Sunday, May 17, 2015

Poisoning the well of public opinion against the Patriots

On January 21, Chris Mortensen published a story at that claimed, among other things, that

The NFL has found that 11 of the New England Patriots' 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation of Sunday's AFC Championship Game told ESPN.The investigation found the footballs were inflated 2 pounds per square inch below what's required by NFL regulations during the Pats' 45-7 victoryover theIndianapolis Colts, according to sources.
This claim wasn't true.

On January 19, league official David Gardi sent a letter to the Patriots claiming “In fact, one of the game balls was inflated to 10.1 psi, far below the requirement of 12-1/2 to 13-1⁄2 psi. In contrast, each of the Colts’ game balls that was inspected met the requirements set forth above.”

Two more claims, neither of which is true.  First that the Patriots had a ball that was 2.4 psi low.  Also the claim that none of the Colts' were low.

The intent of these claims was to poison public opinion against the Patriots.  The league didn't even tell the Patriots what the measurements were for two months, and then only under the condition that the information be kept secret until the Wells report was released.  Meanwhile the public was basing all their judgments on initial information that was allowed to stand uncorrected.

And the difference between 10.5 and 11.5 is extremely important.  Using the number of 10.5 psi, esteemed physicists like Neil Degrasse Tyson said that that much deflation was impossible from the gas laws alone.  However, it is possible to reach 11.5 psi solely by dropping the temperature from 74 to 48, as would happen from taking the ball from the officials' locker room to outside on a January day.

Why did the league do this?  It's hard to reconcile the combination of leaking false information, letting it stand in the public sphere for two months, and a refusal to pass the actual information to the Patriots, with anything other than an antagonistic attitude towards the Patriots.  This goes well beyond "bias".  This is a deliberate campaign to smear the Patriots.

Sadly, the vast majority of the public aren't really trained in evidence-based thinking.  Once an idea gets into their brains, it's very hard to dislodge it.  Roger Goodell's office know that.  That's why they did what they did.  At this point a lot of casual fans are sure that "Brady probably did cheat" even though there is no evidence that anybody cheated, much less that Brady did.  But the public logic is in a fugue state.  People argue that Brady must have known about it - the two guys wouldn't have done this on their own.  When you point out that nobody has been proven to have done something, they go down the line of "why would the league do this?"  If you argue that the league is not an impartial voice here, they say "conspiracy theory" and return to the circular argument.

One guy I know on Facebook, in the space of less than an hour, first ridiculed the notion that there would be an "NFL conspiracy" to frame the Patriots.  With no sense of irony, he then posted a complaint about how there must be a conspiracy in the NBA that favored the Cavaliers in their series against the Bulls.

Cognitive dissonance is weird.  And people get angry when you point out their argument doesn't  make logical sense!  That's a shame.

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