Rationality Stops on Sunday

I am a fan of the New York Giants.

I believe that they can win every game they play. I hope that they will win every game that they play. I get emotionally involved in their games to such a degree that my heart pounds and I get short of breath when they face a critical play in the fourth quarter. I yell at the tv, though I know that they can’t hear me. When something goes wrong, I will punch things and curse. When they win, I will stay up late to watch highlights of a game I just watched.

I will re-arrange my schedule so as to be able to watch their games as they happen. If I can’t manage that, I will go to great lengths to keep abreast of what’s happening. I’ve listened to entire games on my car radio on a distant AM station, making the announcers voices dim and staticky, like ghosts calling the 1958 NFL Championship game.

When they play on Fox, I will turn down the sound and listen to the radio call, because I believe that Darryl Johnston (a former Dallas Cowboy) is biased against the Giants, and goes out of his way to run them down. I will do this even though there is a ten-second delay between the video and the audio, meaning that plays aren’t described until after they happen.

I can and will describe great plays from their Super Bowl championships (XXI, XV, XLII). I can and will describe great plays from regular-season games played during losing seasons.

I have no rational reason to be this invested in the Giants. From a strictly logical point of view, I probably ought to be a Bills fan, as I grew up closer to Buffalo than New Jersey. My father was a Giants fan, though, and his father before him, so I am a Giants fan.

I will do all that I can to pass this fandom on to SteelyKid. Literally from the cradle I have been telling her that the Giants are great, and that the Cowboys are the NFL embodiment of everything that is dark and twisted in the American psyche.

There is absolutely no rational reason for any of this. But it’s something I do anyway, because it’s a part of who I am.

Does this make me less of a scientist (other than the decrease in productivity caused by blocking out several hours on 16-20 Sundays (plus the occasional Monday or Thursday) a year)? Have I somehow compromised my scientific objectivity by choosing to be so affected by the fortunes of one team playing what is (let’s face it) a pretty arbitrary and faintly ridiculous game? Is my ability to separate out what happens during the football season from what I do in my day job indicative of some sort of mental defect?

Or is this just one of those things that people do, that make us more interesting to talk to than robots?

Comments

  1. #1 Stuart Coleman
    July 15, 2009

    When rooting for a sports team starts to interfere with a child’s education, or access to birth control, or federal funding for programs from science to sex education, then I’ll care about whether or not you root for the right team.

    An irrational belief that affects no one besides the believer is never a problem. An irrational belief that affects others besides the believer is a problem.

  2. #2 becca
    July 15, 2009

    Being a football fan is an indication of a serious mental defect. But it’s not like there aren’t scientists with mental defects.

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    July 15, 2009

    Yeah, dude, being a Giants fan and rooting for your team is just like being a religious fuckwit who believes in miracles, jesus, praying, and all kinds of other deranged bronze-age fantasy shit. How fucking stupid do you take people for?

  4. #4 Pineyman
    July 15, 2009

    No, no, no my friend. The correct team is the Steelers. Goes with the (nick)name. I’d even send her one of my…ahem…many Steelers t-shirts as a welcome gift.

  5. #5 Ponderingfool
    July 15, 2009

    Does your love of the NY Giants make you less of a scientist? No. Does that make football loving and science compatible? Not really either. Human beings hold contradictory information all the time (atheists included). A sexist father can love his daughter and wish her all the best, supporting her in all her desires in life even when they conflict with his sexist views. Does that make them compatible? No. A racist grandmother can love and adore her biracial grandson.

    There are plenty of sexists and racists who are scientists. Does that mean sexism and racism are compatible with science? I would say no. In fact they are potential biases that have to be overcome when doing good science. Doesn’t mean those sexist racist scientists aren’t capable of doing good science. Do we stop criticizing the absurdity of sexism and racism? I would say not. They are biases that minimize active thinking and seeing the world as it is, promoting a world as some wish it was. Overall even though a sexist, racist scientist is capable of doing good science, racism and sexism are impediments to good science.

  6. #6 Anna
    July 15, 2009

    Of course not. Choosing what to do in your free time (or even making free time) doesn’t make you less of anything. It’s only when people start forcing others to root for the Giants or to watch football games that things get more complicated.

  7. #7 Audyin
    July 15, 2009

    I certainly hope not, otherwise my unhealthy devotion to all things Eagles would make me a worse mathematician. While NFC-East folk may disagree on a lot of things…I’m glad we can all get behind the fact that the next most satisfying thing to watching our teams win is watching the Cowboys lose.

