Humans are important too!

I really enjoy recreational reading, so I was pretty stoked when I found out this class had a book to read that was more for fun and less of a text book.  I’ve picked up Silver’s book at Barnes and Noble many times before, but could never bring myself to buy it.  It was always cataloged in the “math” section, so by definition could not be a light summer read (this is also why I still haven’t read Freakonomics…thank God Moneyball made its way into the “sports” section).  In fact, Moneyball was one of the final tipping points that pushed me back into the world of higher education.  It was while reading about how “statheads” were revolutionizing the way baseball teams were constructed that I realized I wanted to be as smart as those guys in SOMETHING, ANYTHING.  But, to do that I knew it would involve more school, so here I am.

Back to Silver, I felt extremely naive when he hit on the fact that local weather forecasters fudge the forecast on purpose for ratings; why would I blindly assume they were just innocently incorrect?  Of course, my dad had been telling me about this forecast fudging for years, but have we really stooped that low as a society? I guess so.  I now feel more compelled to do a little background research on where exactly I’m getting my weather.  However, without doing any research, other than through my own meandering experience, I advise anyone who has been burned by a marine forecast to add magicseaweed.com to their repertoire when making decisions on potential field days.  I know what you must be thinking when you read the name of the website (wait until you see the psychedelic colors they use on their charts).  And, in the interest of full disclosure I learned about magicseaweed from a bunch of surfers, at a beach bonfire, on the outer cape, but trust me, it’s worth it!

As much as we complain about the inaccuracies of weather prediction, it is comforting to know, when considering forecasts from the NWS, weather prediction has improved in the last 10-20 years; and we can put most of our thanks for that in increased computational power.  However, as a grad student who will someday be trying to build a career, our increased reliance on computers always makes me a little nervous.  Will computers do everything I can do, but better, cheaper, and around the clock, therefore rendering me useless?  Both Silver’s chapter about baseball and weather predicting talked me off that bridge a little bit.  Stats are very important in both areas, but he also goes on to remind us that people are still an important part of building a successful baseball team and predicting the weather.  People are valuable assets when it comes to making the final adjustments on a weather model for a specific area or finding the distinction between someone who might be a phenomenal ball player on paper but too much of a head case in the locker room to make him worth the money…if only the Patriots had realized this with Aaron Hernandez (since they CLAIM they did not).

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3 Responses to Humans are important too!

  1. joommen90 says:

    I find it funny when people get worried that computers are going to take over the world. I understand why people get afraid. The technological advances that a computer has gone through is amazing. However, a computer is only as useful as the person using it. Without the right commands a computer wouldn’t be anything more than a really fancy paper weight. Also a computer and I guess stats in general just tell one story. There’s just something missing from the story when you just have a bunch of statistics. This is at least the one flaw in the idea of moneyball IMO. In moneyball the main stats that are important tend to be OBP or on base percentage. Regardless if you are hitting the ball to get safe or taking a walk as long as you reach base that’s the most important thing. If you are building a team based on moneyball you wont as many high OBP guys as possible. So your players may not have high averages but if they take enough walks their OBP with an high average player can be comparable.
    Here is the problem, have players who have a high OBP is fine during the regular season when pitchers tend to throw significantly less strikes. This allows the hitter to take more pitches. That same approach doesn’t work in postseason baseball. Pitchers throw more strikes and if you are taking pitchers you’re quickly down 0-2. You need actual hitters in your lineup to hit good pitches and not wait for the pitcher to throw balls. That’s why the Oakland As , the first team to really embrace this idea of moneyball, has had a lot of regular season success but during the postseason have failed over and over again.
    Sorry for rambling on but my main point was that we shouldn’t worry that we as people would be obsolete by the technology we make. Rather we should strive to learn how to use our technology to its full potential.

  2. seanmccanty says:

    In regards to the “will computers take over everything we do” question, this video seemed to apply: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/08/15/humans_need_not_apply_watch_a_dark_video_on_automation_and_human_work.html

    I have a lot of problems with it oversimplifying things and really undervaluing the human component to a lot of jobs even when there are clear advantages to a machine (not to mention people’s phobias of high upfront costs for that kind of automation). Just some food for thought anyway.

    Weather predictions also drive me up the wall – nothing makes me more mad than a predicted rain day that I write off as unusable and then its nothing but great weather. I always try to check multiple places for their predictions but its still a pain.

  3. quynhq says:

    Thanks for stealing my blog post idea! Just kidding, this just goes to show what a great point this was that Silver made in his book. I have and always been weary of programs that are used for predictions of some sort. Sure, technology have improve tremendously and there certainly are things that we wouldn’t have been able to predict nearly as well if it weren’t for stats and computer, such as weather and stock prices. However, I wonder if the efforts in making such programs in forecasting things like who’s going to be the next all-star athlete, worthwhile, as I doubt that we could put things such as personality, work ethics, or health effectively into a stats equation.

    Taking in the human factor can be advantageous or not. However, what I think is important is that we should remember that a prediction is a prediction, and there’re (plenty of) room for error. Even if we are all trying to break the world down into numbers and things we can simulate to better understand it, more likely than not, we are missing a part of the equation we might not even be aware of. So let’s give our meteorologists a break and wear layers :).

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