HOF selection and bicycle helmets
Whenever someone makes an argument, it's usually based on a reference to some broad principle.
We should not discriminate against blacks, because -- broad principle -- all men are equal in rights and dignity. We need to provide medical care for the poor because -- broad principle -- we should not let anyone die because of lack of money. We should not put people in jail for burning the flag because -- broad principle -- freedom of speech must not be abridged.
We need those principles because, otherwise, we don't have a real debate. I say, "we should not put people in jail for burning the flag because I say so," and you say, "we *should* put people in jail for burning the flag, because *I* say so." That's not a rational argument.
But, if you use a principle for justification, you have to stick to it. Some people, who don't believe in gay marriage, will say, "gay marriage shouldn't be allowed because marriage is designed only to recognize relationships with the potential for procreation." But those same people don't think that sterile people should be prohibited from getting married, or women over menopausal age. And so, they look like hypocritical idiots -- stating a principle, but having no intention of abiding by it.
(And they should look like idiots to you even if you also oppose gay marriage ... a bad argument is a bad argument. However, people seem to have a tendency to defend people who share their views -- who are "on their side" -- even if they're saying dumb things. This is regrettable, but not within the scope of this post.)
The point is, if someone invokes a principle, they should be held to it. Otherwise, people will invoke a principle when it suits them, and pretend it doesn't exist when it doesn't suit them. One of the most beautiful things about the US Bill of Rights is that it just states broad principles, and then the courts make sure that government lives by them. If we say we believe in freedom of speech, and then Congress passes a law that violates the principle, the courts say, "You can't do that. You're contradicting yourself. If you really want your new law, amend your principle first."
Recently, Tom Tango and Joe Posnanski applied this argument to Baseball Hall of Fame voting. They use the word "framework" instead of "principle," which I like, because it sounds less political and less confrontational.
To those who want Jack Morris in the Hall, they say, "well, by most reasonable frameworks, it appears that Rick Reuschel is more qualified than Jack Morris. Do you also want Reuschel in the Hall? If not, tell us what your framework is, that puts Morris in and keeps Reuschel out. And, be prepared to live by that principle once you declare it."
Seems reasonable, right? But, geez, the commenters didn't get it. One commenter put together a framework, with lists of players. Then, Tango pointed out that it ranked Pedro Martinez too low -- and the commenter got mad!
Another commenter said things are too complicated for a "facile" framework. So? Come up with a less "facile" one. If things are too complicated for that commenter, that's fine -- but that doesn't mean he's allowed to dismiss the idea that you can just proceed arbitrarily. Because, you *have* to have some kind of principle. It's like saying, "you know, it's impossible to codify free speech principle perfectly -- you've got shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, how do you work that in? -- so let's just forget about free speech as a framework."
That won't do. If it's too complicated, do the best you can, but that's not an excuse for *eliminating* principles. Otherwise, as I said, you can't have a debate at all.
Other commentators came forth with frameworks, some of which indeed put Morris ahead of Reuschel, but didn't bother checking their framework to see if they were really willing to live with the results. Again, that misses the point. As Tango says, paraphrasing Bill James,
"The exercise here is to force you to be consistent and end the idea of starting with your opinion and then trying to justify it. That is, you should start with the evidence, and let that lead you to the conclusion, and not the other way around."
I find it amazing that people don't get that.
So, I don't think anyone has answered the question yet. I look forward to seeing some attempts. The requirement, for answering the question honestly, is:
(a) state your framework
(b) show all the players in the HOF by your framework
(c) show all the players *not* in the HOF by your framework
Of course, no framework is perfect. It's perfectly OK to say, "well, there are certain exceptions that I would invoke, but I haven't figured out how the principle by which I believe that, yet." If you have, say, five or six exceptions, then, great. If you have fifty, there's something wrong with your framework. So, maybe add (d)
(d) explain where you and the framework disagree, and why you haven't changed the framework to make them agree.
That's what answering the question really entails.
