Philosophy In Strange Places

Until you know you don’t know, you know.


I had a couple of other titles in mind for today’s post, but I’ll refrain from writing them. What is the topic of the post where these gems were offered?


“Beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.” – Philip Tetlock

“Discovering you were wrong is an update, not a failure, and your worldview is a living document meant to be revised.” – Julia Galef

“Subjective confidence in a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that this judgment is correct. Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.” – Daniel Kahneman

“However, [Seth] Klarman correctly observes that it is insufficient to be a contrarian because sometimes the consensus is right.” – Michael Mauboussin


All of these words of wisdom are from Jenga Blocks of Belief: Diverging and Updating, a post by Mark Jarvis about scouting college football players. The focus of the post is one evaluator’s (Emory Hunt of CBS Sports) very strong opinion that a player selected at the end of the first round in the 2023 NFL Draft, 31st overall, was only the 38th best player at his position.

If you’re not a football fan then much of the piece will not be interesting to you. I tweeted Mark yesterday to convey that I thought this was one of the best pieces I had ever read, and not just about football or football scouting.

The quoted remarks above summarize my world view very well. No one has a monopoly on truth, wisdom or good judgment and no behavior by rote is an optimal path forward. Also, to quote Huxley, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” In addition, don’t forget John Maynard Keynes’ famous remark, “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”

We live in a world where people don’t understand that loud and wrong is still wrong and that having an avenue to express dogmatic views without empirical evidence doesn’t mean those views are valid and worth consideration. We are ALL flawed and blind adherence to any ideology, to any way of thinking is usually a recipe for disaster.


The first sentence of this Why Evolution Is True post reads, “You can’t make this stuff up.” The post title? “Does apple cultivation reflect bigotry?” Like Jerry Coyne wrote, you can’t make this stuff up.


In my second season as a full-time employee for the Baltimore Orioles, the team nearly won its division despite having the worst record in baseball the season before. The pitching “ace” of that team, who shall remain nameless, posted a Win-Loss record of 18 and 8. He also had a respectable 3.43 Earned Run Average (ERA).

A couple of days after the season ended I wrote a memo to the team President/CEO, General Manager, Assistant General Manager and Field Manager that we should trade this pitcher before the next season started. I wrote that even if it appeared that we would trade him for fifty cents on the dollar we would, in fact, be trading him for fifty cents on the dime. I also wrote, “He will never, never, never, never have another season like that.”

I was ridiculed, told “You can’t trade a left-handed pitcher who won 18 games.” In his next two seasons, his last with the Orioles, this pitcher compiled a Win-Loss record of 8 and 23 and had an ERA of 5.25. At one point, in one of the only times the General Manager expressed such a sentiment, he told me that I had been right about this pitcher. The occasion was this player electing free agency instead of agreeing to be “demoted” from the major league roster.

OK, how did I know this pitcher was a one-year wonder? First, he had received the best run support of any starting pitcher in the major leagues in his “good” season. In fewer than about 50 decisions, a starting pitcher’s record is as much a function of how many runs his team scores for him as it is of his pitching performance.

Second, his statistics were not consistent with a 3.43 ERA. I had developed ERA proxies that predicted future ERA more accurately than actual ERA and his strongly indicated a high degree of luck in his ERA.

Third and most important, this “ace” had only 62 strikeouts in 215 innings in his “big” season. He had never been a strikeout pitcher. I think the most important finding of the early era of modern baseball analysis was that the single best predictor of a pitcher’s future was his strikeout rate.

Let me quickly add that I have never claimed, and will never claim, I was always right about evaluating players or about anything else. This is an example, though, of the power of facts over “accepted wisdom” and standards of practice. I have also been told that this blog will be more interesting if I include more stories from my life.


As always, I welcome thoughtful comments.







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7 thoughts on “Philosophy In Strange Places

  1. ” blind adherence to any ideology, to any way of thinking is usually a recipe for disaster.”

    Except when it comes to horsepower. 🙂

    I always refer to Mark Donohue’s opinion;

    “When you can leave black strips from the exit of one corner to the entrance of the next corner, THEN you have enough horsepower. ” (paraphrased)

    If more is better, too much is just enough.


