid cheat Barry Bonds and almost certain cheat Roger Clemens. This depressing revelation reflects the fact that they are young, and also that they have the ethical analysis skills of marmots. Chris Haft, for example, wrote, “I initially refused to vote for Bonds or Clemens, but they are guilty for their alleged wrongdoings only in the court of public opinion. That’s not damning enough not to vote for a guy.” I don’t even know what he thinks that means. That there wasn’t a trial? Former Washington Post writer Richard Justice wrote, “I weigh the ethical questions of the so-called “Steroid Era” every year. My essential position has not changed. Unless a player has been suspended by MLB for PED use, I give him full consideration.” In other words, if he wasn’t caught he should continue to get away with it all the way into the Hall. There is absolutely no question that Bonds played the last half of his career so loaded with PED that they were coming out of his ears. This is like saying that you are convinced that O.J was innocent because he got away with it.

3. One “Arrgh! World War III!’ note...Stephen Kruiser, a conservative blogger, commented on the Democrats apparent disappointment that the President de-escalated after Iran’s symbolic attack on U.S. facilities, saying,

If you’re wondering whether I am implying that Democrats wouldn’t care if American troops were in harm’s way if it would help them defeat Trump in November, I am not. I’m saying it outright.

Then there was this telling piece in The Root, which was somehow posted with approval by an African American Facebook friend, proving State 4 Trump Derangement. The headline: The President of the United States Just Publicly Went Out Like a Bitch. And That’s Fine by Us.

Got that? If the President is bellicose, he’s a dangerous madman. If he is diplomatic and works to defuse the situation, he  (quoting here): “completely bitched out. In fact, before the president stepped to the podium, Managing Editor Genetta Adams called it, noting that the president ain’t about that life. “He’s going to pussy out like he did with [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi and the [government] shutdown. He’s really a chicken when someone punches back.”

It literally doesn’t matter what the President does to the Deranged. It must be wrong. Continue reading

Shrugging Off Cheating: It Is As I Feared…[Corrected]

Unfortunately, MAD is no longer around to protect our values…

My favorite Christmas gift this year, as it has been in recent years, is the new Bill James Baseball Handbook, which will be my primary bathroom reading for the next ten months. Oh, it’s not as much fun as the old Bill James Abstracts, but in those days, three decades ago, Bill was revealing then-unknown nuances of the game that spawned  the elaborate (and still developing) analytical tools that have changed how baseball is played, watched, and understood.

James typically writes a few long, Abstract-like articles for the Handbook, which has many contributors, and he is, as always, fascinated by the selection criteria for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. My gift is especially timely, because his observations in the Handbook dovetail nicely with the recent voting by sportswriters on the latest entering class, including Derk Jeter, naturally, and perhaps others. The results won’t be announced for a while.

Bill did research this past year to determine who the public wanted to see elected to the Hall among players who had not yet been deemed worthy ( meaning that they hadn’t been listed on at least 75% of the ballots cast, or are not yet eligible for various reasons, including players who are still active. The results, as he explored the gap between public opinion and past voting, were disturbing, if not exactly shocking. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/23/2019: Fame And Infamy

Good morning from Ft. Lauderdale!

This warm-up was supposed to be up yesterday, but our flight to Ft. Lauderdale was delayed for four hours, then after we were on the runway, a passenger had some kind of medical emergency, sending us back to the gate and causing more delay. We got to our hotel after midnight, and I wasn’t capable of putting up the post.  Not that I’m in that much better shape this morning…

1. Covington Catholic Students Ethics Train Wreck update.

  • I just listened to HLN’s shameless effort to change the subject and cover for the news media in the false narrative  pounded for more than a day regarding the students. Whether the chaperones were negligent of not is irrelevant to whether journalists and pundits were unprofessional and irresponsible in attacking the students., for example. Also infuriating is the “well, people have different reactions to the video” shrug. Yeah, bigots and race-baiters who have no concern for facts or fairness think it’s politically helpful to punish kids for wearing hats supporting a President they hate.
  • Then there is Sarah Beattie, a Saturday Night Live writer, who posted this:

Nice. Of course, an ethical network would discipline an employee who tried to incite an attack on a teen, and no, she may not have been serious, but this isn’t a joke.

These are bad people. Res Ipsa Loquitur. Continue reading

Rationalization Pop Quiz: What Do Barry Bonds And Elizabeth Warren Have In Common?

I wonder how many strategy sessions it took for the supporters and enablers of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) to come up with their latest defense of her ongoing lie that she is part Cherokee? We know it’s a lie now—a deliberate misrepresentation designed to deceive—because the Bay State crypto-socialist has refused the obvious resolution of taking a DNA ancestry test….again. You know she’s taken at least one, and maybe more. Being able to wave scientific proof that she had Native  American ancestors after all the “Fauxahontas” jibes would be a political bonanza for Warren, and solve her most daunting public relations problem outside of my home state, the Land of Michael Curley, where corruption, lies and letting young women drown don’t put a dent in your popularity or vote totals, for some reason. Sure, Warren took the test. She probably took another one just in case it was wrong….and she still doesn’t have the integrity or courage to admit her lie.

