Scout Team: Exploiting availability bias

Conventional fantasy wisdom often can be distorted for your gain

Updated: November 18, 2009, 5:00 PM ET
By Scott Burton | ESPN The Magazine

Question: Do more Americans die each year from snake bites or drownings?

Probably not going to stump you here. The answer is drownings.

Question: Do more Americans die each year from car accidents, from plane crashes or from being blown away by the sheer prognosticating genius of Fantasy Scout?

You'll probably nail this one, too. The answer is car accidents. (As far as I know, no one has died at the hands of Fantasy Scout -- yet. But I wouldn't recommend checking out this week's picks on an empty stomach.)

One more question: Do more Americans die each year from drownings, car accidents or infections contracted in a hospital?

A little trickier, huh? Thing is, the answer isn't even close. Not only do more people die from hospital infections than drownings or car accidents but more people die from hospital infections than drownings, car accidents, plane crashes and snake bites combined. You can throw lightning strikes, alcohol poisonings and electric shocks into our master death mix and hospital infections still come out ahead. Go ahead. Take a moment. Let that Purell sink in.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePeterson's injury-ravaged second half in 2007 was the exception, not the rule.

At this point, I'm guessing you have a question for me: What in tarnation does this have to do with fantasy? Well, as I mentioned last week, we imperfect humanoids love telling stories -- finding patterns in the world around us and creating narratives out of them. Problem is, we often get carried away with our storytelling, creating something out of nothing and a lot out of a little. In the case of death, we suffer from something called availability bias -- that's when we overestimate the probability of something happening because we can imagine it easily.