# The ERA fallacy -- let's give it a name

Discussion in 'General Pro Player Discussion' started by 1HBH Rocks, May 15, 2012.

1. ### 1HBH RocksSemi-Pro

Joined:
Apr 18, 2012
Messages:
426
It is about tennis, but I use math as an analogy.
Say you have X-Y > A-B. You simply compare two differences where one's value is greater than the other. Let's put numbers... 240 versus 35. Can you tell me something about X or Y or A or B individually? Of course not. We'd need either literally the value of one of each pair or further equations to compute them to find out how each is worth.

Well, this is exactly what happens when you compare players from different era using simply results. There's a finite amount of tournaments and players compete against one another: the results tell you about the gap between them, but nothing about them individually. You wouldn't do that in a math exam, why don't you use the knowledge you acquired at school and avoid falling in that same trap when we swap words and call this "tennis statistics"?

Saying Federer had weak opponents because he won so much is as dumb as saying X must be worth less than B because 35 is smaller than 240... it's the exact same thought structure, just swap numbers for statistics and letters for players. So, let's give this logical fallacy a name -- the ERA fallacy. It's a type of non sequitur that occurs when jumping from a comparison of differences to the qualification of the individual elements contained within.

EDIT
Regardless of my opinion on any subject, logic speaks. If the facts are coherent with many explanations, you have no reason to bump one out and doing so is a fallacy. You need other inputs to narrow the choices until only one remains.

Last edited: May 15, 2012
2. ### DRIILegend

Joined:
Apr 1, 2009
Messages:
9,907
Weak, or more correctly 'weaker', era argument is not simply a statistical one; it is in large part a qualitative one.

Many of us have seen players and the tennis played in previous generations and come to the conclusion that the current era is weaker than others preceeding it (with far less depth).

The same is true for the women's game, and very few would argue with that...

3. ### TMFTalk Tennis Guru

Joined:
Jul 15, 2009
Messages:
23,467
mmm..NOPE. The ATP is strong and the WTA is weak. Having the #2 best player(Henin) retired is like Nadal retired. Or sharapova recovering from shoulder injury is like Nole faces the same dilemma. Or an unmotivated Serena playing part-time, uninspired tennis would be like Federer doing the same.

Big difference !

4. ### 1HBH RocksSemi-Pro

Joined:
Apr 18, 2012
Messages:
426
That's the not fallacy I highlighted, but it's an other mistake. You can't just use impression and your memory of former players to compare... I have seen them play and I must contend that today's game is much more physical and players are actually much more complete than before. Today, you can't be number one with a weak side and very limited serve and volley game; just ten years ago, it was still possible to not be good on one surface and retain the pole.

Last edited: May 15, 2012
5. ### 813wilsonRookie

Joined:
Jun 15, 2009
Messages:
322
Location:
Tampa area
This thread seems similar to the end of the OP's signature - Anonymous and drunk

6. ### fed_rulzHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 26, 2007
Messages:
3,553
in other words, there are a bunch of morons who base their views on nostalgia without any data to back their claims, and expect to be taken seriously? got it.

7. ### DRIILegend

Joined:
Apr 1, 2009
Messages:
9,907
Data can be used in many different ways!

For example insecure Federer freaks like yourself are constantly defending your demigod against the data driven argument that Federer's competition was relatively weak during his most dominant years. The OP did just that in his post.

Recognize...

8. ### tennis_proBionic Poster

Joined:
Feb 10, 2011
Messages:
30,798
it doesn't prove that the top 3 is anything weaker than any top 3 from the previous eras, it's your pure asumption probably based on hatred towards one player, let me take a guess, Federer?

Having said that I agree that players ranked 5th and lower seem somewhat weaker than even 10 years ago. I'm not quite sure where to put Murray, he's as consistent as anyone but his highest level is probably a tad lower than the current top 3.

9. ### merlinpinpinHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 8, 2011
Messages:
2,890
You might have an argument if you had stayed far from any "data" and just relied on perception, feeling, personal preferences, etc. However, there is no hard "data" that can help compare two different "eras", simply because you have no constant reference that you can "measure" said eras against. In other words, subjectivity reigns supreme in such matters. So I'm afraid any purportedly "data-driven argument" is just a bunch of hogwash.

