Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Angry Statistician and an Angry Neal Conan

I just heard an interview you can listen to on NPR's Talk of the Nation with New York Times sports writer Alan Schwarz about the finding that NBA refs are biased toward their own race in their distribution of fouls. You can jump to any random point in the interview and hear his exasperated appeals to trust the experts. He sounded like he was at the end of his rope because of the general basketball watching public's complete failure to comprehend the meaning of the findings. People, he said, refuse to believe the findings because they have not personally sensed a bias. Schwarz compared the study to a TV screen and the average NBA fan's exposure to a handful of pixels. If you asked someone looking at three pixels if they saw a sunrise on the screen, of course they'd say no. The only people who leapt to Schwarz's defense were people who claimed to see a strong overall bias among white refs against black players, which seemed to enrage Schwarz even more, as it too completely misses the point of the study, which is that these biases are both subconscious and extremely small, basically indetectable in a casual observance of the game. He reminded me of the old Mr Show sketch about the pre-taped call-in show

The funny thing is it wasn't the only weirdly angry thing on Talk of the Nation on May 3rd. The first segment was about the future of Turkey, and host Neal Conan seemed very frustrated with the callers. First a young woman rattled on a bit about her opinion and Conan asked the guest a question. The caller thought it was directed at her and went to respond. Conan said very angrily "I was trying to put that to Hugh Pope, our guest, excuse me if you would." Somewhat out of character for Conan. He brought the caller back to respond and then in the middle of her answer abruptly cut her off saying "we want to give other people a chance." The next caller did the same thing, trying to answer the guest's question and Conan cut him off, going "Go ahead, Hugh." I wonder if this has something to do with the type of calls he gets on Muslim issues (the last caller too droned on, trying to drag Palestine into the question until Conan cut him off) or if there was some other reason that the first segment of the show only was so peevish.

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