Malcolm Gladwell Again

Posted on November 21, 2006 by


Readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s blog will have noted, with some disappointment, that Gladwell has not posted a new entry since September 29. Today he is back with a post entitled NBA Metrics Continued… . In this post Gladwell comments on the review of John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating offered in this forum.

One of the early responses to Gladwell’s post caught my attention. “Trying to find a scientific measure of basketball abilities is like searching for holy grail to me.And the most important thing is,what’s the point of chasing it?People watch bastetball games to have fun and if they think some guys rock,so be it.Why try to tease out rules out of everything?”

On one level, I agree. As I noted at the end of my comment on PERs, we are simply debating how people perform in a game derived from “Duck on a Rock.” And when you put it that way, the whole discussion seems kind of silly. I would note, though, that the worker productivity data generated in sports does allow economists and other social scientists to investigate such issues as labor market discrimination and how people process information. For such studies it is useful to have a measure of worker productivity that connects what the workers do to what the workers are trying to accomplish.

Of course, if you are not engaged in such research (or even interested), then maybe you shouldn’t care how performance is measured. Then again, maybe the discussion of sports statistics is just part of the fun people get out of sports. I would be interested in hearing how people respond to the question “why should we care about measures of performance in basketball?”

Of course if you wish to skip over that question and get back to the discussion of how to measure performance, please see the post “More Thoughts on Duck on a Rock.”

– DJ