On the other hand, perceptions such as "ye ole geezers think that Renshaw was the best ever" are as valid as "the schoolkids think that Nadal rocks more than anybody else". As I said, it's all a matter of subjectivity and personal taste, anyway...

10. ### fed_rulzHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 26, 2007
Messages:
3,553
"data driven" argument is not what you presented.

Last edited: May 15, 2012
11. ### tennis_proBionic Poster

Joined:
Feb 10, 2011
Messages:
30,798
It works both ways. If Sampras was able to win 7 out of 8 Wimbledons, that means that the grass field in the 90's was weak, ain't that right James?

12. ### fed_rulzHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 26, 2007
Messages:
3,553
nopes, that means he is the king of grass (nevermind cedric pioline and washington as finalists in a "strong" era)..

13. ### JustBobHall of Fame

Joined:
Jun 7, 2009
Messages:
2,066
I always find it odd when people argue that era 'X' was much stronger because it included many multiple slam winners, hence there was more competition. Logically that makes no sense because whatever time period you choose, there will always be a fixed number of slams to be won. So if we take 5 years, that's 20 slams. And it should be rather obvious that if one player wins 10, then there are only 10 slams to distribute between the rest of the players. So a distribution of say:

10, 7, 2, 1

Does not make an era inherently weaker or stronger than a distribution of:

5, 4, 4, 3, 2, 2

Last edited: May 15, 2012
14. ### fed_rulzHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 26, 2007
Messages:
3,553
exactly. the weak-era clowns just don't get it.

15. ### DRIILegend

Joined:
Apr 1, 2009
Messages:
9,907
Well having said that... you are basically saying the same thing I have been saying! Stop letting your Federer insecurity get the better of you.

16. ### kikiBanned

Joined:
Feb 17, 2010
Messages:
18,685
ItÂ´s weak when just 3 players can aspire to win the majors.They are really good ones, but the rest of the field just sucks...

17. ### DRIILegend

Joined:
Apr 1, 2009
Messages:
9,907
The data argument is not mine regarding weaker eras vs stronger eras, at least not the main basis for my opinion.

I am simply pointing out that Federer-fanatics are constantly arguing against the so called data driven, statistical argument; which in turn gives it credence...

18. ### DRIILegend

Joined:
Apr 1, 2009
Messages:
9,907
Duh!

That was my whole point.

It was the OP, representative of other Federerphants, that mostly bring up the statistical, quantitative argument. Of course you are arguing against it, but you all are also giving it weight by revealing your insecurity regarding it...

19. ### fed_rulzHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 26, 2007
Messages:
3,553
so, in your world Nostalgia driven opinions > Data driven opinions.

and any one indulges in data driven opinions = displaying insecurity

got it!!

20. ### Bobby JrLegend

Joined:
Jul 5, 2010
Messages:
8,882
I agree. I think we're going to look back on this era in a decade and view it as being extremely competitive.

It's generally a case that people romanticise the past somewhat. It happens in most sports.

21. ### LimpinhitterG.O.A.T.

Joined:
Jun 10, 2010
Messages:
14,602
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT out to get you! Hahahahaha!

22. ### sureshsBionic Poster

Joined:
Oct 1, 2005
Messages:
44,440
Read a paper by a scientist who applied network theory to evaluate Connors as the GOAT. It is a mathematical extension of FB, LinkedIn etc. You build a connected graph of players and use their win-lose stats in a relative way, letting it diffuse around the network. Somewhat like Google's page ranking algorithm. Problem is it did not show Laver in the top 10 I believe - but it is being refined.

23. ### 90's ClayBanned

Joined:
Apr 26, 2012
Messages:
9,981
The game is WAYYY too top heavy today and has been for a good 4 years now. Outside of the usual 4 (Fed, Djoker, Murray, Nadal) no one has had a chance in hell of even coming close to throwing their names in the hate. Aside from Del Potro in 3 years ago before injuries ruined him

24. ### ace_paceRookie

Joined:
Nov 1, 2011
Messages:
332
The way I see it is, how can you compare players of different eras when they havent even played against each other (in their primes)?

A lot of the comparing is theoretical. Also, players themselves are not constants. You could vs the same guy 10 times the results could be different each time.

Also what values or characteristics are used to compare player to player? That in itself is unclear.

25. ### DilettanteHall of Fame

Joined:
May 13, 2005
Messages:
2,201
Location:
Katy Perry's belly button
This is the only reasonable view.

