The Deflation Analogy

So the world, or at least the US, is a buzz with the great issue of the day, which is of course “Deflategate.” What disappoints me most about this whole thing is that we will forever use the suffix “-gate” to describe every single scandal, which I think is stupid; but alas, nothing on earth, save for the extermination of the human race, or perhaps we’ll start running out of beginning words (although that is unlikely) will stop it. Its here to stay.

But I digress. So the issue, for those wonderful readers who exist in some corner of the universe that isn’t following the scandal closely, perhaps you are from Asia, or perhaps you are from some point in the future after where deflategate is a distant memory, which is probably something stupidly soon, like three weeks from the time of this writing, is that the football team (and don’t get me started on football vs soccer, the name of the sport where you kick a round ball into a net and aren’t allowed to use your hands is called “Soccer” in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia New Zealand and Ireland, or in other words, just about the entire English speaking world except England) the New England Patriots had, in the first half of their semifinals against the Indianapolis Colts, played with under-inflated footballs, which is against the rules and supposedly gave them an advantage. A couple of notes, as of this writing, nobody knows how the balls became under-inflated or who if anyone did it. Also, it seems unlikely that the deflation had any real effect on the outcome of the game, after the end of the first half, the Patriots (playing with under-inflated footballs) outscored the Colts 17 to 7, after the second half, (playing with normal footballs), the Patriots outscored the Colts 28 to 0.

Now of course everyone who follows this quickly began their two favorite pastimes, heavy-handed moralizing and making up lame excuses. So I thought I would share some of my wonderful wisdom in the form of a strained analogy.

Imagine you were teaching a class, and you caught a student cheating; say having an illegal “cheat sheet” on him. Only the student was already a grade A student, and the cheat sheet didn’t actually have any information relevant to the test on it, and the student got an A anyway. Do you still punish the student. I think that absolutely you do, the student attempted to cheat using a method he knew was wrong, that there was no real advantage conferred is irrelevant, cheating is still cheating.

Only I don’t think that this is the correct analogy. A more suitable one is that you have a group project, a team of five students are assigned to write a paper. Now lets say that, when grading it, you determine that one of the paragraphs had been plagiarized. The rest of the paper was solid, and removing the paragraph wouldn’t change your opinion of the paper (obviously, excepting the part about plagiarism). During your investigation, you can’t tell which student added the paragraph, and its your honest opinion none of the students (except the guilty one) knew who added it (I realize that this may strain credulity; maybe you can assume that they were operating under a shared document with no version tracking). Finally, while you were able to identify the fact that the paragraph in question was plagiarized, its only because you are a professor in the field, you wouldn’t expect any of the students to be able to identify it.

The question is do you punish the students? In order for there to be culpability, you need either intent or negligence. None of the students (besides the guilty one) had any intention of plagiarism; and none was negligent as it would take knowledge that nobody would expect them to have (as students aren’t expected to have the same knowledge as professors, because then why take the class). If you were to punish all 5 students, chances are you would be punishing 4 innocent students and one guilty one; which I don’t believe is just.

Now, of course, no analogy is perfect, and we’re assuming that we won’t learn anything new or that the NFL doesn’t have information that we aren’t privy to. (As a final aside, is there anybody who thinks that the NFL knows what they’re doing?).

(So one of the reasons I’m starting this blog is to be better at writing, and one of the things I think I’m bad at is ending stuff. So insert good ending here!)

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