(CBS Local)- Humans, for as hard as we might try to be otherwise, are imperfect.
Even when attempting to diagnose the best ways to solve a particular problem and coming up with a solid solution, our decisions can have unintended consequences that actually end up exacerbating the original issue.
This phenomena has a name, it’s called “The Cobra Effect” and it is the baseline for a new book about to hit shelves in October written by Dr. Jonathan Gelber. Gelber, an orthopedic surgeon in Rochester, Minnesota, decided to write about the phenomena in a way that sports fans will enjoy. His book, “Tiger Woods’ Back and Tommy John’s Elbow: Injuries and Tragedies That Transformed Careers, Sports and Society,” from Simon & Schuster, delves into this phenomena by showing how the effect has manifested itself in various sports injuries and tragedies through the years.
“I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and that popular science genre and one of the things that Malcolm Gladwell had said in a lecture I watched is that he really likes to take a topic and sort of spin it around to look at it from a new perspective,” said Gelber in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “That is why I started to take some of these injuries that we have known throughout sports history and, yes we know the story, but do we know all of the story. What if we take a different perspective? Can we see how it has affected things?”
One of the original impetuses for Gelber to write this book was Tommy John surgery, more specifically, the epidemic of younger athletes that have found their way into his and other surgeons offices needing to undergo the procedure. In the book, Gelber explains how the surgery that has “saved” many a Major League pitcher’s career, may have also caused the cascading effect that we see today of athletes aged 15-19 being the highest proportion of the population to have the surgery.
“If you look at the last ten years, the number of Tommy John surgeries have basically tripled and the biggest demographic has been the 15 to 19 year old. Not the professional level, or even college,” said Gelber. “So when surgeons like Dr. James Andrews look at this and ask why is it happening? There is a question of if we didn’t have this surgery, would we have this epidemic? Obviously, the surgery did its job in getting Tommy John back and it does a rather successful job of getting pitchers back.”
“What is interesting though is there is a lot of misinformation around it,” continued Gelber. “Some docs have done various studies interviewing coaches, athletes and even extending it out to baseball media. In all of the studies, nearly half of the people interviewed did not know you needed an injury in order to have the surgery. It’s become almost this performance enhancement type of thing.”
That misinformation and misunderstanding of the surgery and its intent and after effects are a by product of the successful operation itself performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on Tommy John decades ago. And it is one of many examples from across the sports world where finding a solution for a problem has ended up in the solution causing unforeseen consequences.
For Dr. Gelber, this is part of human nature when making decisions and his hope is that this book will raise an awareness of some of the biases we may have while making decisions and introduce the concept of “The Cobra Effect” to a wide audience. In the end, Dr. Gelber is hoping that people can begin to take a more holistic approach and consider other angles when approaching a solution to a problem.
“This idea that we are going to be very rigid in what we’re going to do because I have the answer, and finding out much later it made the problem worse, is human nature,” said Dr. Gelber. “But, it is something that hopefully we can at least be aware of. We can’t always predict the future, but if we can understand that there are a lot of emotional reactions to things. A lot of these injuries and tragedies in the book had emotional or political reactions to them. And a lot of them are just not analyzing the information correctly. I try to show that The Cobra Effect isn’t one thing, there’s a certain nuance to it.”
Tiger Woods’ Back and Tommy John’s Elbow: Injuries and Tragedies That Transformed Careers, Sports and Society will be released on October 1 and will be available wherever books are sold.