But many people here uses the "A WOULD BEAT B" argument to satisfy themselves and go to bed thinking they're right when they say A is the best and that their mama always says how cute they are.

That is how it works.

26. ### merwyLegend

Joined:
Nov 21, 2011
Messages:
7,988
Location:
Netherlands
The funny thing is that X and Y do have a connection with A and B. It's not like one era ends and all the players retire immediately, then the other era starts with only the new players. It's all continuous. McEnroe has played against players that have played against Federer. But of course you get the problem that sometimes the old players play against the newcomers while they're far over their prime.

27. ### 10isProfessional

Joined:
Jun 26, 2010
Messages:
1,448
Either you don't have a "greatest player ever" and/or "greatest athlete ever" in any sporting domain OR you judge athletes of various eras by a universal standard, i.e. the magnitude of their respective accomplishment in consideration of conditional parity existing within the respective eras for all the other players of that specific era (i.e. competitive conditions being the same for all atheletes within a specific era).

In the former case, you can't have Wayne Gretzy for example as the Hockey GOAT and then not recognize Federer as the Tennis equivalent. In the latter case (which most individuals subscribe to), you have to indubitably recognize their right to that moniker however.

28. ### ace_paceRookie

Joined:
Nov 1, 2011
Messages:
332
I dont want to sound like an ass but there's a problem. Not everyone agrees with a universal standard. Really, standards can be subjective as well as counter argued. I could argue that Sampras is GOAT because of his record as longest lasting #1 (kinda lame example but I cant think of anything else). I could also argue the GOAT case for Laver because he went pro so he couldnt win any more Opens blah blah blah. One could go far to say that tennis has more attention and funds now than ever before, hence the achievements seem bigger and grander for Federer... you get my point.

Assness aside, yes I do believe Federer is the GOAT. He has the most amount of evidence to support that too.

29. ### Povl CarstensenLegend

Joined:
Jun 14, 2004
Messages:
5,923
That is exactly what the OP logically showed you can not deduct. Many players (of differing ages and so on) sharing majors etc might as well be an indicator of an overall lower level. It was easier to win, apparantly. But the point is, you can not conclude like that and it goes both ways.

30. ### FedererererBanned

Joined:
May 14, 2012
Messages:
695
I agree with the OP. I don't understand how eras can be weak if eras never played against one another at their respective bests.

31. ### 813wilsonRookie

Joined:
Jun 15, 2009
Messages:
322
Location:
Tampa area
I'm curious.

If you took Federer out of the equation(maybe Nadal too) we can assume there would be a much greater spread of the Slams won over the last six or seven years. At least a more varied number playing in the finals. With that increased variety, would that support an arguement that the era is stronger because there was more depth?

I look at it this way - while we can't specifically compare Laver against Federer..... the dominance of individual achievements might mean the player is just better than the competition. nothing more, nothing less.

32. ### Povl CarstensenLegend

Joined:
Jun 14, 2004
Messages:
5,923
Very correct.

33. ### PCXL-FanHall of Fame

Joined:
Jan 21, 2008
Messages:
2,870
Location:
Arlington, VA
Come on folk, the amateur top players in the 20-30s are not as good as todays top players.

34. ### 813wilsonRookie

Joined:
Jun 15, 2009
Messages:
322
Location:
Tampa area
I'm not sure I that understand what you mean. The amatuers from the 1920s - 1930s are not as good as today's touring professionals?

I wonder what type of score Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, et al, would throw at ANY course if they had today's club and ball technology.

And you're right - those players from the 20's and 30's are not nearly as good....they're dead.

35. ### LuckyRLegend

Joined:
Jun 2, 2006
Messages:
6,402
Location:
The Great NW
You are glossing over the two concepts and implying they are equal. Namely:

1- Modern players are better at playing the game than their counterparts from distant eras. This assumes that Laver used a wooden racquet and his off court training consisted of drinking beer. This is not controversial in other sports but tennis (and golf and many other sports) fans don't like to acknowledge it.

2- You can argue the hypothetical that IF Laver would have had access to Modern tech and Modern training tech (and was 4 inches taller), that he would dominate in the Modern era.

Two different issues but the possible truth of #2 is not "evidence" that #1 is incorrect.

36. ### 813wilsonRookie

Joined:
Jun 15, 2009
Messages:
322
Location:
Tampa area
Wait a second. I'm not glossing over anything. Modern players are better at playing the modern game than those from distant eras. I'm saying that anyone who did well in a prior era would likely do almost as well in today's era.