And that, now and forever, is why her Cherokee fantasy matters. It shows that Warren lies, and lacks integrity. It shows that she was willing to use a falsehood to gain traction in university employment competitions where gender, race and minority status often made all the difference….even if it meant that a real minority candidate failed because of her subterfuge.

Yet those strategy sessions yielded this defense on Warren’s behalf: according to an investigation by the Boston Globe, Warren’s fake Cherokee claim wasn’t a factor in her hiring by Harvard Law School:

The Globe examined hundreds of documents, many of them never before available, and reached out to all 52 of the law professors who are still living and were eligible to be in that Pound Hall room at Harvard Law School. Some are Warren’s allies. Others are not. Thirty-one agreed to talk to the Globe — including the law professor who was, at the time, in charge of recruiting minority faculty. Most said they were unaware of her claims to Native American heritage and all but one of the 31 said those claims were not discussed as part of her hire. One professor told the Globe he is unsure whether her heritage came up, but is certain that, if it did, it had no bearing on his vote on Warren’s appointment.

Perhaps the editors and journalists at the Globe never heard of moral luck, but I bet at least some of those law professors comprehend the concept. Whether or not Warren’s deliberate lie and misrepresentation of her ancestry actually was a factor in her hiring at Harvard was pure chance, and occurred after Warren had embraced a false identity. Once she did that, the consequences were out of her control. Her lie doesn’t become less unethical because it didn’t have any effect after the fact of it. A lot of people have trouble grasping this basic ethical concept, but it isn’t that hard. A person who drops a bowling ball from a bridge onto an express way is just as irresponsible and reckless if the ball misses every thing as he would be if the ball caused a ten car pile-up and the death of ten. He’s just as bad either way, and the rest is all luck. The same is true of Warren’s affirmative action-courting lie. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: The San Francisco Giants

To be fair, how was anyone to know that Barry Bonds was cheating?

We knew this was coming.

The San Francisco Giants will retire Barry Bonds’ number 25 in a ceremony before tomorrow’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bonds will become the 12th Giants player to have his number retired, following Bill Terry (3), Mell Ott (4), Carl Hubbell (11), Monte Irvin (20), Orlando Cepeda (30), Juan Marichal (27), Willie Mays (24), Willie McCovey (44) and Gaylord Perry (36). Christy Mathewson and John McGraw are regarded as having their numbers retired, but they played before uniforms had numbers.

None of the other eleven, before Bonds, cheated to reach the heights they achieved in the game, nor did any of the others corrupt the sport, its players, its statistics and records. The Giants knew Bonds was illicitly and illegally using steroids, of course, as did most Giants fans, but they were perfectly happy to enable his conduct and accept his lies because his drug-enhanced talent, which was already formidable, won games. It would have been, one theory goes, hypocritical for the Giants not to honor Bonds. After all, they were complicit and supportive as he amassed Hall of Fame numbers while using methods that disqualified him for the Hall of Fame, if not the San Francisco team.

The retired number, like Bonds’ entire selfish, corrosive, despicable career will now stand for the propositions that the ends justify the means, and the cheating works. That was what Barry was always counting on, and he pulled it off. Now a San Francisco institution is officially endorsing Bonds’ values.

Nice.

No wonder that city’s culture is so screwed up.

You can read the voluminous Ethics Alarms commentary on Bonds, who when I compile the long-promised list of Worst Ethics Corrupters will be a prominent member (right below Bill Clinton) , here.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/7/2018: Something In This Post Is Guaranteed To Send You Screaming Into The Streets

Good Morning!

1 Oh no! Not my permanent record! My wife gave a small contribution to Mitt  Romney’s campaign, and has been hounded by RNC robocalls and mailings ever since. GOP fundraising started getting really slimy under the indefensible Michael Steele’s leadership, and continued to use unethical methods after Steele went on to job at a bait shop or something. Last week my wife got an envelope in the mail with a block red DELINQUENCY NOTICE! printed on it. A lie, straight up: there was no delinquency, just a my wife’s decision that she would rather burn a C-note than give it to the fools and knaves running the Republican Party. She registered an official complaint with the RNC, and received this response from Dana Klein, NRCC Deputy Finance Director:

“My job as the Deputy Finance Director is to communicate with supporters to let them know the status of their NRCC Sustaining Membership. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. As of right now, you have a delinquency mark on your record for your failure to renew your membership. But, I have some good news. You can remove this delinquency mark if you renew by the FEC deadline on Wednesday.”

Both my wife and I were professional fundraisers for many years. This is deceptive and coercive fundraising, and anyone who voluntarily supports an organization that uses such tactics is a victim or an idiot.

Or, I suppose, a Republican.

2. Another one…This is another one of the statements that I am pledged to expose every time I read or hear it: a Maryland legislator, enthusing over the likelihood that a ballot initiative will result in legalizing pot in the state, ran off the usual invalid, disingenuous and foolish rationalizations for supporting measure. (Don’t worry, pot-lovers: I’m resigned to this happening, not just in Maryland, but nation wide. As with the state lotteries, our elected officials will trade the public health and welfare for easy revenue every time. Minorities and the poor will be the most hurt, and the brie and pot set couldn’t care less.) Only one of his familiar bad arguments triggered my mandatory response pledge: ” to legalize a drug that is less harmful than alcohol.”

