Why is it that India abounds with people who turn their collective backs to data, statistics, logic and facts while embarking on single-minded bashing of the greatest modern cricketer? Arunabha Sengupta poses these questions to Dr. Suprakash Roy, cognitive psychologist and researcher in Leiden Medisch Centrum who provides a scientific basis for all the hideous mutilation of facts.
(Links to the earlier two parts can be found right below Part Three)
“So, you mean to say there is no hidden agenda. This is a human failing?”
The cognitive psychologist looked skywards and thought for a while before replying.
“I would not say that. This is the primary reason, but there are other external influences as well.
“First of all, we will deal with the Indian press, especially the vernacular. Is there a limit to how much they can stoop to bring an icon like Tendulkar down? They repeat every failure over and over again, in numerous sensation-pandering television channels with the same intention of providing crude media masala. Repetition does lead to more and more acceptance of fables as facts. It is called, with minor variations, misinformation effect, mere exposure effect and validity effect. One can see the study of such effects in the works of Arkes, Hackett and Boehm in 1989, Schwartz in 1982.
“Validity effect occurs when mere repetition of information affects the perceived truthfulness of the information. It takes on the form of recognition memory and is probably an automated process. Hence, people are very difficult to convince even when they face data, since they believe what they remember. However, memory is nothing but a largely reconstructed structure based on current knowledge, beliefs and goals. The effect occurs for true and false facts equally. Advertising and propaganda are excellent examples. And what was done in the press from 1997 or thereabouts to tamper with Sachin’s image is nothing short of propaganda. Natural in a country where zonal bias tries creating own regional gods by pulling down legitimate greats. Also speaks volumes for a culture where Match ka Mujrim is so popular. You do recall that in the late ‘90s, a battalion of regional dailies went all out to tarnish Sachin’s reputation to place local gods on a pedestal.”
“I do, indeed. I recall a line, even while keeping the Little Master of Bandra in mind we have to say that the No 1 batsman in current world cricket is ... And in 2005, when one demigod was sure of the axe, they reported that how could Sachin stay in the team even after his embarrassing dismissal? You know, I met one of these gentlemen who wrote such nonsense. At the Oval.”
“Did you throw him from the stands?”
“No I took a picture of him, actually. Unlike his writings, he looks a decent fellow.”
“Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, if the same failure in the face of crisis is discussed over and over again by the media, picked up by the discussion forums of thousands of websites, recall becomes so much biased. That is the availability heuristic. Apart from creating the representation fallacy of identifying only Sachin’s failures as crisis, as I explained some moments back, one also recalls the same press articles over and over again and these are more prone to immediate recall than the other fabulous innings played in similar situations.
“I will give you an example of how immediate recall messes up actual statistics. In a well- known experiment, participants were asked to deduce which is more – the number of words beginning with a letter, say ‘k’, or the number of words that have ‘k’ as the third letter. For k and also other letters, almost unanimously – or an overwhelmingly statistically significant part of the participants – concluded that the number of words beginning with the letter was more. However, the actual truth is the opposite. If you think about it, it is much easier to recall words beginning with k than words that have k in the third place. This is the availability heuristic, so prominent in the case of Sachin. It reinforces the representativeness bias.
“If you are wondering how Brian Lara gets the mantle of a great crisis player who wins matches in the fourth innings on the basis of one 153 he made against Australia, the answer is the same. Repetition-induced availability. That particular innings has been talked about so often, it is an immediate recall. How many Indian fans have followed the career of Lara as you have done?
“And then there are the little things of belief and confirmation bias. This is a tendency to endorse arguments whose conclusions you believe, regardless of whether they are valid or not. Evans, Barston and Pollard published a well-known study in 1983. The confirmation bias – people searching their memory to conclude a hypothesis they want to prove.”
I laughed now.
“All these studies will come to nothing. Belief heuristics are so strong, they will not even listen to argument, however scientific. Nothing will get through.”
“Right. Most often these people will casually ignore the statistical arguments, data or numbers. They will bank on words and tangential arguments.”
I jumped up, excited.
“Exactly. Tangential arguments, little or very erroneous statistics. Even from statistics post-graduates from reputed institutions.”
The doctor laughed. “Believe me, even experienced clinical physicians fall for heuristics and fallacies when making diagnosis. Causal criticism is so much easier, and all the hard work on statistics and truth can be bypassed by spurious remarks.”
“Yes, they draw weird parallels, with politicians, with poverty line.... anything but actual data based arguments. And sometimes smoothly evade statistical work saying suavely, I leave it as an exercise...”
“Ah ... statistical hard work is beyond one’s ability disguised as beneath one’s dignity. But, don’t be surprised at supposed intelligent people falling for cognitive illusions. And don’t succumb to the illusion yourself that all the graduates of a particular university are smart. Without pen, paper, calculators, excel sheets, cognitive bias is very difficult to overcome. Only one percent will make the effort. So, don’t beat your head against the wall.”
“But, when asked for statistical arguments, they take the discussion elsewhere – attacking Sachin because he chickened out of captaincy, bringing metaphysical arguments about it not being correct to call him god, Googling Cardus comments about statistics to come across as erudite ...”
The Argumentative Narcissist
“Stay right there, Senantix. Let me put my finger on what is going on here. I am sensing this took place as a series of exchanges on the web. If I know you correctly, you are not very averse from using your skill with words to paint your adversaries in poor light in an open forum. First of all the barrage of numbers are too much for lazy critics. Secondly, I am sure you have used ill-disguised intolerance, contempt and generally degraded them in your posts. Well, human beings, especially narcissistic ones, are not very welcoming to that sort of treatment. So, when everything else fails, blatant criticism is bound to take place where truth and facts go out of the window. As the author of The Best Seller you are the last person who should be a stranger to this phenomenon. You have described it so well in the book.
“If someone else – say, a regional icon – had given up captaincy to concentrate on his batting, the consensus would have been that the great man was giving up personal glory because India needed him as a batsman. In Sachin’s case, he chickens out. If Lara scores 600 runs in three Tests all of which West Indies lose to Sri Lanka, he is a great batsman making runs against odds, as he indeed was. But when Sachin does that, the consensus is that if he scores India loses. Who can argue with irrationality?"
“Well, laughable as it sounds, one such guy also said that India wins in spite of Sachin.”
“Look, Senantix, if suspect pens are used to wage a war of words, one can expect some inane graffiti to hide the writing on the wall. However, if one capable of such a rampantly ridiculous statement, does he merit a discussion?
Revel in Sachin
“There are a lot of people who say Tagore could not write, Ray could not make films. Why care about such tweets?
“Want to gauge how great Sachin is?
“Look at the records and find out which other Indian has played a pivotal role in 61 victories.
“Look at the team-mates and the way they look up to him.
“Look at the opponents and their reaction once he is out – and even more once his catch goes down.
“Look at the real connoisseurs of the game.
“I have a patient who used to play first-class cricket in the ‘80s. He works for a professional management group. On some evenings, a lot of ex-cricketers get together over a few drinks and lambast everyone in the Indian cricket team. There is one exception. No one speaks against Sachin Tendulkar.
“Look at Don Bradman and whom he invited for his birthday.
“And enjoy his mastery for the few more days that he continues to play.
“Forget idiots and egocentrics. Let them fight on against the mountains of runs, the century of centuries and the barrage of wins.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but cleanses the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two. His author site is at http://www.senantix.com and his cricket blogs at http:/senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com)