ON ADAM DUNN DOUBLES AND POLICE VERSIONS OF EVENTS

People have a very difficult time distinguishing between impossible and implausible.

In high school I got into an extended debate with a fellow baseball fan about whether a particular set of circumstances was possible on the field. I argued that it was impossible for a ball to strike the top of the outfield wall without either going over the wall for a home run or back onto the field of play for a hit. It was not possible, in other words, for the ball to hit the top of the wall and then come back down to hit the top of the wall a second time. It simply could not be possible for a ball hit from a great distance at high speed to strike the very narrow top of a wall from a sharp angle of approach (while rotating, by the way) and essentially bounce straight up and down. That would be like flinging a rock into a lake and having it bounce straight up rather than skip or sink. Some laws of physics can't be violated.

Never being the kind to back down (and being friends mostly because we were both awkward nerds) he endeavored to prove me wrong with high school physics and geometry. He put a good deal of time into drawing up a scenario under which the ball could do exactly that – if the wall had exactly x density and was struck at y speed and z angle with the wind blowing inward at b miles per hour, the ball could do exactly that. While not confident in his 15 year old mastery of physics nor my ability to pick out the potential flaws in his argument, I relented. It was not strictly impossible – just highly unlikely.

It has been many years since we spoke, but I bet that my friend and fellow White Sox fan remembered our adolescent dispute a couple weeks ago when, giving the finger to physics and common sense, Adam Dunn mashed a ball that hit the top of the wall. Twice. And then returned to the field.

Some things are impossible; they literally cannot be done, like fitting a square peg through a round hole (provided the width of the square is not smaller than the diameter of the circle, pedants). But most things, even the ones we ordinarily think of as impossible, are merely implausible. This causes a pair of problems that have, over time, birthed a million conspiracy theories and plain bad arguments.

First, people have a tendency to conclude that if something is highly implausible it is not possible. For example, it is quite implausible that on 9-11, three lightly trained terrorist-pilots who had never previously flown real airliners could steer them into stationary targets including the Pentagon, which is less than ten stories (75 feet) tall. It strains belief. The odds against it must be large. But it happened. The Truthers, however, have seized upon the improbability of the chain of events to bolster their argument. Since it is unlikely to have happened, it couldn't have happened.

Second, people tend to do the opposite as well and argue that as long as something is not impossible, it is a perfectly useful explanation of events. And any argument that can't be 100% ruled out is as good as any other, according to the world's most annoying motivated reasoners. For example, oh, I don't know…if it's possible that an unarmed black kid decided to try to get the gun away from a cop – so he could, I guess, kill him? That was the plan? Kill the cop? – then that version of events is the perfectly correct one for people who really want to believe in a chain of events that exonerates the police.

In short, when all available evidence suggests that x happened, the fact that x is implausible is irrelevant. Conversely, when all available evidence suggests that x didn't happen, the fact that x is plausible rather than impossible doesn't bolster the argument. Logic doesn't care how likely or unlikely things "seem."

Is it possible than in a moment of panic, an unarmed teen with no criminal record decided that he would lunge for a cop's gun when the officer told him to walk on the sidewalk instead of the street. I mean, that could feasibly happen. For something so highly implausible to emerge as the definitive account of the events, though, would require a good deal of supporting evidence. When the tale goes contrary to all of the available evidence, its implausibility becomes a serious liability.

You believe that Adam Dunn did something really implausible because I showed you a video of it happening. If, instead, I merely told you that I saw it happen, you'd be skeptical. That skepticism would increase if I couldn't produce anyone else who attended the game and claimed to see it. It would all but disappear if a parade of eyewitnesses contradicted me and said that the ball went straight over the wall. At that point, the only way you would believe that it happened is if you had some unusual faith in my honesty…or you really wanted to believe it.

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33 Responses to “ON ADAM DUNN DOUBLES AND POLICE VERSIONS OF EVENTS”

  1. Mo Says:

    Guessing that one way to disarm our local police soldier-wannabees would be to require hiring of officers proportionate to the local ethnic makeup. 89% of our community is black? So 9 out of 10 officers need to be black? Goodbye weapons.

