It was a great game. The AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs had all of the drama that you would hope for at this stage of the season. Unfortunately, a costly late hit on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes by Bengals defender Joseph Ossai is what many people are talking about this morning. As I watched the criticism and vitriol directed towards the young man, it reminded me of a couple of things that meteorologists like me deal with all of the time. I’ll explain.
I watched the game last night. Joseph Ossai was all over the place. He was clearly one of the Bengals’ most active defenders throughout the game. However, that is not what anyone is going to remember. They will focus on that late hit at the end of the game which put the Kansas City Chiefs in closer range for a field goal to win. In other words, fans will not remember or focus on all of the good he did in that game. In fact, he has been criticized, threatened, and ridiculed for the play. So how do meteorologists share this fate? People often say weather forecasts are wrong all of the time, but they are actually pretty good most of the time. Like the Joseph Ossai situation, people tend to forget the more numerous good forecasts and focus on the more limited bad ones that may have impacted them in some way.
Why this happens lies in some interesting psychological-based tendencies of humans. Studies show that people tend to remember bad things more than good things. A 2001 scholarly paper entitled “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” was published in Review of General Psychology. The authors noted that bad things like feedback, parenting, information or emotions have greater impact on people than good things. They argue that bad information is processed with more thoroughness. Scholars have pointed out that the focus on “bad” may have evolved from the instinct to survive. This tendency to overly focus on the bad is called “negativity bias.” Research suggests, for example, that people feel far worse about losing a $100 bill than they would joy over finding one.
The other thing at play here with Joseph Ossai and meteorologists is called the “recency effect or recency bias.” People immediately forgot how well he played in that game once that high-impact play happened. Likewise, the forecast could be great all month long, but the unexpected rainfall on the last day could evoke the tiring, cliche statements like “meteorologists are always wrong” or “it must be nice to get paid to be wrong all of the time.” By the way, most interpretations of weather forecasts are rooted in public misinterpretation of probability rather than a bad forecast.
For the record, I am a huge sports fan. I understand the frustration and disappointment by Bengals fans. However, at the end of the day. It is just a game. And to Joseph Ossai, we meteorologists understand what you are dealing with. It is unfortunately how we are wired as humans. Keep your head up.