Ryan Braun and Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias:

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias, myside bias or verification bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

Confirmation bias is probably more prevalent among baseball fans than any other logical fallacy. We’ve all gone to a game and sat near the guy who booed when the manager brought in a mediocre reliever to try and preserve a lead, then watched the reliever implode and the loud angry fan tell everyone that “he knew” that guy was going to give up those runs. In reality, he didn’t actually know what was going to happen – since he’s really just a loud angry fan and not a fortune telling wizard – but the fact that events aligned to match his preconceived expectations led to a reinforced belief in his own prior opinion.

Since the news came out about Ryan Braun’s overturned suspension, the internet seems to be full of loud angry fans. People who “know” that Ryan Braun used steroids and got off on a technicality. People who “know” that he’s a dirty cheat. They “know” a lot of things, because Ryan Braun hits home runs, and Ryan Braun failed one drug test, and people who hit home runs and fail drug tests are cheating muscle-head juicers.

This is the unfortunate power of confirmation bias. As humans, we often take incomplete bits of information and force them into a predetermined world view because they reinforce our current belief system, and we’re wired to want to be right about things. So, despite the fact that we’re often handed pieces of information that should fall far short of being the basis for a strong opinion, we take that information as evidence that the thing we already believed to be true is indeed true, and we fortify our opinions to the point where our conclusions far outstrip what actual evidence we have.

I’m not here to exonerate Ryan Braun or declare that he’s definitely clean. I have no idea if he used steroids or not, just like I have no idea if Roy Halladay has used steroids or whether Dee Gordon has used steroids. I’m just not in any position to have any kind of opinion on what they have or haven’t done. The limited information that has gotten out to the public doesn’t give us any kind of real basis for drawing conclusions. In reality, the only thing we can ascertain from the information we have is that Bruan may or may not have used, and there’s no real way for us to actually know.

There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, and given the actual evidence that the public possesses, it’s the only fair thing we can say. We don’t know that Braun used or didn’t use. We don’t know much about the situation, honestly. Instead of letting the small amount of information we do have reinforce our currently held opinions about home run hitters and steroid use, let’s acknowledge that confirmation bias is a powerful force and avoid the temptation to make sweeping conclusions when the information we actually have doesn’t support that kind of strong position.

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Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

I’m sorry can you expand a bit more on the confirmation bias here. In general you don’t see this when biological evidence was used (Ryan Braun’s sample). Really I guess what I am asking is what is being confirmed? The subjective views of whether he is guilty (which confirmation bias does apply to). Or the fact that a biologic sample has the highest testosterone levels recorded. The latter assertion would not apply to your nice writeup. The former assertion does however. The term is quite popular, and does get misused quite often.

Ray
Guest
Ray

The only reason you seem so sure that the test result wasn’t tainted is because you don’t want the test result to be tainted because you have a preconceived notion that it must be valid. See what you’re falling into here? What you want to know simply can’t be known and it is unhealthy to keep trying.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Eh, I’m not so sure if I agree with this. The problem is more of a cognitive bias used in behavioral economics. When you have a biological sample, confirmation would not apply. Unless the sample itself was doctored on purpose.

redsoxu571
Guest
redsoxu571

Actually, I’m pretty sure the result wasn’t tainted because it’s been made very clear that the samples (that’s plural) were sealed and the seals weren’t broken. Chain of custody wasn’t explicitly followed as outlined by MLB, but it wasn’t broken as explicitly outlined either…keeping the sample in a refrigerator was a bit of a grey area that forced the arbitrator to side with acquittal.

I have no preference towards guilt or innocence with Braun…my preference is for the truth. I want to know if he did use banned substances, and I want to know if he didn’t…that’s the only confirmation bias I have. And right now, the evidence points very clearly to acquittal-by-technicality without anything to actually exonerate Braun.

He didn’t have to use a technicality in order to fight the suspension…he had the option to question the test results themselves, rather than the chain of custody. The fact that he and his lawyers chose to fight based only on technicality strongly suggests that that was the only basis for acquittal, and therefore the evidence, as it currently stands, points to him being guilty in the spirit but not in the letter of the law. If he is willing to make some kind of effort to show innocence, I would be more than happy to reevaluate the situation.

Yirmiyahu
Member

On one hand, we have Ryan Braun’s word that he didn’t take PED’s. On the other hand, we have the word of an anonymous courier that he didn’t contaminate or mishandle the sample over the weekend.

Some people are going to believe the latter over the former, for whatever reason. But it hardly seems like enough evidence to ruin a guy’s career.