    There are competent and honest cops. Then there are the rest of them, who shouldn't be allowed to carry even a pea-shooter.

  2. Skipper Says:

    I really don't like the use of the word "Truther" to denigrate anyone who doesn't believe the "official narrative" of any event. It's really a pretty prejudicial term. While there are some people who deny that the planes hit the building, it's unfair to lump them in with anyone who questions the very mysterious events of that day. Why, for example, did the government ignore scores of very specific warnings that something was going to go down? Why were the fighter jets not scrambled when ATC lost contact with four large airliners? Those same jets had been scrambled immediately over 100 times in the previous 12 months when even private jets lost contact with controllers? And why did WTC 7 collapse as if it were a controlled demolition, when it wasn't struck by the planes? These are all legitimate questions (among many more), but anyone who raises them is hooted down with the slur "Truther."

    You don't really need to do much research to figure out that the government would rather lie top us than not. But they've created the "Conspiracy Theorist" meme to stifle anyone who doesn't stay within the bounds of the carefully created narratives they foist on us.

  3. ts46064 Says:

    "And why did WTC 7 collapse as if it were a controlled demolition, when it wasn't struck by the planes?"

    Go look it up instead of JAQing off. You learn why this is lumped in with all the other stupid truther nonsense

  4. John Danley Says:

    External validity reduces bias, but only for those willing to acknowledge it in the first place.

  5. Arslan Says:

    All those "questions" have been answered numerous times, by numerous people, in different countries. And yet well over a decade later, "Truthers" are still asking the same questions.

  6. Mike Says:

    > In short, when all available evidence suggests that x happened, the fact that x is implausible is irrelevant. Conversely, when all available evidence suggests that x didn't happen, the fact that x is plausible rather than impossible doesn't bolster the argument. Logic doesn't care how likely or unlikely things "seem."

    Mathematically that would be the difference between the odds of an event, and the conditional odds of the event given the observation.

  7. Brian Says:

    Thanks for this post, Ed. Also, great work on using the baseball analogy to explain this complex concept to us "folks".

  8. Delbort Says:

    "Why, for example, did the government ignore scores of very specific warnings that something was going to go down?"

    Hanlon's Razor.

  9. wnsrfr Says:

    Delbort,

    Thanks for the Hanlon's Razor reference, it's a new one for me–we can use Hanlon's Razor to also explain why the pilots that crashed into the Pentagon took a long, arcing turn in order to hit the only fortified wall of the Pentagon instead of just hitting it straight on!

    Also, the ball bounced funny because of the padding–probably has a gap between two pieces of foam and the one in the back is firmer than the one in the front (or something).

  10. Hazy David Says:

    Loves this.

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    In baseball, probably more than in any other sport, never say x can never happen.

  12. Ed Says:

    9/11 Truthers: Ask questions, get answers, and then keep asking the questions because the answers aren't the ones you wanted.

  13. buckyblue Says:

    Ball hitting the outfield wall twice/Cubs winning a World Series. Still won't believe it unless I see it with my own eyes.

  14. JohnR Says:

    Good post, Ed, and the comments. Goes along with the scads of stuff that 'everyone knows' (which I now use as a marker for stuff that is most likely to be 180 degrees from the truth). Incidentally, I really like the use of the word "Truther" to denigrate anyone who doesn't believe the "official narrative" of any event. The "official narrative" may or may not be accurate, either in part or even in whole, but disbelieving it simply because it doesn't fit with what you want to believe (which is the general characteristic of all the "Truthers" I've ever encountered) is simply dumb. Extremely human, but still dumb. Lots of stuff happens that seems inexplicable and unlikely. It's a weird world sometimes, and given enough events, even really, really unlikely ones are almost guaranteed to happen somewhere, sometime. Instead of putting it down to "The Real Story" or God or Satan or magic or aliens, maybe it's just physics and the laws of chance or even something we don't fully understand. I realize that last could encompass magic/religion, but could =/= does.

