Mon | Jun 25, 2018

Judgements, statistics and 'bramble' arguments

Published:Thursday | February 28, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Keith Noel

generally agree that John Ford's The Searchers is probably the best western ever made. Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly is often acclaimed to be the best musical ever, while Hitchcock's Vertigo and Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino the best ever in their genres. Double Indemnity is arguably the best murder mystery ever. One thing these movies share in common is that none of them won the Oscar for 'Best Movie' some were not even nominated, and some beaten by movies that are hardly even remembered.

I believe that this is one reason why many modern journalists try to make judgements 'scientifically' so that when they declare something 'the best', it has best satisfied a number of criteria.

Following the popular trend in the United States, our sports journalists especially crunch out statistics of all types to justify positions, unaware of, or ignoring the fact that, unless all important criteria are inputted (in proper balance) into the computerised formulae and only relevant criteria included, these statistics could mean nothing.

Whenever I can, I listen to a most entertaining sports programme, hosted by Orville Higgins on KLAS FM 89. Recently, Higgins has focussed on the topic of 'greatness' and 'the best' in sports. He has used the word 'bramble' to describe arguments that are not supported by logic. However, because he is a 'statistics' man who puts much faith in this approach without examining the possibility that there are other statistics, or facts, that have been omitted by his sources, he is sometimes guilty of using 'bramble' arguments himself. But the 'bramblest' (or is it 'most bramble'?) argument I have heard on his programme has come from another respected journalist.

criterion suspect

To argue that a sportsman cannot be considered great, even in a team sport, unless he has won a world award, is ludicrous. Even without researching it properly, a criterion that excludes the legendary Herb McKenley is immediately suspect. It also means that we can say that world 100m champion Yohan Blake is a great sprinter, but if Usain Bolt had not false-started in Daegu, we probably could not say so!

If an amazing young Grenadian footballer is recruited by a European team and he fulfils his tremendous promise and carries them to repeatedly win their Premier League and the European Cup, by this argument, he cannot be considered great unless he carries tiny Grenada to win a World Cup!

Then there is the argument that a player who has won five NBA rings is better than one who has won only one. So if LeBron wins five rings, he can be seen as among the greatest, but if he had stayed put and not gone to Miami to play alongside other excellent players, he could never be considered as such! Surely you bramble, sir. (Is the word a verb, too?)

Then some argue that Pele was not as good as Maradona because analysis of Maradona's game - which came in the era after Italy revolutionised defensive play - showed that he had to do far more than Pele was asked to do. They are now trying to compare players across eras, without factoring in essential elements!

As a little boy who loved cricket, my dad took me to see a Test match versus India. Vijay Hazare, highly ranked as he was, almost turned me off Test cricket. Then I saw Worrell, and I have loved the game even more, ever since. Pele is my favourite because, as a boy, he held me spellbound. He was the first great footballer I saw. Sport is an entertainment and he, like Herb McKenley, Frank Worrell, Roger Bannister, Rocky Marciano, and later, Kip Keino and Muhammad Ali, and still later, Bolt, Serena, Lara and Messi, enthralled and entertained me more than anyone else. So, to me, they will always be among the best I have seen.

No statistics can convince me otherwise!

Keith Noel is an educator. Send comments to