  8. #8 Mikey
    July 15, 2009

    Sounds like I have the same problem as you….I love my family, but the Giants are a close second. I can’t wait for the season to start so we can avenge that awful meltdown in January.

  9. #9 Eric Lund
    July 15, 2009

    I’m glad we can all get behind the fact that the next most satisfying thing to watching our teams win is watching the Cowboys lose.

    Here in New England, people say they have two favorite baseball teams: the Red Sox, and whoever is playing the Yankees. It sounds like you have something similar going here. I’m sympathetic: I remember the Cowboys as being insufferably arrogant the last time I paid close enough attention to the NFL to care about these things, mumble years ago. Then there’s the whole Texas thing going.

  10. #10 boys rule in 09
    July 15, 2009

    yr goin down, midgets.

    marion barbarian invasion begins in september!

    dish+tivo=makes sports watchable.

  11. #11 Jamie
    July 15, 2009

    And what does the Patriots fan in the other room think of this indoctrination process? Hmm?

  12. #12 Kate Nepveu
    July 15, 2009

    Since they so rarely play each other, I’m okay with her being raised to be fans of both.

  13. #13 mike
    July 15, 2009

    I hold the irrational belief that the Redskins will win the Superbowl every year. Even after the playoffs have started and the ‘skins are golfing, I still hold out hope that a miracle will occur. I also hold the belief that the AFL is an inferior league and never should have been grated equal status with the NFL. But I don’t burn my wife at the stake for being a Patriots fan, and falsely believing that the AFL is the better league.

    Even more than pro football, I am a college football fan (go Hokies!) and in many ways, it is like religion for me. It’s something to do on the weekend. It provides me with a community connection with folks who’ve shared a similar experience with me (other VT alumni). And I get all those experiences that go along with having the senses overwhelmed (incense, organ music and masterful artwork = turkey legs, “Tech Triumph” and big dudes hitting each other). But I don’t go around forcing others to do the “Blacksburg Bounce” before games or the Hokie Pokie after the third quarter. However, I do tell ‘Eers that they are an abomination, but that’s due to their couch burning and penny throwing.

    Either way, I’m with the Giants and Eagles fans. Watching the Cowboys loose is the second best thing to watching the my team win. It’s just a little something to bring us east coasters together I guess.

  14. #14 boys rule in 09
    July 15, 2009

    yr goin down, midgets.

    marion barbarian invasion begins in september!

    dish+tivo=makes sports watchable.

  15. #15 bridge dweller
    July 15, 2009

    Yeah, dude, being a Giants fan and rooting for your team is just like being a religious fuckwit who believes in miracles, jesus, praying, and all kinds of other deranged bronze-age fantasy shit. How fucking stupid do you take people for?

    You obviously haven’t met enough Eagles fans! :v)

    But you’re right, sports fans never riot, kill each other over the outcome or potential outcome of games, or start wars over the outcome of a game.

  16. #16 Lynx
    July 15, 2009

    You should Tivo the game as it is being played and run it on a 10 second delay so it’ll match the radio commentary.

  17. #17 Anton Mates
    July 15, 2009

    I have no rational reason to be this invested in the Giants. From a strictly logical point of view, I probably ought to be a Bills fan, as I grew up closer to Buffalo than New Jersey. My father was a Giants fan, though, and his father before him, so I am a Giants fan.

    Huh? What empirical fact or law of logic declares that your preference in sports teams should be based on the location of your childhood home, rather than on the preferences of your parents?

    Really, nothing you’ve described is irrational; it’s merely arational, which is different. If you yelled at the TV and actually believed that the players could hear you, that would be irrational. If you held the factual belief that the Giants have actually won every Super Bowl game and are only reported as having lost some of them because of massive fraud among referees, live audiences and camera crews, that would be irrational.

    But you’re not making fact claims, so far as I can see, merely statements of preference. Rationality doesn’t come into it.

  18. #18 natural cynic
    July 15, 2009

    Literally from the cradle I have been telling her that the Giants are great, and that the Cowboys are the NFL embodiment of everything that is dark and twisted in the American psyche.