  15. chautauqua Says:

    I can't believe I'm the only one who noticed this :

    "Some things are impossible; they literally cannot be done, like fitting a square peg through a round hole (provided the width of the square is not smaller than the diameter of the circle, pedants). "

    Actually, it's the diagonal of the square that has to be smaller for the peg to fit into the hole, not the width.

    Sadly, Ed, this calls into question the accuracy of the entirety of your post ;-)

  16. Skipper Says:

    "Go look it up instead of JAQing off. You learn why this is lumped in with all the other stupid truther nonsense"

    Please continue to believe whatever narrative the Powers That Be have concocted for your consumption. Your life will be much happier — until . . . . .

  17. Kevin Says:

    "I really don't like the use of the word "Truther" to denigrate anyone who doesn't believe the "official narrative" of any event."

    You're right. "Troofer" is much better.

  18. Robert Says:

    "They want us to believe that fire can melt steel!"

    Still one of the funniest things I've ever read online.

    Regarding the horrors in Ferguson, I wonder who decided that forcing all media out of the area would make things better, and how much of a pension they're going to get after all this is over. The issue of a white man with a loaded rifle on the sidewalk being considered less of a threat than an unarmed black man in the street is, of course, not a topic for discussion.

  19. moderateindy Says:

    If something is not impossible than the laws of probability say that it in fact, must happen, and it is just a matter of time before it does

    The truthers are kindred souls with climate deniers. Evidence and common sense make no difference, they just know they're right. Include most believers of basically every religion in that as well. Ask a truther this simple question, if the gov't wanted to fake a terrorist attack to seize extra power, or whatever nefarious motives you believe they had, why bother blowing up both towers, and all the other buildings, along with the Pentagon, when just blowing up one tower would have been more than enough to get the job done of freaking out the American public?

  20. Leo T. Says:

    Given the specific Powers That were Be-ing back in 2001, I think the strongest argument that they had nothing to do with 9/11 is the fact that the towers actually fell.

  21. Red Ruffansore Says:

    I think it is possible today to manipulate a video segment to make it look as if the baseball bounced twice on the wall. How many of the people at the ballpark actually saw the baseball do that? Only a few, in the stands immediately adjacent to the left field wall where the action occurred. It could be a nefarious plot of some kind. Yet I am perfectly happy to accept it as fact. On the other hand, the pictures I have seen of SWAT teams in Ferguson MO—those are soldiers, ready for war. The white policemen in a mostly black town are ready to fight a war with…somebody.
    "You can't have opinions about truth. Truth is just truth."
    –P.D.Q. Bach

  22. comrade oz Says:

    I passed Latin I in high school; therefore, anything is possible.

    As for the cop murdering the kid in MO, reports of sightings from the grassy knoll will always contradict the lone gunman theory. I've seen the tapes.

  23. Skipper Says:

    No one believed these "Truther theories," until they turned out to be, you know, true.

    http://allday.com/post/412-government-conspiracy-theories-that-turned-out-to-be-true

  24. Suttree Says:

    “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”
    -H.L. Mencken

  25. Sharkbabe Says:

    Let’s laff at the crackpot Truthers! God what silliness! Truther Truther Truther! Ha ha!

    Seriously, what kind of ridiculous moron would question Dick Cheney’s version of 9/11?

  26. Brandon Says:

    "Dick Cheney’s version of 9/11"

    Yes, because if some of the people who happen to subscribe to a version of events are bad people, that version of events is inherently suspect. Hitler believed that the earth revolved around the sun!! What kind of crazy moron would subscribe to the same theory as Hitler?!

