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.


Bob son of Bob said...

very nice rant!
emotions are the currency of the land, what we feel is what is real, or so we're told, although i won't name names.



Bruce Gee said...

My theory, actually, is that it is our music which forms the overarching emotionalism of our age. Gucky, sugary, smelly emotional music. Hurtin' music. Shallow bubblegum googah.

Compare to Bach. Or the hymns of Johannes Olearius. Heck, I think that's why I like Dylan so much: he won't let you get all gooey on him. His lyrics, if they make sense at all (I vote they do), are at least partially geared to make you go: "Awww!...uh. What???"

"I helped her out of a jamb I guess but I used a little too much force..."

Norman Teigen said...

Somewhere I read that, in a discussion of science, if someone says 'we all ready know that' then grab your wallet because the issue has not really been decided.

TK said...

Off topic, very touching article in the latest Lutheran Sentinel. When I commented to my 18 year old daughter, "Hey, I know this guy!", she replied, "From where mom, the INTERNET???" Her tone was a slightly less than respectful. Thankfully, I was able to say, "No-o-o, from that conference I helped Pastor Brooks with. So there!" I then quickly added that he might also have a blog....

Julie said...

I recently had a bad experience with our local school board where emotion trumped reasoning and principle.
A local high school will be putting up 80-ft. lighting poles for Friday Night Football despite an environmental impact report that indicated "significant and inevitable" negative impacts on the neighbors, plus an earlier promise not to place this kind of lighting. Since the lights will be shining almost directly into my home 50+ nights per year, all of the schmaltzy trips down high school memory lane did not really sway me very much.
I suppose that creating a reasonable argument takes time and effort. People don't seem to have time for that these days and advertising has conditioned us to repond to emotional appeals.
Also, shame seems to have faded from the landscape. People used to feel shame when they were caught breaking a promise! That is a troubling change.

Bruce Gee said...

Thanks, TK. You're only the second person to comment on that article: I'm beginning to wonder if people read the Sentinel anymore.

Julie: One hopes that building a logical argument will work, but there is a growing number of people out there who can't follow the logic. "Pray that your enemy is intelligent" is prescient advice. Pray that the person taking your complaint about a product over the phone, after working your way through layers of prerecorded messages, is able to comprehend your issue.

Here is another theory of why people are not better thinkers: the schools (You knew I'd get here eventually, didn't you?) are failing to teach the grammar level of subjects deeply enough. There is this rush to have kids express themselves, waaay before they have anything to express. Without the deep background, they'll never have anything but shallowness and emotions to fall back upon.

But that's just a theory.

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Great rant, my friend.

Ironically, I have been called to jury duty on the 2nd. They may not need me, hopefully.

Unknown said...