And, redsoxu571, you don’t know whether Braun’s lawyers argued for acquittal based only on chain of evidence. And even if they did, that’s a tactical decision based on the fact that it was the easiest path the winning.

Larry Yocum
Guest
Larry Yocum

@Redsoxu571: But that is part of the problem, how do we know what evidence Braun’s team presented? The arbitrator threw out the case based on the technicality, but it might have also been the reports that the sample tested so high that swayed the decision. Maybe if the results were within previous normal high tests, the chain of custody would not have been enough for this decision. We just don’t know what Braun’s team presented or if the technicality was the sole reason for aquittal. There were lots of problems with this case from the start. The fact the proper chain of custody wasn’t followed may have been the easiest way out for the arbitrator when there were plenty of other issues with the case. We just don’t know.

redsoxu571
Guest
redsoxu571

Considering how clearly competent Braun’s defense team was (it is very impressive that they found this loophole in the first place), don’t you think they considered the public ramifications of this type of defense?
I find it extremely hard to believe that they would pass on a course of defense that would actually exonerate Braun, and I find it equally hard to believe that he actually employed such a defense and we somehow haven’t heard about it (while hearing virtually all other details about the case).
I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, but the successful appeal does NOT force the rest of us to pretend Braun’s sample never existed. Insisting upon 100% innocence until absolute proven guilt is the head-in-the-sand mindset that got us in this mess in the first place…

E-Dub
Guest
E-Dub

“I find it extremely hard to believe that they would pass on a course of defense that would actually exonerate Braun”

Well, since this is real life rather than a courtroom drama, I don’t find it hard to believe at all. Exoneration is secondary to winning the appeal and ensuring Braun is not suspended. The battle over “innocence” is best fought in the court of public opinion, which is exactly what we’ve seen with the dueling press comments from Braun and MLB.

bstar
Member
bstar

Yirmiyahu, we do know now at least part of what Braun’s defense team argued, from the Will Carroll interview. He asserts that the Braun defense team was able to take a normal urine sample, subject it to the same treatment that Braun’s sample was handled, and were able to produce a false positive test. Carroll also implies that the fact that MLB refused Braun’s request to DNA test whether or not that was his urine may have played a factor in the arbitrator;s decision.

The biggest thing for me is that Braun passed a lie detector test. I know they are not 100% reliable, but neither is a drug test. Some estimates have the false positive rate of MLB’s testing at 10%. Wouldn’t the fact that he would have to be repeatedly lying through his teeth somehow show up on a lie detector test? Is he some trained CIA agent or terrorist who knows how to pass these tests? Of course not. So I believe Braun. Innocent until proven guilty, right? What the hell happened to that?

jcxy
Guest
jcxy

I kind of agree with this. I don’t see this as a confirmation bias thing because, among other reasons, I don’t see the prevalence of deeply held belief that Ryan Braun cheated on the internets or otherwise where people have some invested stake in the outcome.

I see the reaction to this as more of the very human reaction to someone “getting away with it”. Which, given the positive test and circumstances surrounding the dismissal, should be seen as a completely tenable position.

As for your point about knowing vs not knowing. That’s completely fair. As Mr Pink reminds us…”I can say I definitely didn’t do it because I know what I did or didn’t do. But I cannot definitely say that about anybody else, ’cause I don’t definitely know.”

Brian
Guest
Brian

I don’t think your last two paragraphs work together. If you believe that it is okay to not know something. How can you also agree that it is a tenable position to believe he got away with it based on almost zero evidence.

All we know is that he tested positive. Denied using. Fought. And won. We know nothing more than that.

Dave’s post is actually explaining how uninformed and untenable it is to say “he got away with it”. It can in no way be inferred from the facts of the situation in my opinion.

I keep going back to this explanation. If you were arrested for a murder you didn’t commit, but had no alibi, how would you choose to defend yourself?

Would you use the fact that the arresting officers failed to Mirandize you to get off on a “technicality”?

Or would you steadfastly fight to prove your innocence?

I think we all know the answer. Getting off a technicality in no way equals guilt.

michael
Guest
michael

There are many reasons most people believe that scientific outcomes are rigorous and unambiguous, and necessarily reproducible in every instance. Without getting into why many are mistaken, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether it’s a urinalysis for anabolic steroids or screening for a tumor, there is some degree of uncertainty in every test, even if everything is handled and performed optimally. Something as simple as pissing on a stick for pregnancy comes with two samples per purchase, for good reason.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensitivity_and_specificity
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostate_cancer_screening#Controversy

michael
Guest
michael

There are many reasons most people believe that scientific outcomes are rigorous and unambiguous, and necessarily reproducible in every instance. Without getting into why many are mistaken, this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether it’s a urinalysis for anabolic steroids or screening for a tumor, there is some degree of uncertainty in every test, even if everything is handled and performed optimally. Something as simple as pissing on a stick for pregnancy comes with two samples per purchase, for good reason.

jcxy
Guest
jcxy

I don’t agree at all that those paragraphs don’t complement one another.