This is the bottom of the rationalization barrel, “it’s not the worst thing.” Alcohol is a scourge of society, killing thousands upon thousands every year, ruining families and lives, wrecking businesses, costing the economy millions of dollars. Just yesterday there was a report that fetal alcohol syndrome was far more common that previously believed. There is no question, none, that U.S. society would be healthier and safer without this poison accepted in the culture: unfortunately, it was too deeply embedded before serious efforts were made to remove it. Now pot advocates want to inflict another damaging recreational drug on society, using the argument that it’s not as terrible as the ones we’re already stuck with. Stipulated: it’s not as harmful as alcohol. It’s not as harmful as Russian Roulette or eating Tidepods either. I have a bias against taking seriously advocates who use arguments like this; it means they re either liars, and know their logic is absurd, or idiots, and don’t.

3. Riddle me this: What do you get when you cross casting ethics, weak and lazy school administrators, political-correctness bullies-in-training with “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”?

Answer: a cancelled high school musical, and per se racism supported by the school.

New York’s Ithaca High School was beginning production of the Disney film-based musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” but made the unforgivable error, in the eyes of student activists,  of casting of a white student as a Romani heroine Esmeralda, played in the classic film by that gypsy wench, Maureen O’Hara, and in the Disney version by a Toon.  Several students quit the show in protest,  and formed an activist group to reverse the decision. It sent a letter calling the casting “cultural appropriation” and “whitewashing,” calling the student the “epitome of whiteness.” The letter admitted that she was also “a stellar actor, singer and dancer” that any stage would be “lucky to have,” but what is the talent, skill and competence required for a role compared to what really matters, her skin color? The students demanded that the school either choose a different show or recast Esmeralda a black and brown actress. Continue reading

I Know, I Know, But I Swore I Would Never Let A Bad Barry Bonds Defense Go Unanswered

There are a few reoccurring assertions that Ethics Alarms readers know I am duty bound to defenestrate, no matter how repetitious it is for them and me. The gender gap argument in salary is one; election night in 2016 spawned another, when hack historian Doug Brinkley falsely claimed that the same party seldom holds the White House for three straight terms. That Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct was “private personal conduct” unrelated to his professional trustworthiness was long on my list, though that one seems to be, finally, discredited. There are others involving gun control, marriage, illegal immigration and more; I should list them in one place some day.

None annoys me any more, however, than the rationalizations mounted to claim that steroid cheats belong in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

It happened again this week, as it will every time the Hall of Fame ballots are counted this time of year. On the MLB Channel on Sirius-XM, two alleged experts, analysts Casey Stern and former pitcher Brad Lidge each gave their list of ten former players who belonged in the Hall of Fame, and both listed Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as deserving. When Lidge went through his “reasoning”—I hate scare quotes, but here they are unavoidable—I wanted to leap through my car radio and throw him out his studio.

It wasn’t just the unethical opinion that infuriated me. It was the sheer ignorance and intellectual laziness of it. The man clearly has never practiced critical thinking in his life. Nobody taught him. Like the President, he literally doesn’t know what ethics are, and reasons by rationalizations and conventional wisdom, meaning that if enough dolts say something, it becomes a persuasive position to him. It is unethical—malpractice, negligence, incompetence—to argue like this when you are holding yourself up as an expert, and addressing the public through mass media. You are making the public more ignorant and stupid, and less able to think clearly, with every word. Stern, who is about five times smarter and more articulate than Lidge, used slightly less moronic arguments to defend Bonds, but only slightly.

So I’m sorry if you have heard this before, but I made a promise to myself, my readers, and baseball, which I love. Here are Lidge’s arguments to allow Bonds into the Hall of Fame, and why they are crap.

  • Bonds was on his way to a Hall of Fame career before he used steroids.

Yes, and that brilliant scientist was on the way to a Nobel prize before he falsified his data. This idiotic argument–maybe the worst of the worst—absurdly holds that if  something would have occurred if a disqualifying event hadn’t happened, the disqualifying event shouldn’t count. It also embodies the “he didn’t have to cheat, so his cheating was no big deal” fallacy. This would have excused Richard Nixon: after all, he won by a landslide anyway, so what difference does it make that he tried to illegally undermine the McGovern campaign? Ugh. It makes me crazy even writing about this one.

  • Bonds cheated during a period when cheating was rampant, so a lot of the player he surpassed weren’t disadvantaged.

Continue reading

Baseball Hall Of Fame Ethics Bulletin

The results of the voting for the Major league Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown are in. The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Braves third-base great  Chipper Jones, slugger Jim Thome , relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman and Montreal Expo legend Vladimir Guerrero, excellent ad deserving choices all.

Joe Morgan is happy tonight. The writers did not elect Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa or Gary Sheffield, steroid cheats all. Nor did any of them come particularly close to the 75% of ballots cast (a voter can select up to ten) necessary for enshrinement.

Good.