    Is my ability to separate out what happens during the football season from what I do in my day job indicative of some sort of mental defect? … I have been telling her that the Giants are great

    Yes

    and that the Cowboys are the NFL embodiment of everything that is dark and twisted in the American psyche

    See how neural plasticity can rapidly heal the brain [but it can only go so far]

  19. #19 Brian
    July 15, 2009

    When I was growing up, enough people who cheered for my college team muted the tv and listened to the radio (the broadcasters in basketball were generally biased for the other team) that the radio station adjusted their delay to more closely match the tv broadcast.

  20. #20 D
    July 15, 2009

    What Anton Mates said. Ones preferences are what they are, and probably aren’t rational or irrational, in something like the sense that “Come here!” is neither true nor false. It doesn’t even mean very much on the whole to call someone’s preferences irrational. (*) The rational man may like vanilla ice-cream or chocolate, both or neither, one during the day and the other at night, and blends of the two only while it’s raining. Or not.

    If the implicit claim made here is that religious observance is in relevant respects the analog of rooting for a football team, then yes, in this sense religion is utterly unassailable logically, though perhaps the analogy to football riots may lead to the natural Hitchens style attack :)

    It does seem like a pretty odd account of more than particular bits of religions though – surely you don’t believe that’s all religion is, or even most of it for most people. If you’re merely stipulating that this is what your observance (and that of others like you; I know that there are plenty of people for whom religion works roughly like this) means to you, then by the same token Dawkins et al aren’t interested in you except inasmuch as you think it’s more. Write them an email and they’d make another “Einsteinian religion” style loophole…

    (*)I have been offered some purely logical criteria as counter-examples to that claim; it may indeed be irrational to prefer football to hockey, hockey to tennis andtennis to football. (Or, more contentiously, to watch football on TV instead of hockey iff there’s tennis on a third unwatched channel and and hockey instead of football iff there’s no tennis anywhere.) Such don’t much apply to your fondness for your sports team, so it’s a tangent.

  21. #21 uber
    July 15, 2009

    you’re all avoiding the obvious elephant in the room…the Ravens are the best team…you’re all arguing over “second best”.

    (my father-in-law and brother-in-law are in the same league as you regarding the Giants….so Superbowl XXXV was just SO MUCH FUN!)

  22. #22 boys rule in 09
    July 15, 2009

    yr goin down, midgets.

    marion barbarian invasion begins in september!

    dish+tivo=makes sports watchable.

  23. #23 Onkel Bob
    July 15, 2009

    I can’t believe no one posted this yet…
    CPP this one is for you.

  24. #24 Matt Springer
    July 15, 2009

    You think you’re irrational? I’m a Saints fan. Who dat!

  25. #25 Mike Kozlowski
    July 15, 2009

    Okay, well, liking the Giants may be irrational, but believing that the Cowboys are evil is pretty much just accepted scientific consensus.

  26. #26 Dan Riley
    July 15, 2009

    Hi Chad,

    Two pretty obliquely referential posts in a row–is this another by-product of re-reading Wallace?

    What are you going to tell SteelyKid about the immaculate reception?

    -dan

  27. #27 Chad Orzel
    July 15, 2009

    Two pretty obliquely referential posts in a row–is this another by-product of re-reading Wallace?

    I didn’t think this one needed an explicit reference. Also, It was written fairly hastily before leaving for work this morning, when something on Mike and Mike made me realize that a lot of the recent spate of “science and religion are incompatible, even in principle” arguments seem to suggest that science is also even-in-principle incompatible with sports fandom (and, for that matter, romantic love). I didn’t feel like taking the time to chase down links.

  28. #28 CCPhysicist
    July 15, 2009

    Heh heh. I was laughing halfway through wondering if Comrade PP is a Dallas fan.

    Then I read the comments. Not subtle enough to escape notice, I see, but as a result I now know CPP has no idea that everything (and more) mentioned @3 applies to football fans, thereby exposing the reason behind the flawed arguments in the blog attack on you about science education. (CPP needs to get out and meet a wider range of irrational human beings, or just watch CNBC for a day to soak in all of the magical thinking on display in that particular gambling house.) All that is missing from your article is a reference to failures in football education in the public schools … like, say, Plaxico.

    Football could even be a major reason for lowered standards in our public schools. You might be on to something here.

  29. #29 Lab Lemming
    July 15, 2009

    “I can and will describe great plays from their Super Bowl championships (XXI, XV, XLII).”

    The Giants did NOT win Superbowl XLII. That is a myth propagated by unpatriotic accomodationists to justify their socalist agenda.

