At fellow Sweet Spot blog It Is About the Money, Stupid, Hippeaux has a post up critiquing the Sabermetric statistic Wins Above Replacement and its widespread use (or, in his estimation, misuse). Naturally, this spurred a lot of debate on the Internet. Among many others, Rob Neyer and Tom Tango have rebutted the IIATMS article.
I don’t want to rehash the debate as most of it has been said before. However, I read a comment on the Baseball Think Factory thread that I’d like to share, as I thought it was quite good, written by the user named “PreBeaneAsFan”.
I think this is a problem that I see a lot not just in relatively unimportant venues like sports, but also in more important arenas (popular discussions of science, economics, etc.) People correctly point out that we don’t have precise answers and that our best quantifications have error bars that are [larger] than the number of decimal places reported. That’s a valuable insight and worth discussing, but then people take it a step further and use that as an excuse to remain completely agnostic on things. By denigrating the best efforts of others to quantify difficult questions and insisting that “I don’t need all that fancy stuff, just give me the basics and I’ll take my own guess since no one knows” they give themselves a feeling of smugness and superiority to those bookish nerds vainly searching for answers they can’t pin down, but they also throw away valuable information that the effort to quantify those things tells us and in most cases behave as though the uncertainty is much greater than it actually is.