I understand that tennis has changed - in all the ways so many discuss - I'm simply saying give Tilden, Laver, Roache, etc. the same access to things today's tennis player / athlete has and there is a good opportunity for similar results. And the difference may be the athlete.

And, isn't your answer somewhat "circular"? If your #1 is correct it is because of.....?

37. ### 10isProfessional

Joined:
Jun 26, 2010
Messages:
1,448
I absolutely understand where you're coming from, but unfortunately people generally do indeed use a certain standard to judge the greatness of an athlete i.e. their accomplishments. Otherwise arguments about greatness tend to devolve into (like you aptly stated) subjective conjecture -- you can always denigrate any atheletes achievement (whether it be an individual or team oriented sport) by suggesting they only achieved what achieved because if either lackluster competition, the technological and nutritional advances which allowed them overcome limitations that their predecessors were unable to... etc etc

Ultimately you have to have standard otherwise sporting competitions are redundant since achievments and records -- a huge motivating factor for athletes to prove their mettle by -- are rendered uttely meaningless because whatever they achieved was not achieved under a similar set of conditions relative to their predecessors and thus making any standard to guage the relative merit of their achievments by utterly useless i.e. Sporting/athletic eras (and not just tennis eras) stand in isolation to each other. There shouldn't be any such thing as a "world record" from that perspective.

Last edited: May 16, 2012
38. ### LuckyRLegend

Joined:
Jun 2, 2006
Messages:
6,402
Location:
The Great NW
Because tennis (and just about every endeavor, sports or otherwise) gets better over time. Accumulated knowledge, experience, technological breakthroughs, training breakthroughs, increased popularity etc. Thus Modern players are better at playing the game than their forebears. That is: Fed would wipe the court with Borg, Laver, Tilden, Gonzalez etc.

As I mentioned, as a "thought experiment", we can all discuss IF those guys had access to what Federer had, maybe they would beat him, that is they would have been better now, than they actually were in their reality.

I was not originally pointing out a flaw in your post, rather using it as a jumping off point since it addressed both sides of the issue, I just stressed that it is in fact two issues, not one.

39. ### 1HBH RocksSemi-Pro

Joined:
Apr 18, 2012
Messages:
426
No. Data cannot be used in different ways; you can tell that to idiots, but not to educated people.

There's only one way to use data: the explanations must all be coherent with the facts and be rejected by none; whenever an explanation is rejected, it ought to be out of incoherence with the data.

When someone claims Federer had an easier time, only by comparing results of his opponents to that of others, they're committing a non sequitur because one of the answers that is rejected is still coherent with the data.

You cannot reject an answer on the basis of nothing and whatever answer a valid process brings is a valid answer. See the above. If you cannot understand the original post, the issue is with your cognitive abilities, not with the post.

40. ### 1HBH RocksSemi-Pro

Joined:
Apr 18, 2012
Messages:
426
No, the OP just listen in math and philosophy when he studied it. You cannot infer the relative value of X and A in the inequation X - Y > A - B.

What you are proposing is this:
If X - Y > A - B
Then A > X

But A > X isn't coherent with all answers... what if we have 200-100 > 2-1?
Then A < X in that case.

Just in case some people have real difficulties, let's be more explicit and replace letters for players.

What some people say is that
If the difference between Federer and his competition was great than that of Sampras and his competition ( Federer - Federer's competition > Sampras - Sampras' competition);
Then Sampras' competition must be greater than that of Federer.

Well, not necessarily. It does not follow from the first sentence that Sampras' competition was better... it could be Federer that was better than Sampras. I cannot conclude either with only this statement.

I only changed the variables with players' name, but if we're talking of qualitative difference (and we are as rank players), the logic must remain the same. If you can't get that, the problem sits in front of the screen and it's you.

41. ### fed_rulzHall of Fame

Joined:
Dec 26, 2007
Messages:
3,553
great post. i've posted this a few times myself, only to find out that detractors like kiki found it too difficult to comprehend simple math and logic.

you overestimate the cognitive abilities of the weak-era clowns.

