Sunday, October 16, 2011

Statistics and Old Beliefs

It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. We often cling to the old beliefs that were handed down to us for generations without checking whether they have any objective validity or not. We make objective observations to test some of our beliefs and use statistics to see patterns that can’t easily be seen with the naked eye. When confronted with statistics that do not support one’s personal beliefs such as that abstinence only programs do nothing to prevent unintended pregnancies or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases the typical response of someone of who is a firm believer in this type of education such as Sarah Palin is to look for faults in that data or just disregard it entirely. Stephen Colbert’s guest Michael Shermer has a good discussion on the brain’s processes when dealing with unpleasant information.

It takes time and patience for old beliefs to come around. Change in response to new evidence is possible. Same sex marriage is slowly gaining acceptance in this country. In six US states it is now legal. Think tanks such as the Ruth institute have been created to try to counter what they see as propaganda to attack ‘natural marriage’ but this time the tide seems to be turning at least in some parts of the country. In my post on the Ruth Institute I also checked out their claim that Scandinavian countries generous family leave policies (two years paid maternity leave in Sweden) also discourage natural marriage which are debunked in the post.
Some degree of skepticism about facts which seem too strange to be true is healthy. There is nothing wrong with double checking facts, in fact I encourage it especially when it reinforces what you already believe. No one is immune to falling into the same trap that Jon Stewart often rips on Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and other politicians for falling into, not even Stewart or myself.

**Related Post**

The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science | Mother Jones