It’s important to remember that we really don’t *know* anything. For people shouting that they “know” stuff–when, really, they’re just conjecturing, Mr. Pink should be an important reminder. However, it’s also important to note that’s an impossible standard at times for many people, and they’re not wrong either.

Take, for instance, if you were on a jury for a murder trial. I wouldn’t literally need to see the physical act committed to feel comfortable rendering a decision on someone’s guilt or non-guiltiness.

I suspect a portion of people would disagree, on principle, with that approach. Does that make one of us right or wrong? I don’t think so.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

If I were exonerated on a murder charge, Brian, I’d care much more about what the court says than what people on message boards say. I might be upset at the unfairness of it, but honestly, they’re entitled to their opinions, and don’t really affect me. Ryan Braun might end up meeting confrotational fans or hear hateful messages, since he’s a public figure, but as a professional athlete, he was likely already hearing it from rival fans anyway.

In the end, Brian, since it doesn’t matter what we say, you might as well allow people to have their own opinions, instead of telling them what they don’t know.

jcxy
Guest
jcxy

@michael

we’ve known for a number of years that PSA results don’t mean what we hope they mean. we also “know” that the costs associated with certain breast cancer screenings for a certain demographic are unnecessary, but also potentially harmful/deadly/costly.

that we continue to use them says more about our country’s unwillingness to accept most any “rationing” in health care more than our willingness to blindly accept the results of “scientific” tests.

Steve Balboni
Member
Member

Wouldn’t the fact that its the highest level ever recorded make you suspicious that it can’t be right? Like when Bonds hit 73 HRs? That the mishandling of the sample tainted it and made it into something never seen before?

Maybe I’m falling into distinction bias – the tendency to view two options as more dissimilar when evaluating them simultaneously than when evaluating them separately.

Or maybe you’ve fallen into negativity bias– the tendency to pay more attention and give more weight to negative than positive experiences or other kinds of information.

Maybe, because he’s on my roto team, I’m suffering from the endowment effect– tendency to overvalue what you have and undervalue what you don’t.

Or, you’ve fallen for the clustering illusion – the tendency to see patterns where actually none exist- which has caused your irrational escalation – the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.

We might’ve mutually found a bias blind spot – the tendency to think we don’t have these biases and to get all defensive about it.

The point is, throwing pointy-headed scientistic labels at people you disagree with helps you conceive of them as mentally defective instead of merely disagreeable.

Richie
Member
Richie

++++++++++++++++

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

I’m sorry can you clarify this entire post. I’m not really sure what you are saying at all. Your throwing out a bunch of terms that at least in the literature (a) don’t tend to be grouped together, and (b) don’t tend to be applied in the setting that your describing. I just want to make sure I fully comprehend your argument before commenting on it.

In fact are you even disagreeing with me or the original poster?

Shane
Guest
Shane

BALBONI; WOW. I never woulda guessed you had such a strong knowledge base on scientific procedure when you swattin dingbats and flailin at air back in the 80’s. All Joking aside yor comment raises a good point. I don’t think we should use intelect to just push this issue away

Baltar
Guest
Baltar

Since the test result is the only evidence we have and the test is regarded as scientifically valid, I will go with that as my conclusion. After all, I’m not on a jury sending Braun to prison.
As to the claim that the sample may have been tainted, I fail to see any rational argument for it. If it was tainted, it was either intentional or accidental. If intentional, who would do it and why? If accidental, how did some testosterone sneak into a sealed tube?
Yes, I do “know” that Braun took testosterone, though “know” is not an absolute, but rather a sliding scale.

glenstein
Guest
glenstein

I’m embarrassed for this community that Steve Balboni’s anti-intellectual comments pass for legitimate commentary.

Unless you’re gung-ho about venturing into cognitive science denialism (and why would anyone be?), you need to accept that we have a vocabulary with legitimate explanatory purchase on human irrationality. Denying that is beneath serious discussion, and suggesting it’s bad to have the capacity for recognizing real-world instances of the same is ridiculous.

