Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game is Michael Lewis's thoughtful 2003 exploration of why the Oakland Athletics have done so well in spite of spending less money on players than almost any other team in major league baseball. It's a highly readable book (I must thank my nephew Luke and brother Keith for recommending it to me recently) but it suffers from a severe shortage of equations. Nevertheless, Moneyball includes many words of great wisdom.

... from Chapter Two ("How to Find a Ballplayer") on the practical value of rational behavior:

Paul DePodesta wanted to look at stats because the stats offered him new ways of understanding amateur players. He had graduated from college with distinction in economics, but his interest, discouraged by the Harvard economics department, had been on the uneasy border between psychology and economics. He was fascinated by irrationality, and the opportunities it created in human affairs for anyone who resisted it. He was just the sort of person who might have made an easy fortune in finance, but the market for baseball players, in Paul's view, was far more interesting than anything Wall Street offered. There was, for starters, the tendency of everyone who actually played the game to generalize wildly from his own experience. People always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn't. There was also a tendency to be overly influenced by a guy's most recent performance: what he did last was not necessarily what he would do next. Thirdly --- but not lastly --- there was the bias toward what people saw with their own eyes, or thought they had seen. The human mind played tricks on itself when it relied exclusively on what it saw, and every trick it played was a financial opportunity for someone who saw through the illusion to the reality. There was a lot you couldn't see when you watched a baseball game.

... from Chapter Five ("The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special") on the cost of prejudice:

... The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.

... from Chapter Seven ("Giambi's Hole") on the importance of objectivity in understanding evidence:

... I'm watching the whole game, and responding the way an ordinary fan responds. I'm looking for story lines and dramatic events and other fuel for my emotions. They're watching fragments --- not the game itself but derivatives of the game --- and responding, so far as I can tell, not at all. Finally, I say something about it.

"It's looking at process rather than outcomes," Paul says. "Too many people make decisions based on outcomes rather than process."

(see also ScienceVersusStampCollecting (20 Jun 2000), NoFinalAnswers (11 Mar 2002), FactsFromFigures (17 Mar 2002), BasementWorries (15 Jun 2002), LeonardKoppett (23 Jul 2003), ModernPhrenology (19 Oct 2003), BadArithmetic (24 Feb 2004), ... )

TopicLiterature - TopicRecreation - TopicScience - 2004-06-07

(correlates: ThroughObscurity, CorrelationCausalityAndAstrology, Randy Pausch, ...)