    See details at:
    http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/2008/02/global-warming-skeptics-claim-patriots.html

  30. #30 Thomas M.
    July 15, 2009

    “But you’re right, sports fans never riot, kill each other over the outcome or potential outcome of games, or start wars over the outcome of a game.”

    When was an international war started over the outcome of a sports game?

    For that matter, analogy (ostensibly)ignores the element of organized violence. Sure, people get enraged and do stupid shit in the heat of the moment after a big loss, but has a group of Giants fans ever orchestrated and executed an attack that involves hijacking and flying planes into a stadium the Cowboys are playing in (complete with thousands of fans) because they hate the Cowboys so fucking much?

  31. #31 Kate W.
    July 15, 2009

    I think it’s really funny that anyone is trying to make an argument that sports zealotry doesn’t infer with anyone’s education. It must be nice to exist in a world where people remember that high school and college sports aren’t the actual reason that public education exists.

  32. #32 IBY
    July 16, 2009

    It doesn’t make you less of a scientist. Sometimes, it is okay to have fun and just yell at the TV. I also get as invested as you are in sports when South Korea is involved, like that world baseball tournament, but it doesn’t mean I will act that crazy all the time. Besides, it is not like you believed that shouting like that would make them win or something.

  33. #33 tincture
    July 16, 2009

    I remember reading, about a year ago, of the parents who refused to have their daughter’s diabetes treated because they thought watching football would cure it, it didn’t and she died. There is a disturbingly high number of these kinds (a fundamentalist belief in the power football to cure all, held by adults causing the deaths of minors in their care.) of completely avoidable incidents.

    http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2008/03/28/diabetes-death.html

  34. #34 Matt Springer
    July 16, 2009

    #30, there has been at least one actual war fought over (or at least touched off by) soccer – the Football War, between Honduras and El Salvador.

  35. #35 Ray
    July 16, 2009

    So, have you told many religious people that “Yeah, I totally understand how you feel about Jesus – I’m a big fan of the Giants. I watch games, you go to church – it’s the exact same thing, right?”

  36. #36 Idlethought
    July 16, 2009

    I don’t see that that is any more incompatible with science than a passion for knitting.

    Of course, it depends what happens when physics is used to prove that the Cowboys are the better team.

  37. #37 brook
    July 16, 2009

    I’ll throw my support behind the first comment.

    Irrational beliefs are part of human existence. No big deal.

    If I insist my irrational beliefs need to be your reality that’s a big deal.

    I worked with a fundamentalist Catholic pharmacist. We had a lot in common: we both homeschool our kids, enjoyed the same kinds of recreational activities etc. I don’t agree with her beliefs about Plan B or the HPV vaccine and made it clear why. We agreed to disagree and since we worked in a hospital setting that deals mainly with geriatric patients were able to avoid morally tough choices.

    The one time when I absolutely stopped her in her tracks was when she was going on about the evils of abortion and how morally corrupt women were who had them. I told her the truth – I’d had an abortion a year earlier because there was no way emotionally, physically, financially my dh of 12years and I could support a 5th child in addition to caring for my stroke impaired mother, working, homeschooling, household stuff and helping with all the chores associated with a small organic farm.

    Something that gets lost in the noise is the personal stories, that those we want to paint in broad strokes are doing the same things we are: making the best choices they can in an imperfect world.

    So go ahead, teach steelykid to support whatever sports team you want but make sure you let her know that other people can make different choices and that’s ok. Perhaps more importantly love her even if she decides the Celtics are her team of choice.

  38. #38 Jonathan Vos Post
    July 16, 2009

    In My Humble Opinion, it can be good for you as a scientist to be periodically irrational, depending on the period and amplitude of irrationality.

    You do sleep periodically, and engage in irrational dreams while asleep, right? Then your rational consciousness reboots when you awaken.

    You do consume adult beverages, which somewhat lower rationality? I’m told that in Mongolia, a contract is only valid if agreed on by both parties twice: once sober, once drunk.

    Many people weekly attend religious services (Friday if Muslim, Saturday if Jewish, Sunday if Christian) when scientific criteria do do dominate the text.

    This leaves only the question: can it be good for you as a scientist to be aperiodically irrational? But that way lies Chaos.

  39. #39 AmberLynne
    July 16, 2009

    Just as you irrationally love the Giants, I irrationally dislike them. I was born on Super Bowl Sunday, Broncos vs. Giants and my team lost (for my grandfathers sake I was born after the game, he didn’t miss a play). Thus, I don’t like the Giants….

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