I don't have a framework for the HOF question, personally ... the one I agree with the most, so far, is the Bill James HOF standards test. It doesn't try to say who SHOULD be in the Hall, but, rather, who IS in the Hall. Still, it's a pretty good framework, which, I guess, it has to be, since the reporters who do the voting are generally aligned with the fans, and so the "should" corresponds pretty well to the "is".
But if you can do better, show us.
The HOF situation isn't the best example of failure to think things through, for a couple of reasons. First, any actual HOF framework is going to be complicated, with so many measures of performance out there. Second, even the fairest-minded HOF analyzers among us probably can't perfectly articulate what we're doing. And, third, the failure to defer to the framework is obvious to the sabermetric community, since we've been dealing with the issue and the Keltner- and Morris-advocates for a long time.
So, let me give you a real life issue.
I live in Ottawa. We have a lot of nice recreational bike paths here, that actually go to decent places, like Parliament Hill. I ride them without a helmet. Some of my friends are OK with that. Some of my friends are horrified. Some are concerned. Some think I'm nuts. Some think there should be a law forcing me to wear a helmet.
Are you one of those who thinks I should wear a helmet, or even that there should be a law forcing me to?
If you are, I don't agree with you. But, try to convince me, by telling me your framework for protective-gear-wearing.
Just like a HOF framework should explain why Jack Morris should be in and Rick Reuschel should be out, your helmet framework should be able to explain:
1. Why cyclists should wear helmets, but not drivers or pedestrians
2. Why cyclists should wear helmets, but not elbow pads or knee pads or stomach pads or body armor
3. Why recreational ball players don't necessarily need protective gear in the outfield
4. And so on.
Don't answer those questions directly: just state a principle (or set of principles) that you're willing to live by -- such that if I point out that your principle requires you to wear a bulletproof vest while jogging, you'd say either, "yeah, my principle is wrong," or "you're right, I should go buy a bulletproof vest."
This should be a lot easier than the HOF one. It doesn't have to be perfect. You can change your principle if need be: it's hard to get things right the first time. Just do the best you can.
Personally, I do not believe that the public's advocacy for bicycle helmets is principles-based or framework-based at all. Here's what I think, just so you see where I'm coming from:
I think a bit part of the reason (many) people advocate bicycle helmets is the "availability bias" -- it's easy to imagine horrific bicycle accidents that bash in the rider's head. I think another part of the reason is that it's socially acceptable to wear helmets, but you get made fun of for wearing helmets for other activities that are just as risky. I think people underestimate the diversity of human preferences, and think that if *they* don't mind wearing a helmet, other people shouldn't mind either, unless they're stupid. I think people advocate helmets to show they're thoughtful people and not the kind of dumb rubes that don't know enough to keep their heads protected. I think people who advocate helmets don't mind them for themselves, and therefore don't mind imposing them on other people, because it doesn't cost them anything. And, I think people just have a strong intuitive feeling that helmets are appropriate for cyclists and not for drivers, and they don't question that feeling. I think people are just trying to Jack Morris me into wearing a helmet.
You don't have to agree with me on those, and I don't want to debate you on those. I'm just telling you what I think, so you understand my issue better, and why you're going to need a framework to convince me.
Also, here's one framework I reject, that I saw on some blog a while ago: that protection should be required when it doesn't change the nature of the activity. I'm going from memory here, but ... the idea is, that if you put on a helmet, it doesn't change the activity of cycling too much, so it should be required. But, putting on a bulletproof vest DOES change the activity too much, so not required.
I reject that for these reasons, among others: (a) certain cyclists DO think it changes the activity, and that's why we don't want to wear a helmet. You'd have to say, "if Joe Blow doesn't think it changes the activity," which is obviously arbitrary. (b) wearing a helmet when driving would seem to be on the same order of magnitude in terms of changing the activity. So, you need to add something to exempt drivers, if you believe they should be exempted. (c) does wearing a condom change the nature of the activity? I think it's roughly the same principle as a helmet, so you'd have to force that on people, too.
So: what's your framework for helmet wear? Remember: I'm not looking for an argument to tell me why I should wear a helmet. I'm looking for a framework to tell me -- and you, and everyone -- about activities and protective gear, in general.