    1. DDM, to quote Carroll Shelby, “There is never too much horsepower, just not enough traction.”
      To quote an old, hot rod adage: There is no replacement for displacement.
      To quote me: “If you have a lot of go, make sure you have the whoa.”
      Need I continue…….?

      Which is why, the anemic disk brakes on the project truck’s Dakota IFS were replaced by the bigger Dodge D-150 disk rotors with Wilwood D52 dual piston calipers so there was enough whoa for the 435 hp 427 Windsor crate motor.


  2. Some quotations from my file are appropriate here.

    “No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot.” – Mark Twain
    “One of the most cowardly things ordinary people do is to shut their eyes to facts.” – C. S. Lewis
    “Learn from the mistakes of others, you can never live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Groucho Marx

    I learned in engineering school that you cannot solve a problem unless you know what are the facts. So you list them out. Then you will be able to ask the question: What is problem I am trying to solve? Do I have enough of the facts to solve the problem? Learning to ask the right questions is just as important as knowing the facts.


  3. Bravo to Philip!

    Great quotes by Huxley and Keynes. The best place where “Loud and wrong” and “Blind adherence to an ideology” apply is now known as “Follow the science!”, the current definition being “Follow the science that *I* approve of, and any facts/data that show otherwise are to be ignored, misrepresented, and/or ridiculed”.

    Anybody who has been awake for the past 15 years knows the number one application of “Follow the Science!” (in its current meaning) is the topic on “Global Cooling”, I mean “Global Warming”, I mean “Climate Crisis”, or is it “Climate Change”? I have news for the “Man Made Climate Change” Jihad: The Earth’s climate has been changing on its own for 3.5 billion years (see note below). To now say “the actions of humans” cause “major climate change” and “We (meaning the government) must act NOW (NOW!!!!)” to “Save the Planet” requires hubris and intransigency and closed-mindedness on a global (pun intended) scale.

    Please note that I am NOT in favor of polluting the planet. I am glad that the ecology movement of the 60’s and 70’s did A LOT to mitigate pollution. But today’s “Follow the science!” adherents who REFUSE to even listen to scientific analysis that produces the “Wrong” conclusion, peer-reviewed studies that show the “Wrong” result, and factual climate data that show the “Wrong” trend are NOT interested in science.

    Also, using the results of a “climate simulation” as part of “Follow The Science!” is garbage – ANY simulation can be tweaked to produce a desired result. And declaring a “Climate emergency” because “Last year was the warmest in 90 years” or “The ice sheet (at some given location) is the smallest in 100 years” is alarmist and misleading. Why? Not only has the weather instrumentation evolved (are temperature readings from 1923 instruments as reliable as those made with 2023 technology?), but a 90 or a 100 or even a 250 year window is MINISCULE on the scale of “major” climate events – which require tens of thousands of years. Think about ice ages. Think about volcanic extinction events.

    Ignoring and showing disdain to the science that does not agree with the “correct” pre-determined conclusion shows an interest in something other in science. In this case the interest is in giving the all-knowing, all-powerful government more power to control more of everybody’s lives. Such as forcing people to purchase the “correct” type of vehicle. Such as forcing everybody to rely on “renewable green energy” as their ONLY source of energy despite the numerous examples of it being unreliable, economically unsound, and reliant on tearing apart the planet’s “delicate landscape” to get the materials required. Such as forcing farmers to stop using the “Wrong” fertilizer (which helps create enough food to feed the population). Such as forcing people to stop eating meat because bovine flatulence is a “climate crisis”. The most insidious claim by government “experts” is that “in order to mitigate climate change, the world MUST switch their economies to an all-digital CENTRALLY CONTROLLED digital currency”. Does that sound like “Follow the Science”?

    If I may slightly modify Huxley: “(Those inconvenient) Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”.

    Note: (that’s when the oceans formed, and the Earth’s magnetic field was established, which kept the Earth’s atmosphere from being stripped away).


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