42. ### 1HBH RocksSemi-Pro

Joined:
Apr 18, 2012
Messages:
426
To evaluate the effects of variables, we indeed need a constant term, a reference point. There might be one that is hardly found, but until then, it is indeed as valid to put forward one player over the other, except we might suppose someone who never won a single GS in his time and was ranked at best 50 in his career cannot pretend to the GOAT title.

Beyond this, you made a vocabulary mistake. It's not perception -- perception is three things together (selective attention, perceptual organization and interpretation) and what you listed contains no mention of others -- , it's simply an interpretation. That's part of the perceptive process, but it is not the whole process -- and the distinction is important, as you will see in the following claim.

I would grant more weight to the opinion of someone if they observed a broader array of facts and actually tried with some statistical model how far players were capable of making the most of what they could have access to than to a kid's opinion in the school backyard which is based on who looks cooler when pulling their shorts. There's quite a bit of difference in factual accuracy here.

Besides, if we're able to agree that some players are better than others, it's inevitable that there's one which is at the top -- or, else, a group is at the top. That's simply mathematical. Even if it could be theoretically impossible to decipher, I would say that there should be a GOAT.

43. ### 1HBH RocksSemi-Pro

Joined:
Apr 18, 2012
Messages:
426
In fact, if they cannot use the inequation and the properties I have exposed to deduce that their answers are invalid by replacing for the elements they need (that's what I did when I change the variables for players: I applied a theoretically valid model to a specific case), they show the intellectual relevance of an 8 years old -- and that's a literal scientific fact.

I just hope it's something which prevents them to make the inference and that, elsewhere in their lives, they can make abstractions such as the one I have made... if not, I suggest panic.

44. ### DRIILegend

Joined:
Apr 1, 2009
Messages:
9,907
Your problem is that you are ignorantly and foolishly trying to use a mathematical equation to rationalize Federer's lack of competition, particularly from 2003-2007!

He knows he was lucky and good enough to take advantage and so do his legions of obsessed fans, otherwise you all would not be so desperate to try and somehow prove differently!

Actually you don't even have the courage to definitively say one way or another; you just use mathematical gibberish to proclaim agnostic neutrality which in essence gives Federer the benefit of the doubt! - oxymoronic much?

If you choose to restrict yourself to be devoid of discernment and actually believe that all tennis eras are exactly the same with no varying levels of quality or competition; well that's your problem!

45. ### Fate ArcherHall of Fame

Joined:
May 14, 2009
Messages:
4,108
Great post. Very sound logic. Nice job dismantling the weak "weak era" argument.

46. ### rcgliderNew User

Joined:
Jan 14, 2008
Messages:
93
Location:
middle of nowhere
Nadal win => Strong era
Fed win => Weak era

no?

47. ### abmkTalk Tennis Guru

Joined:
Dec 9, 2008
Messages:
26,426
Location:
U.S
here, I'm saying it flat out .... 2003-2007 was a strong era......federer dominated because he was that good .....

Get it ???? Now deal with it .....

48. ### ChrisRFSemi-Pro

Joined:
Dec 11, 2011
Messages:
500
I totally agree with the opener that some people have a strange mode to define the quality of an era.

I often heard it by other tennis fans in 2004-2007 that Federer has no real competition and therefore it would be a weak era. So they supposed that he NEEDS some defeats to show how great his era and opponents really are. The fans of 90s tennis (often fans of Sampras) usually made statements like this: "In the 90s there were so many major winners Sampras had to deal with, an now we have only a handful in the field"
But this perception seems to be stupid in my opinion because the difference also can be just the result of Federer's bigger dominance. Mainly he himself didn't admit more major winners in his prime. He had a lot of different oponents in major finals who would have been major winners if Federer wasn't such good. You cannot blame someone for winning everything and giving credits to another one for his losses (and even make them the factor for the better era he was in).

I have an example from another sport to illustrate my point: Alexander Karelin was the best graeco-roman wrestler and maybe the most dominant person in every sport of all times. He only lost one (!) fight in his full international career from 1986-2000. He was just so much better than anyone else. Was he in a week era? I think we cannot say it. It is also possible that the second best wrestler of all times also was in his era and nobody realised it because Karelin was just too good.

We have the same thing with Federer only less extreme. And by the way, I wrote all this as a fan of both, Sampras and Federer.

49. ### ThoughtCrimeRookie

Joined:
Sep 26, 2011
Messages:
267
Every era is weak era.

Joined:
Jun 14, 2004
Messages:
5,923
True.

Desperate.