The pre-determined outcome and other logical fallaciesOctober 25, 2013, by
There is no denying it, the Rangers are a difficult team to watch right now. While the defensive ineptitude has been mitigated for the most part as players learn their new roles in AV’s system, the offense has continued to be putrid. We can point to various injuries plaguing the top-6, the inexperience of the kids we expect to step in and soften the blow of those injuries, or the glut of semi-useful bottom-6 guys that are having expectations ramped up to levels that their abilities can’t back up.
We talk about depth quite a bit around here. It seems that since the season started, and more importantly, the losing started, the definition seems to have gotten lost. When we refer to depth, we talk about the ability to either 1) plug holes in the lineup in the case of injury, or 2) have multiple players that can play different roles in different situations, allowing the rest of the personnel to be deployed optimally. No team can absorb the type of high-end losses the Rangers have and expect the depth to cover. Imagine if Boston lost Lucic, Marchand and Bergeron all at once? While maybe not fatal, it would be an uncomfortable time in Beantown.
As New Yorkers, we feel a comfortable attachment to knee-jerk reactions and placing immediate blame for circumstances that disappoint us. We have countless sports radio talking heads, muck-raking beat writers and multiple boroughs full of people who like to shoot their mouth off around the water-cooler about their favorite teams. They conveniently disregard things such as sample-sizes, available resources, advanced statistics and other useful analytical tools to appropriately determine what has gone wrong in a given situation. It’s much easier to assign blame to an overly-simplistic and often erroneous source, or to simply play armchair GM.
When examining these claims (or blames, in this case) there are a multitude of logical fallacies that are employed to create the impression of a well-reasoned argument. One of the most common is known as the fallacy of the pre-determined outcome. Basically, this line of thinking implies that if you make one major change to a scenario, that all other variables remain constant and you can predict the outcome accurately. For example, if someone was to claim that the Rangers current malaise wouldn’t have happened under continued leadership from John Tortorella, it makes the assumption that all of the underlying events that lead us to this point would have happened exactly the same way, with the exception of the result.
In reality, however, if Torts had remained on board, the situation would likely look nothing like what we are looking at now for a myriad of different reasons. For example, Torts might not have had Nash on the ice when the Brad Stuart hit took place. It leaves an infinite number of possibilities that would have changed the entire course of events leading up to last night’s game. The universe would have taken a completely different road to get here, and we have no idea what these collateral factors would look like.
Another common fallacy seen in the sports context is the fallacy of the non-testable hypothesis. This fallacy relies upon the assertion that something you can’t prove to be false must be true. Alternatively, you will also commonly see this type of assertion used to back up a claim that cannot be adequately tested or is completely untestable. This usually rears its ugly head in the Glen Sather context. Claims that Sather has no plan, or that he is a terrible GM for assembling the team this way, or my personal favorite “Sather wrecked the chemistry of the team”, utilize this fallacy.
It’s not that folks who do this don’t have a valid reason for feeling the way they do, or that there is no truth in the assertion. It is simply a cheap way to make your point, and leaves you seemingly impervious to valid counterpoints because the objectivity of the argument has been completely lost.
I apologize for the pedagogical mini-rant, but its when these fallacies are utilized that arguments tend to devolve from intelligent and thoughtful, to vitriolic and meaningless. Considering the massive gulf between the expectations for the 2013-2014 New York Rangers and their actual on-ice performance, I think its important to be able to identify and neutralize these caustic tactics that add nothing to our collective knowledge about the game we love and the team we support. Without that, we are nothing more than Flyers fans.