FREAK OUT: MICHAEL JORDAN TOTALLY PRACTICED SOMETIMES, FOR REAL - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - In their bestselling book published last summer, highly-decorated "rogue" economist Steven Levitt and former New York Times reporter Stephen Dubner combined respective forces to go after the "hidden" conclusions to be drawn from pressing every day problems like, "How are sumo wrestlers like teachers who cheat to raise standardized test scores?" (A: sumo wrestlers also cheat when given an incentive - whoa!) and "How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real estate agents?" (A: they make their living by deceiving stupid people).
Alternately their conclusions were vaguely racist (crime rates plummeted because legalized abortion eliminated thousands of likely criminals; black kids often have trouble succeeding because of their whacked-out ghetto names) and mildly illuminating (in online dating, it took black men tens of thousands more in income to equal a white man's response rates with white women), but never as headslappingly obvious as in an article that appeared in several major papers Sunday, wherein the wunderkinds conclude, in the midst of asking why such a large percentage of upcoming World Cup soccer participants are born in January, February and March and analyzing the work of psychology professor Anders Ericsson, that - get ready to peel your brain off the ceiling, now - that practice plays a large role in success:
Similarly, Giorgi Vasari, writing in his Lives of Artists several hundred years later, in the sixteenth century:
Yet we need not be First Century or Medieval scholars nor lauded journaconomists to reach the blatantly obvious, decidedly unfreaky conclusion that people who practice are on the whole better than people who don't...
(Leave it to SMQ to harmonize the taos of a timeless, revered philosopher saint and boner pills)
All of which shows the need of Leavitt and Dubner to present Ericsson et al's findings - well over a decade in the making, for the record - as "rogue," "hidden," "unorthodox," "inventive" or, especially, "insight...that turns conventional wisdom on its head" (all used to describe the "Freakonomics" model in the first few pages of their bestseller) to be reaching, self-serving and kind of, eh, boring.
Worst of all, moments after stating a thesis that could actually challenge the ingrained notion of hereditary talent, they completely hedge their bets and virtually invalidate any shred of "unorthodox" thought from the piece:
Then what is it to say that tens of millions of people have never said before? We who live by the title of "unorthodox" completely adhere to virtually unchallenged conventional wisdom established centuries ago by people who shit in the ground that talent is important but can be enhanced greatly by disciplined practice.
Dubner and Levitt's goal - to advance "a belief that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not inpenetrable, is not unknowable and - if the right questions are asked - is even more intriguing than we think" - is an admirable, even essential one, but also a futile one if the ground it's going to cover is so trodden by the likes of sports fans, who obsessively weigh the benefits of the most talented against overachievers on a daily basis. It goes without much further argument that virtually none of the greatest athletes - or greatest anything else - have been noted for not reaching at least a base level work ethic, and that every field has individuals who achieved more than more talented colleagues and competitors by outworking them. So what makes this insight worthy of "the most interesting mind in America," exactly?
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And don't let the name fool ya - second guessing the phenomenal athletic feats and split-second decisions of college kids under extreme physical duress is for every day of the week.
AWWW!! The totally nicest people, like, ever!...
How much football does he watch? Dude's got insights on -everybody-, and by everybody, I mean everybody. Throw in some of the best writing in the blogosphere, and we're talking about a daily must-read.
- Burnt Orange Nation
SMQ starts to sound more and more like the Gregg Easterbrook of our ideal memories every day - whip-smart, systematic, omnivorous in his intellectual tastes and yet unafraid of the cheap joke.
- Every Day Should Be Saturday
Sunday Morning Quarterback is one of our favorite football blogs on the internet.
- State Fans Nation
Sunday Morning Quarterback is a killer football blog if you are a college football junkie. It is run by one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and analytical writers in the college football blogosphere...The guy is thorough and detailed and provides a level of analysis you are not going to find anywhere else .
- Bruins Nation
Just another hack writer who hasn't done one lick of research...
...the pride of Southern Mississippi ever since Brett Favre turned into an ESPN soap opera, has the sort of prose knack that can keep you riveted to a preview about any one of D-IA's scrubbier members ... should be given gifts.