Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FIELD OF DREAMS VS. HARD SCIENCE

Much is written about biomechanics. The breadth information is overwhelming and only some of it is relevant. Many conclusions presented are based on trying to sell a shoe, a book or an opportunity to be in the spotlight. Podiatry can claim partial success in staying current with the literature and leading new research. It is important to have an open mind regarding what is scientific fact in and what is folklore. Another field that has undergone an overhaul moving from conventional wisdom to applicable science is baseball. Players were rated by scouts on the basis of their looks i.e. solid chin and archaic metrics. Then a former aeronautic engineer named Eric Walker,decided to write a pamphlet that bucked against the conventional wisdom. The pamplet was implemented by the Oakland A's and is the subject of the book and movie "Moneyball". He decided to review how winning teams did based on statistical criteria that had more relevance to a player and teams success. One example:when baseball was first played players had no baseball gloves and so fielding errors measured as a statistic were an important part of the game. Now errors can actually penalize a gifted player that was fast enough to run to make a play or smart enough to be in the right spot to make a play. The statistic is less relevant to the modern game and this is how we should be viewing what we are applying in our practices. It turns out that in baseball a on base percentage is a more telling statistic of a player's intrinsic value to a team than anything else. In peeling another layer of the onion, a team's aggregate on base percentage was more indicative of success than whether one or two dominant players. Some variables are important but one must look at how the data is applied. As an example, scouts look at foot speed which is based on a timed straight run but that does not always translate precisely to running the bases, for example, rounding first for a double and the slide into second. In talking with Benno Nigg, Phd, this same philosophy becomes evident. He has been on the investigative side as a hired consultant for shoe companies before he has largely turned his focus to pure research. He is regularly interviewed in magazines like Runner's World. He is very careful not to draw conclusions that are inferences when he reviews studies. As an example when I asked him recently about a study that Dan Lieberman did on heel vs forefoot injury patterns in shod cross country runners he pointed out that you cannot compare this to barefoot running. He also pointed out that the subjects were cross country runners which does not translate exactly to everyday runners. Be careful not to jump to conclusions when the next web browser update or magazine exclaims a new finding as it may not be relevasnt.

2 comments:

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