  27. Mo Says:

    Too good not to share:

    Michael Brown's real mistake was failing to steal billions of dollars' worth of cigars with the aid of a large financial institution.

    https://twitter.com/Fafblog

  28. Fred Says:

    So let's see:
    The Bush admin was warned from day one that al qaida was planning a major hit in USA. These warnings came from Clinton, Gore, CIA, NSA, Richard Clark…
    The Bush admin response? Do nothing and tell those experts to go the eff away.
    The head of al qaida had family ties and past connections with the Bush family, CIA (Poppy Bush) and other Bush higher ups.
    Being aware that DC was a likely target GWBush spent the entire summer hiding out in Texas.
    GWBush had told his biographer that he aspired to be a "wartime president" because WPs get everything they want.
    A statement from PNAC (signed by many higher ups in Bush admin) called for US lead war in middle east. The pretext for such a war was what they called "A Pearl Harbor Event".

    All this crap is hanging out and I haven't even studied the details of 9/11. How much did the Bushies know? Was there any kind of involvement or was it just intentional neglect?
    I don't know any of this stuff and I don't think it will ever come out. That said, given the motives, statements, actions taken and not taken and subsequent activities (ex-lying us into a war) is there any doubt that if this were any other kind of crime by any other group these folks would have been spending a lot of time testifying in front of a grand jury trying to explain their otherwise inexplicable actions.

    As to the Bushies being stoopid. They always seemed to get just what they wanted. Like ferinstance the White House after losing the election. How stoopid is that? Misunderestimated.

    I may be a "Truther" but ignoring the obvious is, well, STOOPID. Dontcha think?

  29. dianne Says:

    Maybe I just missed it, buy I've never seen an explanation for why NORAD, after the two planes hit the Twin Towers, just let the third plane go into the Pentagon. Someone said that the question had been answered – so what was the explanation?? Didn't they have time to at least get in the air?

  30. Arslan Says:

    "why the pilots that crashed into the Pentagon took a long, arcing turn in order to hit the only fortified wall of the Pentagon instead of just hitting it straight on!"

    All the walls of the Pentagon are fortified. It's one of the strongest structures in the world. Do some research.

    "Please continue to believe whatever narrative the Powers That Be have concocted for your consumption. "

    Yes, because we're all sheeple for not buying into shit on Prison Planet.

    "Maybe I just missed it, buy I've never seen an explanation for why NORAD, after the two planes hit the Twin Towers, just let the third plane go into the Pentagon."

    Did you go check? Please, give a list of the places you looked for this information.

    "A statement from PNAC (signed by many higher ups in Bush admin) called for US lead war in middle east. The pretext for such a war was what they called "A Pearl Harbor Event"."

    Actually it had nothing to do with a war in the Middle East and said nothing even close to that. The Pearl Harbor event phrase was a reference to the necessity of building an anti-ballistic missile shield. Lot of good that would have done on 9-11.

    "No one believed these "Truther theories," until they turned out to be, you know, true."

    Yes, because evidence was found. Every claim stands on it's own merit. You have an alternate hypothesis? Cool. State what you think happened and present evidence.

    But I'm sure all of you asking questions will go off any check for answers on sites not owned by Alex Jones, and then stop asking the same questions you've been asking for over 10 years.

  31. Jeff65 Says:

    This argument could be used to justify any belief that doesn't contravene the laws of physics, including the beliefs of so called "truthers". To give an example, just because controlled demolition is implausible doesn't mean it's impossible.

    Seems an ill considered argument.

  32. Chautauqua Says:

    To revisit the amazing fly ball performance on top of the wall – in a perfect world with perfectly flat surfaces on top of fences and non-spinning fly balls, I would be happy to agree that it would be impossible. Do we know that this was the case here?

  33. Anthony Says:

    Normally I agree with much on Gin and Tacos.

    The "truther" thing is pretty stupid.

    I guess all you people need is old George Dubya standing on a pile of rubble with a loudspeaker saying "We'll git da bad guys who did dis!"
    And, "We'll smoke em outa der caves! Hi ho Silver! Yee Ha!"

    And that was it. That was all you needed. Case closed. No trial, no convictions, nothing except a couple of media echo chamber talking points– and even 444 days before any sort of official "inquiry." And even that from civil pressure. Pathetic.

    Yawn. I wonder what Britney Spears is doing…