Better Know A Bias: Appealing To Authority

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best things about Mike Babcock being head coach of the Leafs is that he is arguably one of the best coaches over the past decade. One of the worst things about Mike Babcock being head coach of the Leafs is that he is arguably one of the best coaches over the past decade. This has and will continue to make it harder for fans and observers to be objective and critical of some of his decisions.

It would be fair to say that Babcock has made some questionable roster decisions so far this season. The good people that run the show at PPP and other enlightened outlets have noticed this, and have started asking why he may be doing this.

I have noticed two common themes in those who disagree with the criticisms. The first is to claim that "he's Mike Babcock he knows what he's doing". The second is to claim that "these are minor roster decisions stop being so pedantic". Both essentially boil down to a common logical fallacy known as "Appealing to Authority".

Appealing to authority is a logical fallacy whereby people assume that since someone is an expert in a given field that their opinion about an issue in said field must be valid. For example, Dave Nonis is employed as an NHL GM. Dave Nonis thinks that David Clarkson is an above average NHL player. Therefore David Clarkson must be an above average NHL player.

Appealing to authority is one of the most common fallacies because it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. There are plenty of things I am willing to take as fact at face value because someone who is an expert tells me it is so. Obviously there are a lot of qualifications to that statement but the basic idea is sound. Unfortunately experts make mistakes all the time and often times their status as an expert makes them more likely to make mistakes due to overconfidence in their own judgment. But that's a whole other post. Let's get back on track.

Appealing to authority to justify seemingly questionable hockey decisions is something that we should all be familiar with after having to suffer through the the Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis years (henceforth to be known as the Potato and The Toaster Era) and the Brian Burke years, and the JFJ years, and the Pat Quinn years, god why do I still follow this team?

Point is, so long as there are people running this hockey club and making decisions they will make bad ones, or at the very least, less optimal ones. And, due to human nature there will always be people defending these decisions based on nothing more than the fact that they were made by people in charge. The people in charge are smart, they are experts, if they weren't, they wouldn't be in charge. "Dusts hands off" next question, Pointdexter.

Look, we've been down this road before. The Grabovski buyout, the Clarkson contract, the Colbourne trade, FML and Colton Orr. My brain can't handle writing down all the stupid things that the previous regime, did but you all remember. And you all remember people defending them because the people in charge made the call. Those people are smart, you said. They must know something we don't, you hoped. This must be part of a bigger plan, you prayed. They weren't. They didn't. It wasn't.

Now when we were dealing with The Toaster and The Potato it was much easier to convince people that maybe we shouldn't just take their word for it. But it was still hard, and there were still people defending them until the day they left. And I'm willing to bet that those same people are the ones currently telling us to relax, that it's Babcock, he obviously knows more than you.

I'll be the first to admit that he sure does. But he's also human and thus fallible and prone to the same cognitive biases as the rest of us. He's going to make stupid decisions and we need to call him on it. If you want to agree with a questionable decision he has made, you better come with something stronger than an appeal to authority.

One of the reasons that I'm hopeful about the new regime is that they seem to have shown a willingness to examine their thinking and decision making. They don't all think they're the smartest guys in the room. I'd hope that they (Shanahan and Dubas) are looking at the way the team is trending and encouraging Babcock to reconsider his roster decisions and usage. It seems to me as though Babcock would be the type of person to listen to them. After all, he's Mike Babcock. is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of