Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cognition Day At The Spew: Making War on The War On Mythology

Speaking of cognition, how about those concussions?  I was surprised (although I should not have been) when I was in a bookstore while in the US last week.  On the same book display as the PBS documentary-related book on concussions were books entitled "The War on Football."  The book apparently argues that there are folks attacking football with lousy science--that the concussion problem is over-stated and under-scienced.

Given this morning's theme of confirmation bias, I pretty much refused to take seriously this argument.  I did keep up with the concussion story for quite some time (mostly the Alan Schwartz pieces in the NYT) with many Spews about it.  So, I was definitely motivated to be biased against a book that fought back against the semi-new consensus that concussions in football (and other sports) is a serious, serious problem.

My second gut reaction was to dismiss the book because I hate, hate, hate, the phrase "The War on ...."  If you want me to dismiss or ignore something, just put that in the title.  There is no War on Christmas, for instance, despite the best efforts of some folks to argue otherwise.  Perhaps I am biased since "the War on" seems to be more of a right-wing kind of thing.  Indeed, hitting the link to this author's site indicates that author, Daniel Flynn, writes right-wing books with troll-baiting titles like Why the Left Hates America.  So, now I am really disposed against taking this argument seriously.  The Deadspin coverage is pretty fair, I think, to Flynn's argument.  In the end, it is skeptical about the moral wonderful-ness of football, which seems to be a key to Flynn's perspective.

Anyhow, is there a war on football?  What would a war on football look like?  I do believe there is now more serious criticism of football and the dangers it presents to those who play it.  Is this a "war"?  This gets to the heart of the matter--calling science that raises questions and suggests reforms as a war may be good rhetoric for mobilizing the defenders but really is just a call for more ignorance. 

Yes, I get it that this may be what Flynn is trying to do--mobilize the defenders--but a "War on Football" is just deceptive and ultimately silly.  Revealing that concussions produced by ordinary football, especially practices, is not a war but the product of science and journalism.  A war is when people shoot guns in an organized manner.  Or at least use coercion.  Thus far, I have not seen much coercion in the football concussion effort--just folks seeking to understand whether there is causation that goes with correlation and whether the correlations hold up. 

Until someone really uses coercion in this or in any other area where there is a supposed W"ar On", my cognitive biases are going to direct my eyes and buy book buying dollars elsewhere.


Mrs. Spew said...

They base it on the coercion part. They are being coerced into not being allowed full Christmas celebrations (i.e. government doesn't do Christmas displays and events,) and businesses coercing people to stop talking about Christmas by making it all holidays in greetings, etc.)

Likewise, the War on Women and the War on Workers, on the left, are about coercion in laws and court cases. When you actively go to hurt a group (or are perceived as doing so,) and do so through legal and social means, they see that as a war. It's used a lot to simply mean social change, as well as real, concerted efforts.

So the War on Football means that people trying to get attention for players, especially high school players, and improve safety issues is seen as a coercion attempt to eliminate and change football. This is dumb. When they switched from leather helmets to plastic padding ones that cut down on severe injuries and concussions, I'm sure there was also screaming. Any attempt to further protect players is regarded as an attempt to undermine the game.

Eventually football will be played by robots and there will be cries that attempts to stop illegal rigging of the robots is a War on Football.

Steve Saideman said...

Thanks for making my points--that is, if you call much of this stuff coercive, then it is meaningless. So government does not do Christmas, how does that coerce anyone to not celebrate Christmas? Nobody is really making Walmart or Chickfila do Hanukah or Kwanzaa. The market might provide incentives but that is hardly coercive.

The war on women is a bit different than the Right wing wars precisely because it is trying to get the state to limit the freedom of individuals.

The war on football is just ridiculous--as if concussions are consequence-less. Anyhow, I think we are arguing past each other, which is probably the less concussion causing why couples can argue.