Baseball, Bayes, Fisher and the problem of the well-trained mind

One of the neat things about the people in the baseball research community is how willing many of them are to continually question the status quo. Maybe it’s because sabermetrics is itself a relatively new field, and so there’s a humility there. Assumptions always, always need to be questioned.

Case in point: a great post by Ken Arneson entitled “10 things I believe about baseball without evidence.” He uses the latest failure of the Oakland A’s in the recent MLB playoffs to highlight areas of baseball we still don’t understand, and for which we may not even be asking the right questions. Why, for example, haven’t the A’s advanced to the World Series for decades despite fielding good and often great teams? Yes there’s luck and randomness, but at some point the weight of the evidence encourages you to take a second look. Otherwise, you become as dogmatic as those who still point to RBIs as the measure of the quality of a baseball batter. Which they are not.

One of the thought-provoking things Arneson brings up is the question of whether the tools we use shape the way we study phenomena–really, the way we think–and therefore unconsciously limit the kinds of questions we choose to ask. His example is the use of SQL in creating queries and the inherent assumptions of that datatype that objects within a SQL database are individual events with no precedence or dependence upon others. And yet, as he points out, the act of hitting a baseball is an ongoing dialog between pitcher and batter. Prior events, we believe, have a strong influence on the outcome. Arneson draws an analogy to linguistic relativity, the hypothesis that the language a person speaks influences aspects of her cognition.

So let me examine this concept in the context of another area of inquiry–biological research–and ask whether something similar might be affecting (and limiting) the kinds of experiments we do and the questions we ask.

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Some collected thoughts on the challenges of Principal Investigators as managers

All opinions my own or of non-Novo Nordisk colleagues, and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

A few months ago, Uschi Symmons on her blog posted an essay (see link below) on why Principal Investigators (PIs) at academic institutions are sometimes less than optimal as bosses. That reminded me quite a bit of conversations I’ve had over the years with colleagues in research, and spurred me to send out a link to Uschi’s post to them. My colleagues have graciously allowed me to collect our email conversation into this post, where we further explore and discuss the question.

Me:  Nice blog post showing that 20 years on, things haven’t really changed…

Colleague Zero: I think a lot of them (PIs) have Asperger’s syndrome, and are very high functioning autistics. Seriously. Think about it.  Continue reading