The only thing that’s left is whether confirmation bias– a real thing –can correctly describe some of the reactions to Ryan Braun’s test and subsequent appeal. This seems to me to be definitely true- if you want me to go ahead and bring out the tweets, blog posts, and comments from reddit, sbnation and fangraphs in support of this point I can do it. But chances are you’ve read dozens of them yourself. Which means… drumroll…. Dave Cameron is right.

Now I don’t mean to pick on Mr Balboni (the real one?) but I strongly object to this kind of “look-how-ironic-I’m-being” behavior on the internat in general. He saw Dave Cameron use a sciency-word and waved around more sciency-words in response, as if to reveal to us that the whole exercise of attempting to analyze it was futile. This is the helpless, anti-intellectual attitude people have had in response to statistics that SABR has been working to overturn for so long. But analysis is not futile, sometimes it’s even right, whether we’re dealing with baseball stats or cognitive biases.

It’s a touchy subject, but as we’ve seen with Josh Hamilton and now Ryan Braun, a disturbingly large number of fans judge life events of players in extremely unfair ways. If I had it my way baseball fans would be talking MORE about congitive biases, not less.

glenstein
Guest
glenstein

@Shane

It’s not exactly “such a strong knowledge base on scientific procedure” it’s copy-pasting from the wiki page on cognitive biases. Nothing at all wrong with that, but it is what it is.

Steve Balboni
Member
Member

@glenstein

When a person lumps their disputants into a mental defectiveness category, they are not arguing the facts of the matter they are trying to set the matter beyond argument.

There are many facts being reported on the Braun case that people can build arguments around, which is a fun and possibly good thing. There are lots of jargony insults that can be thrown around, which is a dull waste of time.

And yes, I’m happy to report that I needed Wikipedia to educate me on jargon pointlessly invented by today’s cognitive navel-gazers for concepts noshed over by Greeks millennia ago.

(I’m definitely not the real Steve Balboni, I just comment with his lumbering, swing and miss style).

glenstein
Guest
glenstein

@Steve your description of confirmation bias as a “mental defectiveness category” is simply point-blank false and must be dismissed. All people have cognitive biases. They can correctly describe behavior and they do correctly describe a lot of reaction to the Ryan Braun events.

Trying to act as if the entire vocabulary of cognitive psychology is either wrong or out of bounds because it sounds too sciency, is anti-intellectual and frankly just embarrassing.

Frank
Guest
Frank

In this case confirmation bias applies to fans talking on the internet with all the “facts” they “know.” For example, everyone knows that Braun got off because the arbiter decided the MLB didn’t follow protocol strictly enough and so his positive result is invalidated even though the mishandling wouldn’t affect the result. Except they don’t know that. They don’t know the arbiter, why he made his decision, or have access to any first hand facts of what happened with the sample.

They also “know” that Braun failed his PED test and was shown conclusively to have synthetic testosterone in his system. Except they don’t know that. They know the collected sample of urine was reported by the MLB to have improper ratios of hormones and that a secondary test on the sample was reported to show synthetic testosterone was present. Except they don’t know if the urine that came out of Ryan Braun that day actually had irregularities in the hormone levels, they were not involved in the testing, nor did they perform any oversight to ensure no mistakes were made.

They also “know” that there is no way the test could have given false results because some scientists or executives who work for drug testing companies have claimed this is the case. Except they don’t know that there is no way for the results to end up invalid or for testing results to be mixed up or to simply be mishandled in ways that causes the compounds being tested for to metabolize and create false positives or false negatives.

The confirmation bias here is causing people who should be intelligent enough to recognize they are not aware of enough facts in this case to make an intelligent judgement, to ignore this and make an uneducated judgement anyway. To say that Ryan Braun used PEDs knowingly or unknowingly based off the evidence released publicly to this point is exactly as incorrect logically as saying he’s definitely innocent of using PEDs because the sample collector couldn’t be bothered to stop at one of the several FedEx locations in his immediate area in a timely fashion after getting the sample.

Cidron
Member
Cidron

Technically speaking, we only know his SAMPLE came back positive. Not that HE tested positive. His sample, and the irregularities surrounding its custody, are what is under scrutiny here. Did the sample metabolize, undergo alteration, undergo tampering, have components decay, etc during its weekend stay at someone’s house in “the basement” (fridge?, countertop? shelf? desktop? floor?). It is supposed to be FedEx’d immediately. Overnight would be my guess. Why? Not just to “get it there fast” for the sake of fast.. But, to get it there before it degrades.

Did he get off on a technicality? Maybe, maybe not. OR, it was among the few allowable defenses, as the process specifically does not allow questioning the TESTING processes validity as a defense.