Sunday, December 9, 2007
"The research shows that..."
Grrr, my heart's abhorrence...
My pet peeve phrase is: "We now know that...", followed by whatever is being pimped by the sour science of the day. We now know that all of history is a sham created by white, male, homophobic, right-wing power brokers. Or some variation on the theme. This is a game of Cry Wolf that is causing all sorts of problems in society. And the reason for that is, society in general is not as well equipped to think logically and clearly about new ideas and problems. Instead, the Emotion card is regularly played.
One aspect of the Emotion Card is the de rigeur phrase, "The research shows that..." or, "We now know that...". Both are red flag phrases, and ought to be. Too often the "research" is agenda driven and hasn't been rigourously challenged. And too often, when it is rigorously challenged, we find that the "research" did not prove what we are told it proves. Read here for an example of questionable research in the service of an agenda, in the emotion-laden field of child rearing.
Back in the day, the phrase meant something, although even Then, one hoped to have someone checking the data. But it has now become worse than a meaningless phrase--indeed, invoking the research now suggests an agenda. We now have in place hundreds of organizations who "check" the research and grade it.
This emotionalism which is rampant in our midst is causing real problems in any number of fields. My wife just finished a week of jury duty. The case she was called to hear had to do with a disorderly conduct charge against a man that should never--even the judge admitted it afterward--have come to court. But the man was being unjustly accused of DC and insisted on a jury trial, even though the fine would have been $100. Setting aside the gross investment of human time for 13 jurors to sit and hear this case--and acknowledging the man's right to attempt to clear his name when he was convinced he was innocent--what is newsworthy here is the response of the majority of the jurors upon hearing the five hours of testimony. They were convinced that the "he said, she said" testimony amounted to "facts", when in fact it was a balance of conflicting opinion. My wife Deb was one of two people who took a lot of extreme heat from the rest of the jurors by refusing to bow to the emotional appeal of the prosecution. She simply insisted that there was not enough clear, unbiased information to make a decision. "But we have these FACTS!" she was told (in emotional tones of voice, I might add). "Those aren't facts! We have two sets of conflicting opinions based upon these people's feelings! Are you sure you want to set a precedent here?" So said my obstinate wife.
One of the interesting aspects of the case is, the accused had a gun in his trunk, and just mentioned, in the course of what he felt were threats to his person, that he "didn't want to be forced to use it." The gun, turns out, was a BB gun, still in its package, that he was planning to return to the store. But the invocation of the word "gun", for several of the jurors, immediately meant he was assaulting the other party. "What if it turned out he had no gun?" asked my wife. That didn't matter, using the word was assault.
In the end, they were a hung jury, and were excused by the judge. But for two stubborn jurors, the man would have been convicted.
Ok. Rant over.