How to Fix College Coaching?

Rutgers University fired Mike Rice – the head basketball coach – last Wednesday. This firing came about after ESPN released a video that showed Rice abusing his players. Such a video had already been seen by Rice’s boss at Rutgers in November, but until the video was shown to the public, Rutgers did not feel compelled to fire Rice.

Former NBA player Paul Shirley (author of Can I Keep My Jersey?) observed the following about the Rutgers case in a recent interview at HuffPost Live (around 13:30):

The thing that people don’t want to hear, but which is true, is that this is probably closer to the norm than not. 

Shirley goes on to note that he doesn’t think many coaches are actually hitting players. But he does note that coaches do tend to have a certain approach in conveying information to players (an approach Shirley describes in the interview).

Is this general approach to coaching effective?  To date, I am not aware of any study of the effectiveness of college coaching.  A study I co-authored with Mike Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Mike Mondello and published in the International Journal of Sport Finance (full PDF here) looked at 62 NBA coaches across thirty years of data. Across this sample, only 14 coaches were found to have a statistically significant and positive impact on player performance. So most NBA coaches do not appear to make their players more productive.

Daniel Kahneman Calls for Change

Nobel laureate and frequent Freakonomics visitor Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow)  has written an open letter to psychologists who work on social priming, calling for them "to restore the credibility of their field by creating a replication ring to check each others’ results." Here's an excerpt:

My reason for writing this letter is that I see a train wreck looming. I expect the first victims to be young people on the job market. Being associated with a controversial and suspicious field will put them at a severe disadvantage in the competition for positions. Because of the high visibility of the issue, you may already expect the coming crop of graduates to encounter problems. Another reason for writing is that I am old enough to remember two fields that went into a prolonged eclipse after similar outsider attacks on the replicability of findings: subliminal perception and dissonance reduction.

(HT: BPS Research Digest)

A Great Example of Bias Within Academia

It is amazing how good we are -- even the smartest, most rational people among us -- at not recognizing our own biases. (Danny Kahneman memorably calls this being "blind to our blindness.")

We recently put out a podcast called "The Truth Is Out There ... Isn't It?" about how people decide what to believe about everything from global warming and nuclear risk to UFO's. It was inspired by the research of Dan Kahan and his colleagues at the Cultural Cognition Project; they have found that we systematically filter our beliefs through our personal and political filters. In other words, we allow our biases to influence what we think about theoretically non-ideological issues, but we aren't aware of that influence.

What Makes a Rogue Trader Tick? A Q&A with FT Columnist John Gapper

The rogue trader is a recurring character in the story of finance over the last 20 years. This is the guy who makes secret, unauthorized bets with his bank's money, driven by some seeming combination of inadequacy and a huge appetite for risk, and abetted at times by an amazing lack of internal controls.

The deeper he goes, the harder he has to work to conceal his deception until one day, it inevitably comes crashing down. The bank loses billions, the trader (sometimes) goes to jail. The story is repeated every several years. The latest version broke in September when UBS announced it had lost more than $2 billion as a result of rogue trader Kweku Adoboli.

In his new e-book, How to Be a Rogue Trader, Financial Times columnist John Gapper explains why this story has become so familiar over the years. As he puts it, the rogue trader is a species of sorts within the world of finance, a special breed with certain behaviors and characteristics that are consistent through time. Gapper delves into evolutionary biology and the research of Daniel Kahneman to better understand the nature of men like Nick Leeson, Joe Jett, and Jerome Kerviel.

Daniel Kahneman Answers Your Questions

Two weeks ago, we solicited your questions for Princeton psychology professor and Nobel laureate  Daniel Kahneman, whose new book is called Thinking, Fast and Slow. You responded by asking 45 questions. Kahneman has answered 22 of them in one of the more in-depth and wide-ranging Q&A's we've run recently. It's a great read. As always, thanks for your questions, and thanks to Daniel Kahneman for taking the time to answer so many of them.

Q. Now that we understand reason as being largely unconscious, motivated by emotion, embodied and constituted by many biases and heuristics, where do you see the future of cognitive science going? Are we at the beginning stages of a paradigm shift? -McNerney

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate and Author of Thinking, Fast and Slow Takes Your Questions

One of the first times I met Danny Kahneman was over dinner, just after SuperFreakonomics was published. Shortly after we were introduced, Danny said, “I enjoyed your new book. It will change the future of the world.” I beamed with pride at this compliment. Danny, however, was not done speaking. “It will change the future of the world. And not for the better.” While I’m sure many people would agree with his last sentence, he was the only person who ever said it to my face!

If you don’t know the name, Danny Kahneman is the non-economist who has had the greatest influence on economics of any non-economist who ever lived. A psychologist, he’s the only non-economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that he is among the 50 most influential economic thinkers of all time, and among the ten most influential living economic thinkers.

It's No Major Major Major Major, But …

... this was still a puzzling sign to behold. It's on Lenox Ave. (a.k.a. Malcolm X Blvd.), in the southern end of Harlem:

Did your mind get stuck for a minute when it read those words, or did it quickly skip ahead and fill in a blank? (Danny Kahneman writes nicely about this phenomenon in Thinking, Fast and Slow.)

Once you walk a few steps further south, the sign becomes complete.

The Liberation of Use-Them-Or-Lose-Them Frequent Flyer Miles

This year, Daniel Kahneman has me wondering about what is the best way to organize my vacation time. In this great TED talk – The Riddle of Experience versus Memory, he talks about the tradeoffs we must make in increasing our moment-to-moment experience of happiness versus increasing our memories of happiness.

If you want to maximize your memories of happiness, you should spend more time taking pictures of your vacation and jam more events into each day. If you want to maximize your moment-to-moment experience of happiness, you spend less time recording your experience and more time experiencing them directly.

Blind to Our Own Blindness: Wisdom from Danny Kahneman

I recently had the chance to read an advance copy of an outstanding book by Daniel Kahneman entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow. The book will be published this fall.

Among the hundreds of interesting ideas in the book, there is one that I simply can’t get out of my head. Referring to how our minds work, Kahneman writes that not only are we sometimes “blind to the obvious,” but also we are “blind to our blindness.” For me, that one sentence summarizes a fundamental insight of his life’s work.

It’s one of those simple insights which is obvious when you think about it, but somehow incredibly easy to forget when mesmerized by the happenings of everyday life, leading to poor decision making.

Coming up with a good name for a problem is often an important part of coming up with a solution. So I’m thankful to Kahneman for planting the phrase “blind to my own blindness” in my brain. The next time I’m about to mindlessly make a terrible choice, I’m hoping that phrase will forcefully interject itself into my internal dialogue, causing me to think more clearly about my decision.

More likely, it will only be after the fact that I become aware that I was blind to my own blindness in a particular setting. At least I’ll have a succinct way of beating myself up.

Radio in Progress: One Upside of Aging

We're working on a Freakonomics Radio episode about pain. One component is the very interesting research by Daniel Kahneman and Donald Redelmeier about how colonoscopy patients remember the pain of the procedure, and how that memory can be manipulated (to dim the memory of the pain) so that patients aren't reluctant to return for their next colonoscopy.